The MTA’s top brass met with the public and elected officials at Bed-Stuy’s Marcy Avenue Armory on Thursday night to field the public’s questions and present two main approaches to scheduling L train closures during repairs to the Canarsie tubes that will start in 2019.
After news about the shutdown leaked in January and several emotional public meetings regarding the shutdown were held by non-MTA groups in the months since, the first official meeting hosted by the MTA was formal and planned to minimize disorder.
Seating for approximately 360 attendees, which never completely filled up, stood ready in the main hall of the Armory, and at the entrance several long tables of MTA representatives offered the public pamphlets about the project and cards on which to write down their questions about the shutdown.
An exhibit of photographs of the storm damage that the tunnels sustained during Superstorm Sandy, as well as a display of damaged subway equipment and overviews of the two plans, were on display for the public in the back of the main hall.
The two plans presented by the MTA, respectively, involve either full closure of the L between 8th Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn for a year and a half, or partial closure of the L with significantly reduced service between Brooklyn and Manhattan and a break between service across the river and service to the rest of Brooklyn, which would take three years.
The full closure option offers advantages that the partial closure doesn’t, the most notable being that it’s the better option to offer to contractors who will be competing for the project: without having to accommodate the logistics of working around partial service, contractors will have additional freedom to do their best to complete their work more quickly (which the MTA plans to incentivize).
Here’s an MTA overview of the work:
MTA chief of staff Donna Evans, MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas F. Prendergast, NYC Transit President Veronique Hakim, MTA Senior Vice President of the Capital Program Management John O’Grady and MTA Chief Officer of Operations Planning Peter Cafiero were seated on a stage where they took the public’s questions.
The meeting commenced with an introduction by Evans, who noted that the the only comparable damage to the MTA that had ever occurred as the consequence of a single event was the damage sustained by the 1 train on September 11th.
Evans also made it clear that the public’s suggestions that work be done on the tunnels on nights and weekends was not realistic: due the precautions required to protect workers and the public from silica dust, opening and closing the tunnels would take a day or two at the least on each occasion.
Plans to offset service outage include adding extra trains to the G, J and M lines, increasing B49 bus service and working with other city agencies on the possibility of offering the public more ferry service and bike and ride share programs: “we’ve got the time to get these options right,” Evans explained.
Upgrades are also planned for the First Avenue and Bedford Avenue stops on the L train, which include adding features at both stations to make them more accessible.
MTA officials assured the public that MTA reps will be attending meetings in communities all along the L line during the project, and stated that they are committed to transparency throughout the project.
Prendergast described the Sandy damage as the worst he’d seen in his forty two year career; the second worst, a storm which retroactively received hurricane designation which hit in December of 1993, was substantially less serious (for comparison, that storm took out 3 tunnels and this one took out 9).
The Canarsie tube is the last of the 9 subway tunnels damaged during Sandy that required significant work after the superstorm, and it was “saved for last” in part so that the process of repairing the other tunnels could be instructive. L service outage is high impact in terms of both ridership numbers and the dearth of transit alternatives for that ridership.
The MTA hopes that after work on the Canarsie tubes is completed, the tube infrastructure won’t need more work for another century.
Additionally, the timeframe for receiving federal funding designated for the project is drawing to a close. If the work is not contracted in the near future, hundreds of millions of dollars that were part of the hard-won Sandy recovery act passed by congress in 2013 would be forfeited.
The MTA reps were joined in turn by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan, City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Congresswoman Nydia Velásquez, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Sate Senator Daniel Squadron, and State Assembly Member Maritza Davila, as well as a representative from the Borough President Eric L. Adam’s office and the Department of Transportation’s Borough Commissioner, Keith Bray.
Congresswoman Maloney noted that currently over $7 million is allocated for this work, and told the public that “I can’t tell you how hard it is” to get federal money.
Maloney called for pre-shutdown initiation of some of the possible travel alternatives such as additional ferry service, and talked about her experiences closing Greenpoint’s infamous incinerator and advocating for the 2nd Avenue Subway, which is scheduled to open in December of this year after almost a century in the works.
Congresswoman Velásquez also noted that “we fought hard to get Republicans on board to support the Sandy relief package” and asked that the MTA “cast a wide net” in reaching out to the public about the plan and find a way to incorporate local business into the work. She ended her statement by addressing the MTA officials with a reminder to stay engaged with the public on this project: “believe me, this is a community that is very active.”
City Comptroller Stringer assured the public his office would be auditing the MTA’s work to ensure that they maintain a high standard of work on the project.
One official made sure to note that he thought that a temporary transit option between Times Square and Williamsburg would be an asset during the shutdown: “Williamsburg is happenin’, and people wanna be there!” he said.
Among the questions the community asked the MTA about the project were questions about:
Whether alternative transit options might be available with a reduced fare while the work on the tubes is under way (it’s a possibility),
What the odds are that the MTA’s timeline is unrealistic (unlikely),
Whether local businesses near the L might be eligible for tax abatements during the work (the MTA wouldn’t have oversight on this),
Whether the MTA is examining third party analyses of the effects of a shutdown (they are),
Why the 3rd tunnel idea is off the table (lots of reasons),
Whether currently closed entrances to J, M & Z stations might be re-opened during the L shutdown (possibly),
What would happen if another Sandy hit (there are elements of the rebuilding plan that will make the tunnel system more resistant to the effects of a superstorm including stainless steel tunnel sealing devices, the use of specified submarine cable in rewiring, and the addition of more pump trains to the MTA’s fleet)
How this project lays the groundwork for future L train developments that will help the line sustain continued ridership growth (the plan includes technology which will allow the MTA to run more trains on the line)
Whether there might be dedicated bus lanes over the Williamsburg Bridge (this is in DOT’s purview and requires a lot of consideration)
Whether there would be dry runs of the two possible options (no, but there will be simulations before the project starts)
Why this project didn’t start 4 years ago right after Sandy (there were other tunnels to deal with first)
How do we know this project won’t be badly executed like the leaking Hudson Yard station (a lot of precautions are being taken to ensure that that doesn’t happen),
Whether Rockaway Parkway station will be upgraded to (that’s also in the program proposal)
Whether the MTA will be executing the East River Skyway (no, that’s not really their thing)
When the detailed final plan for the available to the public?(no date yet, but ideally the contractor will be selected by the end of the year and can start doing preparatory street work at the beginning of 2017),
Whether there will be announcements on other lines about L train service changes and how they might affect those riders (there will be)
Whether the MTA will be advertising transit alternatives during the shutdown (yes)
Among the statements from the community that were given to the MTA officials was one suggesting that the MTA make Bloomberg pay for a third tunnel (the response: “I don’t think we can do that”) and another one that read “Go Brooklyn!”
However, many community members left before even half of the questions had been read aloud, and most of the attendees had departed by the time the MTA officials offered their closing comments.
Among the attendees who remained at the end of the meeting, there was cautious optimism about the evening’s event.
The L Train Coalition‘s Franny Citivano told Bushwick Daily that “we think it’s a great beginning, and we are really looking forward to a continued dialogue” with the MTA.
Karen Nieves of local industrial business advocacy nonprofit Evergreen Exchange told Bushwick Daily that her organization’s main concern was the economic impact the L train shutdown would have, but after the thorough presentation that made the extent of the damage to the tubes clear, she was glad to hear that the work would be happening and hopes that it does indeed improve service on North Brooklyn’s other subway lines.
Artineh Havan of the Grand Street Business Improvement District noted that “this is going to be a big impact on our businesses, so we’re very concerned and we want to be connected to the process,” and also noted that she hoped that MTA officials would look into opening closed entrances to the Lorimer Street-Metropolitan Avenue stop on the G and L trains: the Grand St and Union Ave entrance and the Hope St and Union Ave entrance, which she estimates have been closed for twenty years, would be an asset to the station when it starts to receive significantly more foot traffic.
Cate Contino of the Straphangers Campaign is very familiar with the MTA’s public meetings, and described the meeting as “a new format,” which she considered an indicator of their commitment to do the project right. The campaign isn’t local to north Brooklyn, and so its members had been at the meeting to listen and offer support, but Contino emphasized that this project is “huge and is gonna shape the future of this community.”
Boris Santos, a lifelong resident of South Williamsburg who commutes to hs job as a teacher in Rockaway on both the L and the J, noted that the under current conditions, the L train on the weekends is already “abhorrent,” noting that he chose to spend his Thursday night at the meeting because the shutdown “affects me and thousands of others.”
And the MTA couldn’t agree with him more. “This is one of those generational opportunities to do something, do it right and do it well,” said Prendergast.