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L train alternatives to consider during the shutdown, from wildest to mildest

The L train shutdown will be sending hundreds of thousands of commuters off the rails between Manhattan and Brooklyn come 2019.

The 18-month closure is needed to make critical Superstorm Sandy related repairs to the Canarsie tunnel under the East River, which took on seven million gallons of corrosive saltwater during the storm, according to the MTA. But the work is essential as it is disruptive—the MTA has described it as the most impactful project in its history.

The dire circumstances of cutting L service to and through Manhattan, which 225,000 daily riders rely on, has sparked some creative alternative proposals, perhaps out of desperation. Either way, advocates are hopeful that the shutdown could force the city and the MTA to finally give surface-level transit, like buses and bikes, its due focus.

“I think without a doubt we want creative solutions, an all-hands-on-deck approach,” said Masha Burina, a community organizer at Riders Alliance. “We need to think of the growing demands on the line — not just, ‘How are we going to survive throughout the shutdown?’ but ‘How are we going to be able to thrive afterwards?’”

In May, MTA committed to bolstering its nearby subway service and is now hashing out strategies with outside parties.

“Since the spring we have been working with the community, elected officials and other stakeholders to develop a robust outreach plan that will address service alternatives and minimize impacts on L line riders,” said MTA spokeswoman Beth DeFalco in an email. “Chairman Prendergast and our team have constant conversations with city, state and federal officials about options for the L line.”

Commuters should expect concrete alternatives to be announced more than a year ahead of the shutdown, MTA sources said.

Here’s the rundown of alternative proposals, from wildly fantastical, to the highly plausible:

East River Skyway

The L train shutdown has renewed the push
Photo Credit: Rendering by East River Skyway

The L train shutdown has renewed the push for the East River Skyway, a proposed gondola ride to provide L train redundancy from Dan Levy, president and founder of real estate website CityRealty.

Levy said his skyway would serve 5,000 people per hour and could take less than two years to build. Though the proposal still faces funding and regulatory challenges, which Levy said he is trying to work through.

"The amazing thing about our system is that people would be able to get across the river in five minutes," Levy said. "Instead of increased congestion on the Williamsburg Bridge, people would be able to travel very quickly in a traffic-tree and totally pollution-free environment in the matter of minutes."

Subway service improvements

The MTA is planning on beefing up service
Photo Credit: amNY / Jason Andrew

The MTA is planning on beefing up service on several nearby lines to bear the weight of L train commuters. Service will be boosted along the J, M and G lines. The MTA will run full-length G trains to increase service along the line by 160%. MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast has also said that dedicated lanes for shuttle buses over the Williamsburg Bridge will have to be an integral part of travel options.

Newtown Creek water shuttles

Youngjin Yi, a mechanical engineer, and Dillon Pranger,
Photo Credit: Van Alen Institute

Youngjin Yi, a mechanical engineer, and Dillon Pranger, an architect, put together a multi-faceted L train alternative proposal for north Brooklyn that would call for water shuttles through Newtown Creek to Manhattan. To increase access to the shuttles, the pair also proposed adapting nearby LIRR freight tracks for commuter use.

The proposal was the winner of the Van Alen Institute's L train mitigation competition.

The 14th Street Busway, or 'PeopleWay'

In April, the Regional Plan Association was the
Photo Credit: Regional Plan Association

In April, the Regional Plan Association was the first to call for a section of 14th Street to be transformed into a car-free busway. Two months later, the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives backed the idea and expanded on it, calling for the city to turn the crosstown street into a "Peopleway," complete with dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

The idea of transforming the street has picked up strong support from elected officials. Polly Trottenberg, the commissioner of the city's Department of Transportation, said her department would be looking into the option as a possibility.

E train extension

Planning firm ReThink Studio has proposed extending E
Photo Credit: Rethink Studio

Planning firm ReThink Studio has proposed extending E train service beyond its World Trade Center and into Brooklyn via the A/C tunnel. The train would then switch onto the G train tracks at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop, continuing north into Queens and end at Court Square. "Our proposal is proudly practical," said Jim Venturi from ReThink. "Thinking about the issue independent of the outage, this makes sense." But the MTA has dismissed the idea due to infrastructure complications and has called the proposal infeasible.

The 'L Transporter'

As part of the Van Alen Institute's L
Photo Credit: Van Alen Institute

As part of the Van Alen Institute's L train mitigation challenge, AECOM, an infrastructure design firm, pitched a floating, inflatable pedestrian tube for the East River called the L Transporter. The 2,400-foot tube would be partially submerged, bobbing in the river as cyclists and pedestrians traverse between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The plan was picked as a competition finalist, though, unsurprisingly, did not win any awards.


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