Freaking out about the L train shutdown? You're not alone. The L train plays an integral role in getting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day.
In 2012, superstorm Sandy’s stormwater surge flooded the 100-year-old Canarsie Tunnel under the East River with millions of gallons of saltwater, causing severe damage.
In response, the MTA said it would need to shut down the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn for 15 months beginning in April 2019 so that it could make critical repairs.
The agency, along with the Department of Transportation, began presenting proposals in June for transportation alternatives during the shutdown.
But some straphangers and transit advocates, including the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives, argue the proposals don't go far enough, and rallied to demand more options.
Below, find out more about Sandy's impact, the shutdown plan and the proposed transportation alternatives.
L line facts and figures
The Canarsie Tunnel, which serves the L line, consists of two tubes. Both tubes sustained damage due to flooding during Sandy.
The L line runs from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan to Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, making it one of only three crosstown subway lines in Manhattan.
The L train's daily weekday ridership between Manhattan and Brooklyn is 225,000, while its daily ridership along the entire line is 400,000, according to the MTA. Ridership on the L line has more than doubled since 1990, the MTA said.
How Sandy damaged the Canarsie Tunnel
When Sandy slammed into New York, it brought a massive storm surge that flooded the coast. The MTA said the Canarsie Tunnel was one of nine underwater tunnels that flooded during the storm, all of which needed extensive repairs. The Canarsie Tunnel in particular was flooded with 7 million gallons of salt water, according to the MTA.
A 7,110-foot-long section of both Canarsie tubes suffered damage to tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts and bench walls, the MTA said. In order to protect the structural integrity of the entire tunnel, the MTA said bench walls throughout that section need to be rehabilitated.
Work on other MTA tunnels has already been accomplished through night and weekend closures, while the Montague Tunnel under the East River, which serves the R line, was shutdown for over a year and the G train's tunnel was closed for two months, according to the MTA.
MTA's shutdown plan
In 2016, the MTA set forth two proposals on how to go about shutting down the L line for repairs.
After considering an operational review and input from the community, the MTA decided to suspend service between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn for 18 months beginning January 2019 at the earliest. But in April 2017, the agency's board voted for the project to begin in April 2019 and last 15 months instead.
During the shutdown, L train service will continue to operate in Brooklyn between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway.
The MTA also plans to repair and improve stations closest to the section that runs under the East River. New stairs and elevators will be placed in the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn and the First Avenue station in Manhattan, the agency said.
The other option that was on the table would have shut down one of the tubes at a time, which would have allowed for limited subway service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but would have taken three years to complete repairs.
The MTA started 2017 by holding four public meetings to discuss the work that needs to be done on the Canarsie Tunnel.
Input from the public workshops -- two in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn -- helped shape alternative service plans the MTA has proposed for when the L train is shuttered, officials said.
Those who attended the meetings got to speak with representatives from the MTA, DOT and NYC Small Business Services. They were also given the opportunity to voice opinions on what types of transit alternatives they would prefer.
But now that the service alternatives have been presented by the MTA, some straphangers have voiced concerns that the proposals don't go far enough.
A rally calling for a better plan was held in Brooklyn on Wednesday, July 12. Commuters and local officials were joined by the Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, the Regional Plan Association and the Grand Street Business Improvement District as they offered amendments to the MTA's mitigation proposals.
The MTA also held several meetings with residents, businesses and community leaders in 2016 after community outrage over a lack of initial information about the shutdown.
Possible transit alternatives during the shutdown
In June, the MTA and DOT began to pitch proposals for transportation alternatives during the shutdown, which includes shuttle service over the Williamsburg Bridge; increased service on the J, G, and M lines; regular and/or Select Bus Service across town in Manhattan; and additional ferry service.
The following plans are currently being presented to community boards along the L line in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but are subject to change.
The MTA is looking at increasing subway service on lines near the L train in Brooklyn by either running more trains or by lengthening the trains to allow more capacity.
Between 75 and 85 percent of L train riders are expected to transfer to other train lines that serve Brooklyn neighborhoods, including the 3, 4, A, C, G, J and M, per the MTA. The agency has suggested to increase service on the G, J, M and Z lines in particular.
- J and Z trains would run local between Myrtle and Marcy avenues in order to support increased demand at stations in South Williamsburg.
- Free transfers would be available between the L train at Livonia Avenue and the 3 train at Junius Street, and between the G train at Broadway and the Lorimer Street J, M and Z.
- The M train would run to and from 96th Street-Second Avenue on weekends and overnights.
The MTA expects about 5 to 15 percent of displaced L train riders to rely on buses, depending on what the DOT decides regarding street designs.
A major concern surrounding the L train shutdown is an increase in traffic flow over the Williamsburg Bridge. To mitigate traffic, a three-point plan has been introduced which includes lane designations for specific types of vehicles, dedicated bus lanes on the approaches and exits to the bridge and HOV lanes.
When it comes to inter-borough buses, the MTA is looking to provide "simple, direct connections" across the East River. To achieve this, the agency has suggested the following three bus routes that would target neighborhoods where buses would be a faster option than the subway. The following routes could change depending on public input, the MTA said.
- Route 1: North Williamsburg - South Williamsburg - Delancey Street/Essex Street - Spring Street - Prince Street - Broadway/Lafayette streets - Bleecker Street
- Route 2: Grand Street - Delancey Street/Essex Street - First Avenue/14th Street
- Route 3: Grand Street - Delancey Street/Essex Street - Spring/Prince streets - Broadway/Lafayette streets - Bleecker Street
For folks looking to get across town in Manhattan, the MTA has floated four possibilities to get New Yorkers across Manhattan along 14th Street, including standard Select Bus Service; enhanced Select Bus Service; a car-free busway on 14th Street's middle section; or a car-free busway that spans the entire length of 14th Street.
Commuters in waterfront neighborhoods like Williamsburg could be looking at additional ferry service between North 6th Street in Brooklyn and East 20th Street in Manhattan.
The capacity of one ferry is 1,200 - roughly the same as one L train - and the MTA said it could operate up to eight boats per hour. Ferry fares would be linked with M14 Select Bus Service and M23 Select Bus Service. Proposed hours of operation are as follows:
- 6 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday
- 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday and Saturday
The MTA anticipates additional ferry service to carry about 3 to 5 percent of displaced L train riders.
The MTA is looking into improving bike lanes on both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge, including a separation of bikes from buses. Other options that are being considered include high capacity bike parking and a potential Citi Bike expansion.
Funding the L train shutdown
The contract that the MTA approved for the Canarsie Tunnel rehabilitation is projected to cost $477 million.
According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), the MTA was awarded $5 billion in federal Sandy aid, and funds for the infrastructure improvements on the Canarsie Tunnel were prioritized.