During the upcoming L train shutdown set to begin in early 2019, the MTA expects 70 to 80 percent of displaced L riders to take other subway lines. This will affect not only those displaced riders, but all the commuters who currently take the lines that will become filled with L refugees. This week, the Village Voice examines the impact on the 7 line.
In a perfect MTA world, displaced L riders trying to get south of 14th Street will take the J, and to a lesser extent the A. Those trying to get to points north of 14th Street will take the M, or G to Court Square to transfer to the E, M, or 7.
But the point of these articles is to remind you that the plan will not work the way the MTA and DOT hope it will work:
The crux of the MTA’s plan has most people taking the J/M/Z. As a previous edition in this series detailed, this will not happen because it cannot happen. The J/M/Z will be overloaded, which will likely cause people to seek solutions elsewhere, such as on the A/C. But some people won’t be headed downtown or to the West Side. They will want to go to midtown or to the East Side. In which case, the G to the 7 may be their best option.
I have already covered the numerous issues with the Court Square G to 7 transfer situation. But the MTA is hoping to create an alternative by instituting a free out-of-station transfer to the 7 one stop south of Court Square, between 21st Street and Hunters Point Avenue. (As of now, there will also be two other free out-of-station transfers during the shutdown: between the Livonia Avenue L and Junius Street on the 3; and between the Broadway G and Hewes and Lorimer on the J/M/Z.) This transfer should help spread the load somewhat, although it will also result in a fairly steady procession of commuters down a not-particularly-wide sidewalk on 21st Street that I’m sure Long Island City residents will love. It will also provide a ridership shock to a station that averaged 7,292 weekday swipes in 2016, the last year for which figures are publicly available.
What You Should Do If You Currently Take the 7
Along with my standard advice that applies to most everyone — move far away from north Brooklyn, get a bike, or change your work hours if you can — current 7 riders actually do have a potential subway-only alternative to avoid the rush of L refugees. They can make a cross-platform transfer to the N/W at Queensboro Plaza or walk to the R at Queens Plaza, three lines that aren’t likely to experience a surge in ridership during the shutdown.
Whether or not the switch for current 7 riders to the N/W or R will be necessary depends almost entirely on the outcome of the 7 line’s upgrade to the same modern signaling technology the L already uses. Called communications-based train control or CBTC, it’s a computerized signaling system that uses the trains’ real-time location to drive them, allowing the MTA to run more trains, closer together. If CBTC is up and running on the 7 by the time the shutdown starts in April 2019, the increased available capacity could very well absorb much of the 7’s increased ridership — though some skeptics will point out that all the new residential construction occurring along the 7, especially in Long Island City, will increase ridership regardless of the L shutdown.
But it’s not at all clear CBTC will be ready by then. Originally slated to be fully installed by the end of 2017, the new signal technology still has not been implemented on the busiest sections of the line. All of the equipment is in place, but software bugs continue to plague the testing process. A series of delays pushed the expected completion date to the summer of 2018, but that goal is “no longer achievable,” according to a report the MTA board reviewed last week. The new estimated completion date is the end of the year.
If nothing changes, the 7 would be just as screwed as the other lines. And at this point, there’s no great reason to believe CBTC will in fact be ready; it’s not that the end of the year is an inherently unattainable goal, but after more than two years of delays and cost overruns, there is also no reason to believe in this deadline any more than all the other ones that made a nice whooshing sound as they flew past.
Without the new technology in place, avoiding the 7 via the N, W, or R may be the best game plan. It’s unlikely to be convenient — or pleasant — for current 7 commuters, but it’s the best of a bad set of options at a time when we’re all just very, very screwed.