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 F and G lines. Click here for previous editions and other L train shutdown coverage.
Many years ago, before I lived in New York, I visited my cousin who lived in Greenpoint. We went to the nearest bar to get far too drunk, per standard My Cousin Is Crashing on My Couch protocol. Somehow, she became embroiled in a debate with the bartender about the G train. My cousin insisted the G is bad, while the bartender countered that the G is in fact good. This went on for far longer than I could have previously fathomed. Ironically, the only one of us who didn’t say a word the entire time would later become a transit reporter and write an article about the G.
That was a much more innocent time, when one could encounter a difference of opinion as to whether the subway was good or bad. While I’m not an omnipresent figure in the city’s bars and that particular bar has since been replaced by a much nicer bar — I don’t actually know this to be the case because I don’t remember the bar’s name, but it feels like a safe assumption — I don’t think a similar debate would get very far today.
I’m waxing nostalgic about better, drunker times because I don’t quite know how to break it to you that the G is profoundly screwed during the L train shutdown.
Like the J/M/Z, the G is going to bear the brunt of the shutdown in various ways. There will be the throngs of people who take the remaining section of the L a few stops and transfer to the G at Metropolitan Avenue, a station wholly unequipped for such mass transfers thanks to multiple bottlenecks and narrow passageways. There will also be the people who don’t bother with the L and walk to the Metropolitan Avenue, Nassau Avenue, or Broadway stops on the G.
The natural reaction to these scenarios would be to increase capacity on the G line, and the MTA is planning to do just that. Former New York City Transit president and current MTA managing director Ronnie Hakim said at a 2016 community meeting that G trains will be lengthened from four to eight cars and run with three extra trains per hour, bringing the total to about eleven trains per hour during peak times, or one every five or six minutes. Between the longer cars and three extra trains an hour, the MTA will triple capacity on the line, accommodating approximately 14,000 extra riders an hour during peak hours.
This is far more than any other line can do to add capacity. Yet, it’s not clear if it will be enough — remember, 225,000 cross-river commuters every day will be displaced! And even if it is enough for the G, all those displaced riders will be using the G to get to some other Manhattan-bound line that will not have the ability to accommodate an extra however-many thousand riders an hour.
But there’s one other issue relating to the G that demonstrates how the L shutdown will create a domino effect, screwing over those who are two degrees removed from the L. And no line exemplifies this problem more than the F.
In a 2013 assessment, NYCT noted that the G is scheduled around the F, with which it shares tracks south of Bergen Street. Because the F has heavier ridership and more merges — with the M in Manhattan and the E in Queens — the report notes that “accommodating the higher-ridership F on the shared tracks causes uneven scheduled G service during rush hours.” In other words, the F gets priority over the G. But it’s not clear that should, or will, be the case during the shutdown, especially since the other two lines the F merges with will also be key outlets for L riders. In order to make G, M, and E service more frequent and reliable during the shutdown, F service will have to be cut.
[Update: Since this article was first published, the Voice obtained the MTA’s shutdown service plans, which do not include a cut to F train service. Instead, the MTA is cutting R train service to enable more E trains to run on the Queens Boulevard line. That’s good news for F riders, but still leaves the same total number of trains running into Manhattan overall.]
On top of that, all three planned replacement bus routes will be stopping at Delancey Street–Essex Street. Anyone getting off there and hopping on the subway will be unable to board the J/M/Z, which will be crush-loaded with displaced L riders of its own. That leaves…the F, which is likely to run less frequently to accommodate more G, M, and E trains, meaning each train will be more crowded and there will be even more people waiting to board in Manhattan.
What You Should Do If You Currently Take the G
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 — there isn’t a whole lot G riders can do. Displaced L-ers will fan out in both directions from north Brooklyn, some heading north to Queens and others south to a transfer in downtown Brooklyn. Much of the area served by the G is otherwise a transit desert: Greenpoint, Bed-Stuy, and Clinton Hill have very few alternatives, especially once the J/M/Z is ruled out. In general, I would explore any and all options for avoiding the G north of Hoyt-Schermerhorn. Depending on how bad the F gets, I would consider transferring to the R at 4th Avenue–9th Street (and then transferring from the R to a faster line at Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center.
If things get really dire, you could always explore local bus options as a connector to downtown Brooklyn and a subway line of your choosing. There are many routes and permutations depending on where you live — here is the unholy mess of a pdf otherwise known as the Brooklyn bus map to peruse. Suffice it to say, bus service is a total disaster and should only be used as a last resort. Yet it may well get to the point where the G is so intolerable that the bus really is a better option. It is a testament to how much we are all very, very screwed.