By Sabina Mollot
While most New Yorkers are approaching April with a sense of dread because of the start to the 15-month L-pocalypse, for those who live around the East 14th Street construction site, the nightmare has been going on already for quite some time.
Recently, local elected officials were able to secure some concessions from the MTA in response to neighbor concerns like additional lighting along the sidewalks where views of the street are obstructed by construction barriers, a commitment to install air quality monitors along the street and reopening of the sidewalk on the East Village side of the street, where stores have been cut off from foot traffic.
However, many concerns have remained, such as noisy work that goes on from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., as well as on weekends, clouds of debris that have caused some neighbors to fear for their respiratory health and equipment-packed streets that have led to an obstacle course for the disabled. Residents have also been left to wonder about the presence of an unidentified, glowing green substance in one of the many dumpsters that regularly get trucked in and out of the site.
On Tuesday, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein joined a few residents whose apartments overlook the construction zone for a press conference in front of MTA’s downtown Broadway headquarters. The protesters held signs that indicated MTA stands for “Making Tenants Angry” and one that showed a photo of the goo-filled dumpster at the site.
“We respect the need to upgrade the L train,” said Epstein. “But at what cost? At what consequences? We ask the MTA to do more.”
A protester carries a sign showing dumpsters at the construction site, including one filled with a glowing green substance.
One longtime resident of the block, Patrick Ryan, said his apartment is right at the center of the construction, which runs from the middle of the street between First Avenue and Avenue A to past Avenue B. According to Ryan, the noise levels of the work have exceeded legal limits and he is wary of what’s been filling the dumpsters.
“All the overflow is going into our storm drains,” he said.
He, like other neighbors who spoke, said they wanted the emergency permit that potentially could turn East 14th Street into a 24-hour work zone revoked.
“The effect on our neighborhood has been devastating,” Ryan said. “The noise level is untenable. Traffic is only going to get worse. The air quality is horrible.”
Adding insult to injury, he said, was that neighbors got no heads up before work began. It was in August 2017, Ryan recalled, when thee 70-year-old trees that lined the median along the street were suddenly chopped.
“They chainsawed them with no warning. One day they sawed the trees, the next day they’re digging a hole.”
Another neighbor, Penny Pennline, who’s lived in her apartment at 14th Street and Avenue B for 20 years, said she and her daughter started getting nosebleeds a year ago. She has also been dry coughing so much she ended up needing a chest x-ray and has had sinus problems that include watery eyes every morning. Pennline went away over the summer for three weeks only to see the symptoms disappear during that trip, and then come back again when she returned to the city.
“I know New York City is a loud, dirty city, but nothing has prepared me for this,” she said.
She asked that the MTA install air purifiers, replace the windows in her apartment that face the street with triple planed ones that would help mitigate the dust work and lighten the work schedule.
“We want shorter hours,” Pennline said. “No work on Saturday and Sunday to give us the weekends to live our lives.”
Another neighbor, Fred Blair, said he couldn’t understand how the preliminary work related to the shutdown for repairs of the Canarsie tubes has already managed to go on for so long.
“It took them 13 months to build the Empire State Building,” said Blair. Meanwhile, he said, “The block has been invaded by jackhammers, generators, dump trucks and jet grouters.”
Epstein said while the MTA has committed to finishing loud work by 10 p.m., cleanup work would still continue until 11 p.m.
“They haven’t agreed to reduce hours yet,” he said. He also thought the MTA should cover neighboring buildings with mesh and install HEPA filters. “They’re ahead of schedule so they can improve people’s quality of life while this is going on,” he said.
As for the air monitors the MTA has committed to along the construction route, Epstein said he is still short on details about how the data they collect will be shared.
Monica Bartley of the 504 Democratic Club, which represents disabled interests, also said the current state of the street poses a hazard for people with disabilities.
“Blockages pose a significant barrier for people with wheelchairs or other mobility devices,” she said. “When sidewalks are obstructed, we are forced into the streets with oncoming traffic.”
In response to the various concerns, a spokesperson for the MTA, Shams Tarek, said the agency has already taken a number of steps to address them.
“We have had dozens of meetings with neighbors of the L project, have developed extensive procedures to minimize the impact of construction, and welcome practical ideas on how we can further protect local quality of life,” Tarek said. “We require our contractors to uphold strict guidelines regarding noise, vibration, air quality, and safety, are monitoring all of these impacts, and any suggestion otherwise is just false.”
The agency did not respond to a question about what the glowing green goo was. Epstein said he hasn’t been informed of its contents, but has been told that it’s “normal.” He added, “It looks kind of gross and disgusting but they say there’s nothing problematic about it.”
However, the MTA denied that its contractors work on Sundays and said the 24/7 permit is for work inside the tunnel, not the street.
(In response to this, Blair told T&V that while the workers aren’t usually there on Sundays, they are occasionally and were at the site recently when the weather was terrible on a Saturday. “It has been done,” he said. “They have a permit for 24/7, so they can work any time they want to.”
Epstein said he has heard the same, adding that he thought even six days a week was too much.)
Meanwhile, the MTA noted the following improvements to conditions along the construction zone.
The air monitoring at the site has begun and will continue once the 200 diesel buses — another source of ire for neighbors — start rolling in when 14th Street is transformed into a “busway” during the L shutdown.
Many diesel generators have also been eliminated, by switching to electric lighting.
Additionally, the MTA has increased the number of permanent trucks at the site that use white noise backup alarms to reduce the noise. By the end of this month, 15 additional temporary trucks will be replaced with permanent ones with the white noise function. Sound-absorbing blankets have also been placed on fences.
A current jet grouting operation at Avenue B is scheduled to be completed by early December (the MTA said on December 11) and then excavation can begin. Once the jet grouting is complete, the MTA plans decreasing its construction “footprint” around Avenue B.
As for accessibility, the construction zone has been decreased on the south side of the street, to clear the sidewalk and, and around the Associated Supermarket on the north side to provide better access to trucks making deliveries.
The L train shutdown is scheduled to begin on April 27.