By Brian J. Pape, AIA
In April 2019, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plans to fully close the L Train tunnels for 15 months to completely rebuild the infrastructure, including all tracks, electrical systems, communication systems, and wall structures from the Bedford Avenue Station in Williamsburg to the 8th Avenue Terminal in Manhattan. All other stations in Brooklyn up to the Bedford Avenue Station will remain in service.
In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy flooded the entire 1924 train tunnel under the East River with up to 15 feet of saltwater, severely damaging all systems. Although immediate repairs reopened the tunnels in only 10 days, more thorough repairs are needed. In addition, ridership has tripled since 1990, outstripping the line’s capacity despite adding more train cars over the years. Control systems must be upgraded to increase capacity.
Currently, 225,000 passengers use the tunnels between Brooklyn and Manhattan every day. Once the trains enter Manhattan, L Train stations at 1st Avenue and 3rd Avenue connect to bus lines. The Union Square L Train Station connects to the major east-side lines—N, Q, R, W, 4, 5, and 6 Trains—which handle 34 million passengers per year, according to 2016 data. The 6th Avenue Station connects the L to the F and M lines, and to the 1, 2, and 3 lines via a pedestrian tunnel, which handles 16 million people per year. The L line terminates at 8th Avenue, and connects to the A, C, and E lines at that station.
In January 2017, the MTA website posted a request for public input and announced public hearings on February 9th, 16th, 23rd, and March 2nd. In addition to seeking public and local official input, the MTA uses their transit demand model software to simulate combinations of strategies and conditions for the entire transportation network, including pedestrian considerations. (Visit mta.info.)
The website describes the MTA’s plans to adjust the ferry and bus shuttle schedules, increase subway alternative capacities, (especially for the G, J, and M lines), and increase bicycle accommodations. However, the details are not yet shown.
The Transportation Alternatives advocacy group has been actively involved in making the streets more pedestrian friendly. Its Executive Director, Paul Steely White, issued this December 14th statement (in part).
“We commend the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the MTA for working together on a plan that takes into account the L Train corridor on both sides of the East River. What they have put forth is a good first step, and we’re pleased to see that street space has been set aside for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders. In the coming weeks, it will be important that the DOT and MTA continue to enhance the initial proposal, specifically looking for synergies between L Train solutions and Governor [Andrew] Cuomo’s anticipated congestion pricing announcement in January.
We also have concerns about local buses slowing down Select Bus Service buses on 14th Street. Additional bus traffic is of course a crucial component of the plan, but there is little detail about where shuttles will stop, and how passengers will board these buses. The L Train allows passengers to board on any door. All-door boarding is an absolute must for the shuttles that will carry transit riders who will be using L Train replacement bus shuttles.
There must also be considerations made for cyclists on 14th Street. Working cyclists in particular must use 14th Street, as it is a commercial corridor that is home to dozens of restaurants.
And finally, while the MTA has committed to increase service on the J, M, Z, and G lines, we believe the current plan is too optimistic about the volume of passengers these trains can actually absorb, even with reopened entrances and improved passenger flows. The subway is at capacity. Additional service is absolutely necessary, but we remain doubtful that these trains will handle as much additional ridership as is predicted.”
The November 2, 2016 issue of Reclaim, Transportation Alternatives’ magazine, published the following statement regarding the PeopleWay:
“The PeopleWay is a new type of street bred for hyper-efficiency—no private cars, strictly exclusive lanes for buses and bikes, and some of the widest sidewalks that New York’s ever seen. The street is designed to move the most people in the least amount of space by giving priority to the most efficient methods of transportation. The idea could double the capacity of 14th Street.”
Last year, the MTA introduced a Select Bus Service 23rd Street route, spanning from 12th Avenue to Avenue C. This addition allows customers to board through all open doors once the bus pulls into the stop; this is achieved by the use of off-board fare payment machines. In addition, bus-only lanes were installed to help buses avoid traffic and to improve travel times and reliability along the slowest parts of the route for 15,000 daily riders.
MTA targeted the end of December 2017 to set alternate service plans in place. New York State Senator Brad Hoylman along with his Acting Chief of Staff, Eli Szenes-Strauss, and Charlie Anderson from the Office of Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick, have expressed surprise that the December 13th MTA and DOT proposal differs from earlier plans.