L train shutdown solutions debated at Manhattan City Council candidates’ forum

City council hopefuls debated solutions on Sept. 6 to address the needs of L train commuters once the shutdown takes effect in April 2019.
City council hopefuls debated solutions on Sept. 6 to address the needs of L train commuters once the shutdown takes effect in April 2019. Photo Credit: Todd Maisel

With the L train shutdown fast approaching, Manhattan City Council candidates gathered Wednesday to offer their ideas for dealing with the impending crisis.

The political forum, organized by Transportation Alternatives and held at The New School, gave attendees a glimpse of how the candidates from Manhattan Council Districts 2 and 4 will tackle pressing transit issues in their districts, which cover a swath of Manhattan’s East Side.

The two districts face crowded primary ballots. Of the 16 candidates running, 11 participated in the forum. Most disagreed with proposals to completely close private vehicular traffic on 14th Street during the L train shutdown, which, beginning April 2019, will impact nearly 250,000 people who use that line each weekday. The shutdown is expected to last 15 months.

Only Keith Powers and Vanessa Aronson, candidates from District 4, supported a completely car-free 14th Street, excluding buses, cyclists and a few other exceptions. Maria Castro and Barry Shapiro, who are also running in the district, pitched some form of the concept.

“I’m really concerned — especially about the hospitals in the areas, said District 4 candidate Bessie Schachter, who preferred improving bus service over disincentivizing traffic. “We need to think about the human element. Things come up day to day — you can’t just ban traffic altogether. We need to think through all of the alternatives.”

Shapiro proposed a rush-hour ban along the corridor to help commuters through the shutdown.

“We’re talking about moving a tremendous number of people here,” Shapiro said. “Lord knows, I’ve taken the L many, many times and know what a packed L train is like during rush hours.”

The candidates agreed that bus service across 14th Street must take center stage during the outage, which will shutter the line’s service to and through Manhattan. Many called for Select Bus Service across the street. Aronson said 14th Street buses should operate as free shuttles, with all-door boarding to move as many people as quickly as possible.

“I think we owe it to our commuters to have a free bus shuttle. It’s also the most (ADA) accessible option,” Aronson said.

District 4 candidate Jeffrey Mailman said he would call for aboveground MetroCard vending machines and more bus shelters at stops. He would also “make sure operations are as smooth and as timely as they can be.”

The topic was serious, but candidates remained civil. They offered a broad range of thoughts on transit in general, with many taking time to chastise what they described as reckless cyclists. Both Castro and fellow District 4 candidate Rachel Honig called for licensing and inspections for bikes, not dissimilar to motor vehicles.

District 2 candidate Mary Silver called for a law mandating helmet use.

“Responsible cycling is the responsibility of everybody who gets on a bike. I actually believe everyone on a bike should have a helmet on, too,” Silver said. “I think that should be required as well, and certainly it’s for protection and safety.”

Powers took a more tempered approach to the subject, blaming poorly designed streets for causing safety hazards.

“I think we have to focus on our streetscape improve it so that everybody sort of has a clearer sense of where they belong, particularly in the left-turn and mixing zones,” Powers said, “creating a clearer sense of: this is where the bike goes, and this is where the vehicle goes.”