De Blasio Sounds Prepared to Let the L Train Crisis Go to Waste

The impending L Train shutdown should be a blessing in disguise — the impact of losing service west of Bedford Avenue for 18 months is so great, there’s no good option that doesn’t involve carving out lots of street space for buses, biking, and safer walking. Major redesigns of 14th Street, the Williamsburg Bridge, and the streets connecting to the bridge are called for.

Bill_de_Blasio_11-2-2013
Photo: Kevin Case/Wikipedia

It’s up to City Hall to claim that space from cars. Fortunately, that happens to align with the mayor’s two main transportation priorities: better bus service and safer streets for biking and walking. With hundreds of thousands of people in need of L Train substitutes, Mayor de Blasio would have the wind at his back if he decided to set new precedents for street design that prioritizes transit, biking, and walking.

But this week de Blasio has resorted to finger pointing at the MTA instead of laying the groundwork for a major rearrangement of how streets function.

The mayor was at it again this morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show. Asked about the city’s role in addressing the shutdown, de Blasio deflected responsibility:

Of course we will very energetically be dealing with the MTA, both privately and publicly, on these issues to get fairness for everyone who takes the L train. Yes, I am concerned. The MTA — I like to remind all New Yorkers — is run by the State of New York, not the City. And therefore, we see the MTA do things sometimes that are not pleasing to us as New Yorkers. So, this decision — although I’m sure it has a practical, underlying rationale — announcing it without a plan to deal with the impact is troubling to me. It’s a long time. And we’re certainly going to push hard to see — does it really have to be so long? Is there any other way to go about this?

The primary responsibility for mitigation, for providing alternatives — falls on the State and the MTA — and obviously buses along the route would be the most obvious. But it’s a tough situation. It’s a very crowded line. It’s an area where it’s hard to get buses around compared to some others. So we’re going to look at different things we can do. One good news piece of the equation — our new Citywide Ferry Service starts next year. And that’s going to actually — because it happened to hit some of those areas to begin with where the L train serves — that’s going to be a helpful piece of the equation. So that was happening anyway. We might adjust schedules — one thing or another — in light of the L train dynamic.

Ferries that connect piers on each side of the East River are no substitute for a train that goes from Bedford Avenue to Eighth Avenue. The projected ridership of de Blasio’s entire expanded East River ferry system is below 15,000 passengers per day, an order of magnitude less than the 230,000 people who travel under the East River on the L train daily.

But when Lehrer raised the prospect of making 14th Street car-free, de Blasio again deflected:

The other point about 14th Street — it’s a big decision. We’ve only just begun to think about what we might do. It’s not one that on first blush sounds to me easy, given how important 14th Street is. But we’ll look at everything and anything we can do. Most important point here is that we have to push the MTA to confirm — do they really need to do it that way? Are there better alternatives? And what are they going to do to maximize the alternatives that they can provide — buses and other things they can provide — for those riders?

It’s been almost eight months since Gothamist broke the story that a lengthy disruption of L Train service would be necessary while the MTA repairs the Sandy-damaged Canarsie tubes. At this point, there’s no doubt that the shutdown has to happen. The people who’ll be affected have moved on from questioning the need for it — now they want to know what the city and the MTA will do to make up for the loss of service.

De Blasio’s transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, has acknowledged that “real creative solutions for 14th Street” are necessary. The mayor himself, though, isn’t seizing this moment to make life better for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. He’s turning it into another installment of his grudge match with the boss at the MTA, Andrew Cuomo.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office

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