When Grand Street Loses the L Train, It’s Gonna Need a Car-Free PeopleWay

Graphic adapted from Regional Plan Association
Graphic adapted from Regional Plan Association

The L train shutdown is two years away and North Brooklynites are beginning to grapple with how to avoid the nightmare scenario of isolation from the transit system, shuttered businesses, and total gridlock from the Williamsburg Bridge to Queens.

To avoid that doomsday, the Regional Plan Association has proposed a network of busways and bike-priority streets connecting northern Brooklyn to the Manhattan transit system. As part of that network, organizers with Transportation Alternatives are calling for a car-free “PeopleWay” on Grand Street.

T.A.'s Luke Ohlson presenting at last night's CB 1 transportation committee. Photo: David Meyer
T.A.’s Luke Ohlson presenting at last night’s CB 1 transportation committee. Photo: David Meyer

T.A. organizer Luke Ohlson presented the Grand Street PeopleWay concept to a packed room at last night’s Brooklyn Community Board 1 transportation committee meeting. “This is something on a scale we haven’t really seen,” Ohlson said. “We want the public transit option that’s available to everyone to work as well as possible.”

At the moment, Grand Street is one of three truck routes in the neighborhood, which includes hundreds of industrial businesses. But Grand Street is also used by around 20,000 bus passengers and hundreds of cyclists each day, and would give L train riders the straightest shot over the Williamsburg Bridge.

It was clear from last night’s meeting that the full impact of the L shutdown has yet to register with some businesses and residents.

“My workers need the meters on Grand Street. I don’t want any changes on Grand Street,” said the owner of Empire Lock at Grand Street and Manhattan Avenue, who declined to give her name. “I do emergency calls where somebody is locked out of their apartment and the stove is on. If I have to park my car much farther than Grand Street, my response time will be longer.”

But without the L train, Grand and other streets in the neighborhood will be gridlocked by a surge of car traffic, unless dramatic action is taken to prioritize surface transit. Doing nothing on Grand Street would not only strand current L riders, it wouldn’t make the situation any better for people making essential car trips.

Business owners in Williamsburg and Greenpoint and their employees count on the L train for their livelihoods. Graphic: RPA, based on L Train Coalition survey

“If it takes me 50 minutes to get to work every day, you know, I’ll move,” said Phillip Leff, who lives by the Grand Street L station. “I love this neighborhood, I love the convenience of a lot of it, but if it’s going to be 18 months of traffic jams and being stuck, I might not put up with it and people who are less loyal to this neighborhood definitely won’t put up with it.”

“If I were a business owner, frankly, I’d be more worried about losing potentially half my customer base,” he added.

Over the summer, CB 1 requested a DOT study for a possible protected bike lane along all of Grand Street from Metropolitan Avenue to the Williamsburg Bridge. Last night transportation chair Vincent Gangone said the committee could add a PeopleWay study to that request, and invited Ohlson to present to the full board in March.