To get L train riders between Brooklyn and Manhattan and back each day during the sixteen-month-long L-pocalypse starting in a little over a year, the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation announced plans for a bevy of bus routes, a new ferry route, and HOV restrictions — but no dedicated bus lane — on the Williamsburg Bridge, a plan that transit experts say may turn many straphangers into hitchhiking “slugs.”
The two agencies released their joint mitigation plan for the shutdown of the Canarsie Tunnel late Wednesday afternoon, sixteen months before service is scheduled to come to a halt, and a week after elected officials and community organizations held a press conference to demand answers.
If you’re one of the 400,000 daily L train riders, here’s how the joint DOT–MTA plan, which barely cracks five pages, would change your commute.
Of those 400,000 daily L train riders, 225,000 use the Canarsie Tunnel every day, and the agencies are planning for 70 to 80 percent of them to seek out other subway lines to get to work.
“The core of the mitigation plan is additional subway and bus service and capacity, to best deliver service on alternative subway options,” the joint release states.
The J/M/Z and G lines will see increased service (though the plan does not specify by how much), and the C and G trains will get more cars on each train in order to increase capacity.
Anyone who has witnessed the crowding at the Marcy Avenue J/M/Z station when those trains are suffering delays, or when the L train is out of service, can imagine what that station and others will look like during the shutdown. The release merely claims, without providing specifics, that there will be “additional station turnstile, stair, and control area capacity at numerous stations on the G, J/M/Z, and L lines.”
The DOT will add more bike parking and crosswalks around J/M/Z subway stops, and “with G train ridership expected to grow dramatically, DOT will improve crossings around the Nassau Avenue G train stop.”
The two agencies are planning for just 15 percent of L train riders to take buses to get to work. With the L train currently carrying nearly 55,000 people between 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. on weekdays — 400 people every minute from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. — this means 3,800 riders crammed onto thirty or so of the MTA’s spiffy new articulated buses during that crucial hour. (An internal document leaked by Second Avenue Sagas puts it at seventy buses, one every fifty seconds.)
Three new bus routes will carry riders from Bedford Avenue or Grand Street in Brooklyn to Soho or 15th Street in Manhattan, so they can transfer to other bus routes or subway lines. “In order to move buses quickly and not add to congestion,” the plan calls for “measures to ensure reliable service. These include bus lanes that connect from the Grand Street Station in Bushwick and along the Brooklyn shuttle bus routes, over the Williamsburg Bridge, to and from Delancey Street and other key Manhattan connection points.”
But the agencies say this does not include a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge. Instead, the bridge will be designated HOV-3 — no vehicles with fewer than three passengers — “during rush hours at minimum.”
According to the DOT, the outer deck of the Williamsburg Bridge will be designated for buses, trucks, and vehicles making right turns. The bus lanes on the bridge approaches will feed directly into that outer deck, with the assumption that the HOV-3 rules will make the outer deck work reliably for bus passengers. The definition of “rush hours” on the bridge is yet to be determined.
Last week, transportation economist Charles Komanoff predicted anarchy on the bridge “if the authorities are so cowardly and stupid as to not create the dedicated bus lane.”
Asked yesterday if he thought this plan was as effective as a bus lane, Komanoff told the Voice, “No, it’s not.”
“What’s to stop trucks from oversharing the Williamsburg Bridge’s outer deck? I honestly don’t see why buses — and buses every fifteen to twenty seconds, not every fifty to sixty — shouldn’t get the entire outer deck,” Komanoff said. “Let trucks fend for space with cars on the inner lanes.”
How will the agencies enforce the HOV lane restrictions? They say they will work with the NYPD and will look into various forms of technology to ensure that only crowded cars pass during rush hours.
The agencies also acknowledge that the HOV restrictions will cause “traffic shifts to other East River Crossings,” and pledge to keep studying the issue.
“To repeat myself,” Komanoff said, “why not just toll the [East River] bridges — all four of them?” (Mayor Bill de Blasio has staunchly opposed congestion pricing, while Governor Andrew Cuomo’s congestion pricing panel is expected to produce its recommendation within the next month or so.)
With the Williamsburg Bridge restricted to private vehicles with three passengers or more during rush hours, it’s only natural for drivers to try and pick up their second and third riders along the approaches to the bridge, an activity called “slugging.”
“There’s going to be a lot of slugging,” Komanoff said. “That’ll be interesting! And almost certainly traffic-jamming as well, not just by drivers, but probably vehicles bringing folks who hope to slug.”
While it’s not in the agencies’ plan, the DOT admits that slugging will be a factor, and pledges to work with the community on facilitating safe and efficient pickup zones.
The agencies estimate that 5 percent of L train riders will turn to ferries during the shutdown, so the MTA is starting a new ferry route from Williamsburg to the Stuyvesant Cove ferry terminal on Manhattan’s East 20th Street, and will run a bus that will connect with a revamped M14 Select Bus Service to take passengers to 14th Street. It’s conceivable that some commuters will take a ferry to a bus to a subway.
Daily cycling volume in Manhattan is expected to double during the shutdown, so the agencies are installing new protected bike lanes between Bushwick Avenue and the bridge in Brooklyn — running on Grand Street toward Manhattan, and on a nearby residential street away from it — and on Delancey Street in Manhattan between the bridge and Allen Street.
Transit advocates had been pushing for a dedicated bike lane along the L’s path on 14th Street in Manhattan, but the agencies’ plan calls for a two-way protected bike lane on 13th Street instead.
“DOT will work with Motivate on its Citi Bike capacity to help service inconvenienced subway users, such as increased bike inventories and valet services to help move riders,” the plan states.
While groups like Transportation Alternatives called for a “PeopleWay” on the 14th Street corridor — a mixture of pedestrian malls, dedicated bus lanes, and bike lanes that would necessitate a prohibition of private cars — the agencies are instead instituting a “busway” for 14th Street, with details yet to be determined.
The “exclusive busway” would have an unspecified “rush hour restriction” on private vehicles, and the agencies are promising “temporary bus bulbs, offset bus lines, sidewalk expansion, and tens of thousands of square feet in new pedestrian space.”
Caroline Samponaro, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, calls the agencies’ plan “a great first step,” and applauds the creation of bike lanes on 13th Street and Grand Street, but also notes that restricting private automobile traffic has to be part of a “core strategy.”
“We have to be bold here,” Samponaro tells the Voice. “We’d be remiss not to point out a lot of synergy around congestion pricing, and we would encourage the mayor to work closely with the governor to think about how some of the East River bridge tolls could work hand in hand with what we’re doing for the L train shutdown.”
The Grand Street corridor in Williamsburg, which is already narrow and congested, and the site of numerous pedestrian fatalities in recent years, is expected to become even more bustling during the shutdown.
The agencies’ plan reserves a single sentence for Grand Street: “DOT is looking to make major changes to a street that will serve as a major bus and bicycle corridor to the Williamsburg Bridge.”
Alan Minor, who heads up the board of directors for the Williamsburg-based Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, tells the Voice that the plan is “a good start, but this is the bare minimum of what should be done.”
Minor says he’s particularly concerned that the DOT and the MTA don’t have any details on reopening subway entrances that have been closed for years, or making existing entrances more accessible for disabled New Yorkers.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do the infrastructure and installation that’s needed for north Brooklyn, which has seen tremendous population and ridership growth over the last decade or so,” he says.
Minor adds that “there needs to be more community involvement in this process, and more regular updates on what they’re thinking, so people have more time to prepare to make important life decisions.”
The agencies’ plan says that “elected officials are being briefed now, and further community meetings to present plans and receive more input from the public will be held starting next month.”
And on Thursday morning, the City Council is holding a hearing to discuss the mitigation efforts.
More:L Train Shutdown