Block Reps Give L Train Presentation Skeptical Reception; DOT Sinks West Side Ferry Scenario |

Block Reps Give L Train Presentation Skeptical Reception; DOT Sinks West Side Ferry Scenario

Aaron Sugiura, DOT director of transit policy and planning, explained aspects of the mitigation, including Select Bus Service on 14th St. and increased ferry service to the Stuyvesant Town area (but none for the West Side). | Photo by Tequila Minsky

BY LAURA HANRAHAN | With April 2019’s L train shutdown just over a year away, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) have been presenting their proposed plan to alleviate the loss of the heavily used subway line to community boards around the city.

The agencies presented to the Wed., Feb. 21 Transportation Planning Committee (TPC) meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). The audience was mostly made up of members of the new ad-hoc 14th Street Coalition, a group representing Village and Chelsea block associations on and within a few blocks of 14th St.

As the agency officials described the city’s plans, they were largely met with groans from the audience, punctuated by incredulous remarks, like “Oh, come on!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

The L train shutdown, which is set to begin in April 2019 and last 15 months, will affect the line’s 275,000 daily riders. The MTA and DOT recently completed a study of data on straphangers that was used to run various alternative transportation scenarios for when the L will be out of service. The study focused on how traffic would be affected in the zone bounded by 12th and 16th Sts. and Avenue C and Ninth Ave. The results were the basis of the plan presented to the TPC.

The most notable change would be the transformation of 14th St. into an exclusive “busway” between Third Ave. on the East Side and Eighth and Ninth Aves. on the West Side. Vehicle exceptions will include Access-A-Ride vehicles, local deliveries, emergency vehicles, and private cars accessing parking garages.

To serve Brooklyn commuters, a new ferry shuttle from North Williamsburg to Stuyvesant Cove at E. 20th St. will run eight boats each hour. The cost will be the same as the standard MTA fare, and tickets will be transferable to either the bus or subway. M14 Select Bus Service (SBS) will run between the East Side ferry terminal and the West Side terminus at 14th St. and 10th Ave.

Currently, local bus service along the 14th St. corridor carries 30,000 passengers each day. When the L train shuts down, the number of bus riders on 14th St. is expected to nearly triple, reaching up to 84,000. With the new SBS, buses are expected to run every one to two minutes during peak times. The MTA is hopeful that with these changes, end-to-end runs will last 17 minutes, a 37 percent reduction from current the travel time.

The MTA and DOT are also anticipating as many as 5,000 new cyclists. In response, the city proposes to create a two-way, protected crosstown bike lane on the south side of 13th St. While this will not alter the street’s driving capacity, it will cut its parking space in half. According to a report released this past Friday by the MTA and DOT, 13th St. was chosen because it “provides the longest continuous east-west connectivity” and is near subway lines along 14th St.

A HOV 3+ restriction (requiring “high-occupancy vehicles,” with a driver and at least two passengers) will be placed on the Williamsburg Bridge, and only buses and trucks will be allowed during peak hours.

Pedestrian traffic is expected to increase heavily during the shutdown. The MTA and DOT have proposed creating several new pedestrian spaces along Union Square, as well as increased bicycle parking spaces.

The proposed modifications are expected to begin in late summer 2018. The start for restricted traffic on 14th St. will be dependent on the launch of the M14 SBS.

The MTA/DOT study analyzed only traffic conditions between 12th and 16th Sts. However, following the presentation, when the public was allowed to ask questions, local resident Kimon Retzos, among others, took issue with this.

“It’s a joke,” Retzos said. “It’s actually insulting to the people that live in Chelsea and in the Village that you’re focusing on this little piece when you have much more vast data indicating that traffic’s going to go wherever it can.”

Judy Pesin, a member of the 14th Street Coalition, presented photos of congested side streets. The Coalition says this situation will only get worse during the L train shutdown, as traffic diverts from a 14th St. “busway.” | Photo by Tequila Minsky

As tension started to rise, with many members of the public feeling that the impacts of the proposed changes on their daily lives were being ignored, Christine Berthet, co-chair of the TPC, tried to bring context to the situation.

“I think we need to remember that this is a crisis,” Berthet said. “This is not business as usual. We are not planning for something that we’re going to install and it’s going to live forever. This is the result of Sandy. It’s not going to be perfect and we all know this is not something that we wanted to have.”

During the discussion period, several suggestions and recommendations were made by committee members and the public. TPC member Jeffrey LeFrancois suggested something that the board has advocated for in the past: West Side ferry service.

“Ferries make a lot of sense on the West Side and it would have been very effective to include those as a means of mitigation and they’re not on the table,” LeFrancois said. “Those interviewed from the Rockaways said they much prefer spending an hour on the water than they do on the train. And I understand it might take a little over an hour [by ferry], to get from Williamsburg to, let’s just say, Pier 57 and 14th St.”

Aaron Sugiura, DOT director of transit policy and planning, said unfortunately that’s just not a possibility.

“The issue with that is that we’re maxing out [ferry] capacity on the Williamsburg side,” he said.

With parts of 14th St. often being affected by construction projects, Dale Corvino, another committee member, inquired about the status of building projects along the 14th St. corridor during the shutdown.

“Have you guys done any coordination with DOT, as far as will there be sidewalk sheds in place once the shutdown happens, or is there a timeline for sheds to go away?” he asked.

Jonathan “Yoni” Bokser, the TPC’s co-chair, furthered this idea by suggesting a lifting of the holiday embargo for this coming season.

“I know DOB doesn’t usually issue permits from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” he said. “Have you talked about using that in 2018 instead of 14th St. having construction during the L train shutdown?

Sugiura indicated that while the DOT has no formal plans to address construction issues on the street and has not looked into lifting the holiday embargo, it is something they would consider.

“At the highest level, DOT and MTA, we do not want to see this construction happening during the shutdown,” Sugiura said. “The city does not grind to a halt for the L train, unfortunately, though.”

When asked on Mon., Feb. 26 whether the DOT would take the various recommendations made at the CB4 meeting into consideration, an agency spokesperson responded, “DOT and MTA will continue our ongoing work in engaging, reviewing, and evaluating the mitigation plans prior to, during, and after the L train shutdown.”

Members of the 14th Street Coalition heard about plans to mitigate complications stemming from the L train shutdown. “It’s not going to be perfect,” said CB4’s Christine Berthet, “and we all know this is not something that we wanted to have.” | Photo by Tequila Minsky