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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

L train repairs: now Byford’s problem

Andy Byford talks about making Cuomo’s L plan real.

Andy Byford talks about making Cuomo's L plan

Andy Byford talks about making Cuomo's L plan real. Photo Credit: Vincent Barone

“The baton passes to me.”

That’s what New York City Transit President Andy Byford said in a call with amNewYork on Tuesday during a busy week for the subway chief. He now has the unenviable task of delivering on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s moonshot idea to cancel the full L train tunnel closure expected in April for repairs.

Last week, Cuomo and his academic experts announced their Eureka idea to fix the damaged Canarsie tunnel. Racking! Fiber! Only nights and weekend disruptions over 15 to 20 months! Then: go Andy go.

Byford didn’t appear particularly plugged in while Cuomo arrived at his new plan to avert the shutdown. But now the situation is Byford’s — after three weeks of academic analysis, three months of prep rather than 3 years — and he’s looking to put his stamp on it.

That includes having fresh-eyed third-party consultants take a look at the engineering and technical aspects of Cuomo’s plan, an analysis to be presented to the MTA board.

“It won’t be a long engagement,” Byford says.

Other things Byford’s being decisive about: the improvements along the L that were supposed to come with the long shutdown. Accessibility improvements at stations. Power upgrades. More resiliency to water. Byford says that all can still happen thanks to the “gamechanger” of not needing to demolish the whole “bench wall” in the tunnel, a key aspect of Cuomo’s plan.

What about more G train service while the work, whatever form it takes, happens?

“I believe we still should do that,” Byford says.

Soon he hopped off the call to head to other engagements: meetings with city officials, for example, to discuss what to do about all the street-level improvements that had been planned for the shutdown: the bus lanes, the pedestrian benefits, the bikes.

Everything’s happening very quickly, and decisions will have to be made soon about what the new L plan will look like, still slated to start at the end of April.

To give a sense of the chaos: bus lanes on 14th Street have been mostly painted and marked off ahead of the planned closure, according to the city Department of Transportation. Will the lanes be enforced come spring?

What about the bike lanes coming on line, and the planned ferries?

“As we get more information from the MTA on the new L train plan, we will look at our planned efforts to make sure we are implementing the right elements,” says DOT spokeswoman Alana Morales in a statement.

Transit advocates want to keep the improvements because even a year-plus of intermittent L service during non-peak hours would be disruptive.

Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director of the Riders Alliance, worries that riders trying to stick with the L during those long-headway hours would get frustrated and look for other options. What if buses weren’t available?

“We want riders coming out of the train in disgust not to hail an Uber,” he said.

On weekends around 10 p.m., there are approximately 6,000 rides on the L from Manhattan to Brooklyn, says Byford.

That’s the kind of stat that is now rolling around Byford’s head, along with the fact that the rides drop “quite substantially” afterwards.

So should reduced service start around then? That needs to be analyzed, decisions shouldn’t be rushed, says Byford.

Just another detail to figure out if a new plan for the L is to become reality.


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