By Sabina Mollot
With the dreaded L train shutdown no longer in the works, residents along the East 14th Street construction zone are now wondering if this means they can finally get a break from the endless construction, at least on Saturdays, while others are hoping the city will undo the recent reconfiguration of East 20th Street that’s led to a slew of parking tickets and towed cars.
Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, is among those wondering about both.
“What effect will the change have on the construction on East 14th Street?” she asked. “Did the relevant agencies just spend two years doing work they didn’t have to? Will East 14th Street still be a staging area? Will there be impacts on noise, dust and debris? Does that mean the East 20th Street redesign was not required? Can 20th Street be restored to what it was originally?”
Until those questions are answered, Steinberg said the TA has no position on the new plan.
Meanwhile, Fred Blair, a longtime resident of East 14th Street on the south side, said he just hopes elected officials will call for “an immediate stop to the nighttime and weekend work. There is no need to subject our neighborhood to these hours now.” That said, with all that work, he’s also wondering what’s taken so long to complete the Avenue A entrance. “An exit doesn’t take three years to build,” he said.
And Council Member Keith Powers, who’s been on the receiving end of many questions on 14th as well as 20th Street, admits that so far, he doesn’t have much in the way of answers.
However, the council member was invited to a closed meeting last Thursday at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s downtown headquarters to hear about the revised — albeit still unofficial — shutdown avoidance plan. NYC Transit President Andy Byford was doing all the talking at this briefing, aided by a few staffers with the elected officials representing impacted Manhattan and Brooklyn communities in attendance.
The elected officials also got to ask questions, but as for the responses, “There was no commitment to change anything,” Powers said.
This included the construction on East 14th Street.
“I said if they could change the (work) times on weekends to start later, it would be welcome to the constituents,” Powers said. “They have to redo the construction contract, and since they’re changing what they’re doing, it’s reasonable that they would change the schedule.”
As for a return to the old layout of East 20th Street, where bus stops were on the sidewalks instead of on islands outside a new bike lane, Powers said, “I don’t think it’s unrealistic.”
So he brought it up. “I said there was a series of decisions made on the basis of a different plan, including street-level changes. It’s frustrating if you live in a neighborhood and you see the changes and they’re obsolete.”
Powers mentioned how he’d been hearing from residents since the work began early last fall either because they were ticketed or towed for parking in spots that used to be legal, or because they felt unsafe due to the new layout. The street was redesigned in an effort to enhance traffic safety ahead of what was expected to be more bike traffic and more people heading to the new ferry stop.
As for the MTA’s response, Powers was told it was too soon for there to be a determination although he acknowledged the street design is more under the oversight of the Department of Transportation, anyway. Town & Village reached out to the DOT on the 20th Street layout, but did not hear back.
Powers said he would also like to know whether there will still be Select Bus Service for 14th Street, which he supports along with additional efforts to mitigate crowding on the L train, a longtime cause of suffering even without a shutdown. “That’s still a priority,” he said.
However, one thing that seems relatively certain is that there won’t be ferry service between Williamsburg and Stuyvesant Cove, which was one of the mitigation alternatives proposed. But Powers believes a ferry between the boroughs would still be useful.
“We still have a tremendous need to get people from Williamsburg to Manhattan,” he said. “The L train is still crowded. You can watch two or three before you get on one.”
Powers said he expects there will be more information on the alternative plan coming in the next three to four weeks.
Meanwhile, Lynne Hayden-Findlay, a Stuyvesant Town resident whose apartment faces East 14th Street, said she hopes Cuomo’s plan B teaches the government a lesson about the importance of communication.
“So much for the millions that have been spent on the preliminary construction as well as P.R., promotion and people’s time including numerous focus groups and town hall meetings,” said Hayden-Findlay. “Were they for naught? Experts seem to concur with the governor, so why was the MTA so behind the eight-ball and didn’t know about new technology that was being used in European rail systems? More than anything else, I’m fed up with the ability of the government and its agencies to get a job done efficiently and economically. Bottom line: If the new methods are deemed feasible and/or better, and if the cost doesn’t go through the roof, then let’s go. But please, people in charge, talk to each other.”