While the MTA’s repair work on elevated subway tracks in Woodside is “much needed,” it’s also threatening the livelihood of local business owners, according to City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
The state-run agency is essentially using busy streets in the neighborhood as a staging area for its equipment, the lawmaker said, which is keeping people from frequenting small businesses that rely on foot traffic to make ends meet.
Standing outside of neighborhood staple Donovan’s Pub at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 58th Street on Friday, Van Bramer said ensuring safe, reliable transit should not come at the cost of destroying neighborhood businesses.
“There has been a big crane on 58th Street, closing an important artery [to the neighborhood]. St. Sebastian [Academy] across the street has giant tractor trailers parked in front of it,” he said. “That cannot be safe for children. It is not good for our neighborhood.”
James Jacobson, co-owner of Donovan’s Pub, stood beside Van Bramer as he described how the MTA has set up sidewalk barriers that block people from accessing his business and take up valuable parking space along Roosevelt Avenue with apparently unused equipment.
“There is more foot traffic usually,” he said, accusing the MTA of not caring about the project’s impact on local business. “We have counted about 15 times in the past that they were doing construction. When it eats up parking, it cripples us.”
Jacobson said that about three weeks ago MTA crews began putting up barriers that block people from walking on Roosevelt Avenue between 57th and 61st streets. The barriers go up when crews are working and are taken down when they’re done, but then no-parking signs are put up, he said.
“We had regulars who told me, ‘We tried to come by last week and we didn’t even try, we left,’ ”Jacobson added, referring to the barriers. “People don’t know when it will stop and they don’t know when to come back.”
Donovan’s Pub is one of a handful of small businesses whose owners have expressed concerns over a drop in revenue since the track work began, Van Bramer said during a phone interview on Thursday, ahead of the news conference.
“How could that not impact their business?”
Jon Weinstein, a spokesman for the MTA, said the repair work above Roosevelt Avenue is necessary for 7 line service to run effectively.
“This equipment is essential for critical state-of-good-repair work on the 7 line, and we simply must do maintenance to ensure safe, reliable service for Queens,” he said in an emailed statement.
Queens residents, including Van Bramer, are among the least satisfied with subway service in New York City, according to a July 2017 survey by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. Forty-one percent of Queens residents graded subway service a “D” or an “F,” the report said.
“How often is your commute on the 7 train flawless? Never!,” he said at the news conference on Friday, referring to the new New York City Transit president’s comment that his recent commute was flawless.
The subway system’s crumbling infrastructure is part of the reason riders have seen a spike in delays and service problems in recent months, according to transit experts. In July, the MTA unveiled its Subway Action Plan to address service issues, which includes upgrades to its aging infrastructure.
According to the MTA’s website, there is track replacement work slated for this weekend that would result in Manhattan-bound trains skipping stops at 69th, 52nd, 46th, 40th, and 33rd streets.
The track work began earlier this month and is expected to last through the middle of March, Van Bramer said on Thursday.
“Over the next few months they’re going to be doing a lot more track work, and we’re concerned that these small businesses will close for good,” he added. “This is becoming a real serious crisis.”
Natty Wungmarn, manager of Chin Chin Thai restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue, said she has also seen a drop in customers since the MTA construction began.
“On weekends, usually it’s packed. Last Saturday, less than half of the usual people showed up,” she said.
While Van Bramer conceded the repair work is necessary, he suggested the agency could be doing more to work with the local community and communicate with small businesses better to find out what they need.
“Basically, we are demanding that the MTA do the work that they’re doing in a way that doesn’t kill small businesses,” he said. “We’re not saying the MTA shouldn’t do the work. The MTA should make sure the 7 train is in good repair.”
Weinstein said the MTA has been in “constant contact” with elected officials and the community board, “and we look forward to continuing that engagement.”
The ideal compromise: “When they’re not working, they should remove all the equipment and restore all of the parking. And when they are working, they should minimize the disruption,” Van Bramer said.
With Rajvi Desai