It is the 10th largest subway system in North America, and ridership has tripled since 1990.
But when Superstorm Sandy hit New York City, 700,000 gallons of corrosive saltwater from the East River flooded the two tubes of the tunnel that house the L train. The salt water dried and hardened the inside of the tunnels and the duct banks, where the circuits and cables run for the L train.
The cables were hardened into the tunnel walls, making them impossible to take out or change. Though some interim repairs were made, now 37,000 feet of corroded duct bank needs to be ripped out and replaced.
This is the cause of the L train shutdown that will begin in April 2019.
The MTA acknowledged at a town hall last week in East Williamsburg that the closure will be disruptive for commuters. Both New York City Transit (NYCT) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have been working on creating alternative routes to transport the hundreds of thousands of L train riders to their destinations.
At the town hall inside Progress High School, MTA and DOT officials took questions from local residents and straphangers on their planned alternatives.
“We’ve been to 75 meetings, community boards, town halls to discuss the needs to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people who use the L train,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “We will minimize the disruption and the impact and ensure they still have the access they need to reach residencies and businesses.”
NYCT president Andy Byford and Trottenberg informed the residents that the L train will not be shut down from Canarsie Rockaway Parkway to Bedford Avenue. That segment of the L in Brooklyn will run with regular service throughout the closure.
Byford also explained that other options for renovations that did not include a complete shutdown were explored, but this was the best option.
“We did look at weekends, we did look at one tunnel at a time,” he said. “For various reasons and in consultation with the community, the best, the quickest, the most efficient way is to rip off the Band-Aid and get this job done.”
He listed the actions that are being taken to ensure that the multiple alternative modes of transportation will not completely overcrowded. Those plans include lifting the bus restriction from the Williamsburg Bridge and creating an HOV lane that only buses or cars with three or more people can use.
This will enable eight buses per hour to be in circuit, Byford said.
Another planned action is additional encouragement for biking and installing more protected bike lanes. Two specific corridors that are planned are the 13th Street two-way bike path and a 12th and 13th Street protected bike lane as an alternative. Each allows higher volumes of cycling under safer conditions.
The MTA also plans to increase capacity at several subway lines adjacent to the L train, such as the M, J, C, and possibly G lines. The MTA expect those lines to take the brunt of the displaced commuters.
Other improvement include opening up previously closed entryways, widening mezzanines and increasing passive stairways to optimize the walking flow.
“So the buses, the ferry and the subway put together, and various other infrastructure improvements, are the backbone of this plan,” Byford said.
Some residents at the town hall meeting had questions about logistics, but were overall positive about the city’s ability to keep the traffic flowing. Among those in attendance was bus driver Anthony Reed.
“Bus operators have been moving people through the city during blackouts and other situations,” Reed said, “and I am confident that we will meet this challenge also and we will move New York the way we are accustomed to.”
Others were not so sure. Brooklyn resident Jackie Graham was concerned about the displacement of regular L train commuters.
“We live off the Bedford Avenue stop and we already, during rush hour, have to wait four, five or six trains to get on one,” she said, “so I really can’t imagine where those people are going to go.”
Eric Bricruzaitis, a member of the L Train Coalition, said he was simply glad to get the answers he had been waiting for.
“Well, it needs to happen and it would be a mess no matter what mitigation plan is put into place,” he said. “I feel that this community has waited a long time for answers from the MTA and the DOT, so I’m happy to see them finally giving us answers.”