The L train “slowdown” is upon us.
Years in the making, the MTA will begin in earnest its repairs to the subway line’s Canarsie Tunnel Friday night, marking the start of significant service cuts for the next 15 to 18 months. Riders should expect big crowds and lines onto platforms at the busiest times during the repairs, which will take place on nights and weekends.
After initially hanging cutesy "L Project"-branded posters alerting riders that the train wouldn’t be “ghosting” them, the MTA has taken a more serious tone on social media this week. The transit authority is bracing for large crowds when it runs just three L trains an hour — at 20-minute intervals — from Bedford Avenue through Manhattan. The MTA will begin ramping down L service to 20-minute waits beginning 8 p.m. on weeknights, keeping that level of service through 5 a.m., then around the clock on weekends.
The MTA has warned that riders might not be able to board the first train they see during the reduced service hours and, more recently, outlined plans to deal with overcrowding. During the busiest times at nights, riders can expect lines into at least Bedford Avenue and stations to the west.
“If you *really* hate lines, remember that the M14A/D buses, or the M, G, and 7 trains might be better choices for you,” the authority tweeted on its official subway account. “During the busiest times on nights and weekends, 75% of current L customers will have a faster and more reliable trip with these alternate service options.”
The MTA is boosting service on the M14 and M, G and 7 lines in anticipation that riders will flock to transit options adjacent to the L. It’s also been extensively distributing pamphlets and has begun installing signage outside of stations advising riders on alternative travel options.
There are still a host of outstanding questions on dust management and the yet-to-be-released construction contract. Relating to service alternatives, observers didn’t question the MTA’s preparedness, but they are not convinced that those alternatives are enough to efficiently move all of the roughly 225,000 commuters who rely on the L to get between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The biggest concern among advocates so far is whether the MTA will be able to clear the worksite to run regular rush-hour service on Monday mornings.
“It’s something we can’t know until we’re at that point. I’ve definitely been encouraging folks to check service is back up before they head out the door,” said Jaqi Cohen, of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign. “But I think that is going to be one of the biggest challenges the MTA is going to have to deal with: are they going to be ready for the prime time on Mondays?”
MTA Spokesman Maxwell Young said hundreds of staff members will be deployed to assist customers throughout the targeted times.
"The new L Train plan provides over 90% of our customers with uninterrupted service, and in addition, alternative options never before available will also exist so our customers get to their destination in the fastest and most efficient way possible," Young said. "A robust operation will ensure that conditions in stations is communicated in real time so we can direct people to rapid alternative options when needed."
The work dates back to 2012, when superstorm Sandy sent floodwater into the L’s Canarsie Tunnel under the East River, as well as eight other subway tubes, damaging concrete and cabling. After planning for years for a full closure of L service to and through Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo convened a panel of engineering academics, who in a matter of weeks came up with a new rehabilitation plan that avoided an L shutdown.
Lisa Daglian, the executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, had some advice for L riders: avoid the L if possible; don’t expect the same commute times each morning; and don’t take out poor service on the Transit workers in stations or trains.
Daglian hoped the city and MTA would be flexible in considering changes and pump out new service information throughout the day. She also felt the authority and city made the wrong choice by scrapping the plan for HOV restrictions and shuttle routes running over the Williamsburg Bridge.
“There’s not a bus bridge right now, so people can’t just say, ‘I want to take a bus across 14th Street and over the Williamsburg Bridge.’ I thought that was a great idea,” she said. “Twenty-minute headways can lead to very dangerous situations … waiting 20 minutes or 40 minutes for another train is going to literally put people out of the system and into Ubers.”