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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

They want to do WHAT to the L train?

Love may exist on the L train, if

Love may exist on the L train, if only for a moment. Photo Credit: Flickr / Tasayu Tasnaphun

The subway line needs serious maintenance, and the MTA is talking about shutdowns that could last three years. How will people get to Brooklyn?

When you arrive in the station just as your train is leaving, you chalk it up to karma.

When your train is delayed, you grin and bear it.

When you hear about weekend repairs, maybe you hop a bus to make a connection. But when the train shuts down entirely, you're in uncharted territory.

L train riders are now being forced to contemplate this unknown, as the MTA explores options for repairing damaged subway tunnels.

The MTA says the plans aren't finalized, but options include a shutdown of the L for 18 months in both directions. Another option is to shut down the L tunnels one by one — that would mean very limited service for about three years. Confining the repairs to weekends would take even longer.
Why? Why? WHY?!?

Superstorm Sandy flooded the L train tunnels with 7 million gallons of saltwater.

"Rebuilding the tunnel will be an enormous task with significant implications for many customers," MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg wrote in an email. These repairs are "vital work," Lisberg says, to the "signals, rails, walls, conduits, cables" underground.

The MTA is still planning when the work will be scheduled, how it will be conducted, and what the MTA will be doing to get riders to their regular destinations.

Non L riders might view this as hipster comeuppance, but the spindly line, which supports 400,000 weekday riders, is more or less the only means of transit to and from Manhattan from Bedford to Canarsie. No L would be no fun.

Last week, a group of concerned citizens, including many business owners, convened at the Brooklyn Bowl with elected officials and an MTA representative to consider the fallout of a shutdown, asking why it was really necessary and what could be done if the trains really stopped. Cooler heads did not prevail.

When the MTA official explained that he was there to listen but didn't have new information, the locals kicked him out.
Lessons from the R

This is not the first tunnel shutdown related to Sandy damage.

The Montague Tunnel on the R line swallowed 27 million gallons of water during the storm and was closed for 13 months between 2013 and 2014. During that time, the R ran in two sections — one in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan and Queens.

Repairing the R did not require a lengthy shutdown like those being considered for the L train, and transfers to other lines meant that residents from Bay Ridge to Sunset Park could still get to and from Manhattan via train, even if it took a little longer.

But it was still a "challenging," process, says Cate Contino of the Straphangers Campaign, especially for people living off local stops.

Since there are fewer options off the L, "the MTA will need to find ways to ease the pain," Contino says, citing ideas such as bus service, bike caravans and bike shares.

Council member Vincent Gentile, who represents a swath of R-train riders, said the service changes had a silver lining: the segmented lines ran smoother than the full stretch had, and new cars subbed in on the line meant a cleaner ride than usual.

In navigating closure, Gentile says it was necessary to "press the MTA from the viewpoint of what's best for riders," suggesting that L riders work with the MTA and the Department of Transportation on other transit options — ferries, select buses in dedicated lanes, for example, as some have suggested.

Gene Russianoff, an R train devotee and head of the Straphangers Campaign, remembers the difficulty of the tunnel closure.

"You moan about your own subway line," he says, but "fourteen months being on the A and the F turned me into a permanent R worshiper."

The Jay Street-Metrotech platform, crowded with R regulars, was like "the burning of Atlanta in 'Gone With the Wind'," Russianoff says.

The R isn't "a day at the beach" but it had more room than the A and the F, he says. "It was a glorious day when it came back."

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