Starting in April 2019, 225,000 straphangers who take the L train from Brooklyn to Manhattan will have to find another way to get across the river. Another 50,000 customers take the train within Manhattan itself.
After Superstorm Sandy dumped 7 million gallons of saltwater into the Canarsie Tunnel, the tube, track, signals and electrical equipment were all badly damaged. The MTA will rebuild the entire tunnel, a $477 million project that will take 15 months to complete.
At a City Council transportation hearing last Thursday, MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim said the MTA expects up to 80 percent of riders to replace their trips by using other lines. In response, the MTA will increase service on the G, J, M and Z lines.
They will also lengthen G trains to increase capacity, and offer free MetroCard transfers at various stops to connect the train lines.
Fifteen percent of riders are expected to take buses across the Williamsburg Bridge to 14th Street in Manhattan. To accommodate this ridership, the MTA will add three new bus routes between Brooklyn and Manhattan.
During peak hours, 70 buses will be deployed per hour. Hakim said she estimates buses to make the one-way trip in 25 minutes or less.
To make the route less congested, the Williamsburg Bridge will have a three-person HOV lane and bus-only lanes from Grand Street in Brooklyn to Delancey Street in Lower Manhattan during rush hour.
“We want to do everything we can to avoid making traffic in Manhattan and on the Williamsburg Bridge worse,” she said.
The other 5 percent of commuters will likely take a ferry or bike. The MTA is adding a new temporary ferry service between North 6th Street in Williamsburg and the Stuyvesant Cove Pier, which will connect with the M14 Select Bus Service (SBS) across 14th Street.
Along 14th Street in Manhattan, the city will create a new exclusive “busway” with rush hour restrictions between 3rd to 9th avenues.
According to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, officials expect demand for biking to double during the L train closure. To protect the growing biking community from increased traffic, DOT will create a protected, two-way bike lane on 13th Street in Manhattan.
In Brooklyn, the agency will also add bike safety improvements along Grand Street, though DOT is still working on the details. Trottenberg noted that Grand Street serves as an important corridor for trucks, commercial activity, buses and bikes.
“Getting Grand Street right will be important, and it will be one of our biggest challenges,” she said. “Our plan for Grand Street has to balance all of these needs, but it will include new protections for cyclists and dedicated spaces for buses.”
Councilman Antonio Reynoso said getting a protected bike lane on Grand Street is “a step in the right direction,” but still criticized the mitigation efforts, particularly in Brooklyn.
“I think we’re falling short in comparison to what we’re doing in Manhattan,” he said.
In a statement, Borough President Eric Adams called the L train shutdown plan “incomplete.”
“I remain concerned about the continued lack of bus priority lanes leading from the bridge to deeper destinations in Brooklyn, including Bushwick and East Williamsburg,” he said. “The lack of clarity on the cycling infrastructure plans for Grand Street and other key corridors is troubling, especially considering DOT’s public acknowledgement of the anticipated upsurge in ridership due to the shutdown.”
Adams also slammed the plan for leaving behind riders and small businesses in Canarsie and Cypress Hills, who will also be affected by the shutdown.
“My administration is focused on the work we can do at Broadway Junction, including the long-awaited enactment of the Freedom Ticket pilot program,” Adams said, “to increase affordable, accessible transit options during this transit crisis and beyond.”
Councilman Rafael Espinal has also led the call for the MTA to add 200 new electric buses to the fleet during the shutdown, as opposed to the planned 200 diesel buses. He introduced a resolution calling on the governor and the MTA to commit to an “expeditious transition to an electric bus fleet.”
The MTA is beginning an electric bus pilot program in the next few weeks, Espinal said. With a year-and-a-half until the L train shutdown, the councilman said that should be enough time to gather data from the pilot program to use electric buses during the closure.
“North Brooklyn is one of the neighborhoods that has the worst air quality, we have the highest asthma rates,” he said during last week’s hearing. “To bring 200 buses into those neighborhoods is only going to further impact that reality.”
Reynoso added that with new buses coming into Williamsburg, the bus depot on Marcy Avenue will house even more buses.
“Given that it is the epicenter of asthma rates and pollution, to add more buses tis a huge concern for us,” he said. “I just find it practically unacceptable that we would even consider anything but electric buses for the expansion.”
The councilman called for a moratorium on purchasing 200 diesel buses until after the pilot program for electric buses is completed.
“You cannot leverage or gamble away the health of our children because of this crisis when there is an obvious alternative in electric buses,” Reynoso said.