The L Train Shutdown Isn’t Up for Debate

DOT and the MTA have held 75-plus public meetings on the shutdown. Plans to provide viable alternatives to the train shouldn't be chipped away by pointless gripe sessions.

L train public feedback sessions have reached the pointless gripe-fest stage. Image: MTA/DOT
L train public feedback sessions have reached the pointless gripe-fest stage. Image: MTA/DOT

With 75 public meetings on the L train shutdown already in the books, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA chief Andy Byford were in the West Village last night for a public question and answer session, one of two they’re hosting this month.

By and large, the hearing was nothing more than an anti-bike gripe fest, with people questioning the agencies’ ability to handle the shutdown or refusing to accept that it’s necessary.

The tone of the evening was set by the first speaker, who wanted to know how the city would prevent “these inexperienced cyclists” from getting him killed. Attendees demanded Trottenberg’s assurance that bike lanes installed to help absorb the hundreds of thousands of people who ride the L would not be permanent. Speakers claimed, without evidence, that the agencies are fudging data to make the case for their plan. The deniers didn’t want to hear that robust public transit is the only viable solution to their concerns about congestion and traffic overflow. One man called it “the second coming of Bridgegate.”

The only way to avoid total gridlock on 14th Street and the surrounding area is to provide L train riders effective bus and bike alternatives. That’s what the agencies have proposed: shuttle buses connecting North Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan over the Williamsburg Bridge, a dedicated busway on 14th Street between Third and Eighth avenues, and new protected bike lane connections, including a two-way protected bike lane on 13th Street.

For the most part, Trottenberg and Byford stuck to their guns. Asked where all the single-occupancy vehicles that currently cross the Williamsburg Bridge would go, Trottenberg explained that many would opt not to drive. “The goal of the HOV lane on the bridge is to encourage people to get out of their cars,” she said.

Over and over, Trottenberg hammered the need to provide safe routes for cycling during the shutdown. While the agency is open to splitting the 13th Street protected lane into two one-way pairs on 13th Street and 12th Street, eliminating the bike lanes is not an option.

“Bicycles are going to be part of the solution here. A lane can carry a lot more people on bikes than it can carry on [motor] vehicles,” she said. “Cyclists are like people walking. I can’t divert them 10 blocks out of where they want to go. The reason we picked 13th Street is there are a lot of key destinations on 14th Street that they’re going to want to go to.”

There are still important details missing from the plan — namely, when the bus lanes, busways, and HOV3 restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge will be in effect. Current L train ridership is high at all hours of the day, and transit advocates have urged the city to make the bus lanes 24/7.

Trottenberg remained coy last night about the specific times, saying she would take what she heard from attendees back to Mayor de Blasio. The mayor, who has final say in any decisions regarding city streets, holds the key to the shutdown plan’s effectiveness. Last week he told reporters he hopes to “minimize the disruption on 14th Street to the maximum extent possible.”

When L train service goes dark in 11 months, the mayor will have one responsibility: to keep riders moving, or else inflict the city with traffic armageddon. The DOT’s and MTA’s role at this point should be to show the public they’re taking the necessary steps to do that. By now, the listening tours should be over.

Trottenberg and Byford will take the show to Williamsburg next Wednesday. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. at Progress High School, 850 Grand Street.

  • r

    Splitting the bike lanes onto two separate streets would be a bad idea. Streets only need to be one-way for cars. There’s no need to make them one-way for bikes. You’ll only wind up with a lot of salmoning on 13th as people want to be as close to 14th as possible. DOT and de Blasio shouldn’t punt on this. It’s not like a one-way bike lane is going to make the NIMBYs any happier.

  • Ishamgirl

    Maybe the transplants will go back to Ohio.

  • madbandit

    We can only dream

  • Brian Howald

    “Apart from the 159 meetings, they didn’t say a word.”

    – Al Madrigal, “The Daily Show”

  • Scroller

    Less than half the population of the city was born here and that includes almost every cultural icon, artist, financier, chef, even public school teachers and our own Mayor (although, I’m with you that he should leave). If we all leave you’d be left with Lady Gaga and some pot holes so get off your high horse or enjoy living in a dense Dallas.

  • I’m not sure what the amount of time anyone has lived here has to do with anything. As a great philosopher once said, “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

    Lots of people were new to this city once. That’s the nature of New York.

  • Joe R.

    Some of the worst NIMBYism is coming from people who have lived here their entire lives. Basically, they want to freeze their neighborhood forever in whatever time period they liked the most, usually the 1950s or 1960s.

    A lot of these people still think bikes are toys for children, not serious transportation worthy of street space.

  • Fool

    Yes but…

    …These people will vote as a selfish, self interested block in the next primary.

  • Larry Littlefield

    You mean the cash cows? Because that’s how immigrants and young in-migrants are treated here by those with Wall Street jobs/rich public pensions/placards/real estate.

    Entitled jerks really make the NY area look bad. And people elsewhere wonder how come other New Yorkers are so mindlessly left wing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There are those who moved here because they wanted to live in a city, and those who were just born here and should probably move to Atlanta — or perhaps Cobb County — where they belong.

  • Vooch

    DOT is starting to get religion. Well Done DOT !

    On a side note – imagine you are one of these cranky village residents that believes bikes are the devils trumpet. It’s been 12 years of staggering bike growth in your neighborhood.

    During weekdays, ~20% of all roadway traffic is cyclists in you nieghbor hood. On some streets and at some times; there are more bikes than cars.

    They see a charming young lady in a sub dress glide by with a smile on her face and think GRRR THOSE BIKE PEOPLE GRRR.

    Imagine how seething with rage these people must be. Imagine how much they dread the onset of Spring.

    Congratulations to DOT for standing up to the cranks

  • Vooch

    all 16 of them ?

  • Knut Torkelson

    I’ve said this before, but as a native New Yorker, half of the people I know that grew up here and stayed would have done the same if they were born on a farm in Iowa, or a backwater town in Mississippi. The people who move here are often the ones with the ambition and drive to do great things and keep this city moving.

  • ohnonononono

    Contrast this with the famous passage from E.B. White’s “This is New York,” 1949:

    “There are three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter – the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last – the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”

  • Knut Torkelson

    I think I had heard that when I was younger but wow, it really resonates now. Funny how much the city has changed but is still the same.

  • Andrew

    Good point. People who moved to New York all did so deliberately. Some of the people who stayed in New York did so by default.

    As a native (third-generation) New Yorker, I enjoy meeting, working with, and learning from people who moved here from elsewhere. I guess some people feel threatened by them.


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