Cuomo action welcome, but why so late?

The L train subway, which is also known as the Canarsie line.
The L train subway, which is also known as the Canarsie line. Photo Credit: Catherine Taylor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sudden interest in avoiding a 15-month shutdown of the L subway line shows what can happen when he takes charge of what he called a “highly impactful” issue.

Cuomo says all it took was a conversation with a Brooklyn resident about the L train during last year’s gubernatorial race. By December, he called experts and went on subway tunnel tours. Three weeks later, he upended tunnel repair plans that were three years in the making.

We hope his new plan works, but concerns remain. Theoretical ideas must be matched with practical expertise, contractors must prove they can get the job done, and the MTA and the governor must be prepared for unintended consequences and unanticipated problems.

However, Cuomo’s leadership and new thinking both outside and inside the MTA are welcome. The new L train strategy, which requires MTA approval, illustrates what’s possible for the rest of the city’s and region’s transit system, its problems and its projects.

Cuomo should take such interest in other big public transit issues earlier in the process. He talked Friday of utilizing the thinking and technology of Elon Musk’s electric-car company, Tesla, to modernize and improve subway signals and cars, such as using sensors on the subway cars to detect when they’re too close to one another. That’s worth a look, though likely easier said than done. And there are other areas ripe for a larger imagination. Are there, for instance, outside-the-box ways to build the rest of the Second Avenue Subway, or the mammoth East Side Access effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, sooner and less expensively? Are there new ways to add elevators and other accessibility measures to subway stations or improve bus service? Perhaps, but Cuomo should take a leadership role on big MTA efforts at the start, doing the hard work of collaborating with communities, experts and local officials, rather than swooping in at the end.

And in every case, think differently — but make sure it’s done right.