Think bigger to ease L train disruptions

The L train platform at Bedford Avenue, April 24, 2018.
The L train platform at Bedford Avenue, April 24, 2018. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The L train doesn’t have much of an off-peak period.

So, why should the plans for its shutdown?

The 15-month closure of the L train between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn planned for next year is expected to wreak havoc for its 200,000 daily riders.

The shutdown is necessary because tracks, signals, switches and walls in the Canarsie tunnel were severely damaged by flooding from Superstorm Sandy. Now NYC and the MTA need to move those L train riders between Brooklyn and Manhattan every day and night for 15 months.

Extra service on other lines, and the additions of a ferry route and more Citi Bikes, are planned, but won’t be enough. The best solution is a 24-hour busway down 14th Street, limited to buses, pedestrians and local deliveries, combined with significant restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge to allow a smoother ride for proposed shuttle buses.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio isn’t ready to embrace such a bold plan. Instead, he has suggested that the 14th Street busway be limited to “peak hours” — though no one has defined what they would be. Advocates and riders note that the L train is often crowded far beyond rush hours, even into the wee hours of the morning, and certainly at times usually thought of as off peak.

De Blasio talks about trying to “minimize the disruption on 14th Street.” But instead, he’s going to maximize the disruption for riders who will crowd the alternate subway lines, including the J, M and Z.

“If we need to make adjustments, we can make adjustments,” the mayor said of his plan.

On that, he’s right. But make adjustments only after it turns out the city has done too much to prepare for the L shutdown — rather than too little. If a 24-hour busway proves unnecessary, cut its hours. That’s a lot easier — and a lot less painful — than doing too little and having disastrous results.

This isn’t the time for small solutions. It’s the time for large-scale planning — with a capital L.