By Sabina Mollot
With L train riders wondering just how rough their commutes will be for the next 15-20 months, the MTA is now saying the work should take less time than originally thought, 15-18 months.
However, during this time, there is the possibility that the First and Third Avenue stops could become exit only to limit crowding, a plan the agency was considering, according to a report based on a draft memo obtained by Streetsblog. Additionally, while there will be M14 Select Bus Service, that isn’t expected to be made available until the fall, local elected officials recently learned.
Council Member Keith Powers, who was in attendance at an MTA briefing held last Wednesday for elected officials, said he has grilled the agency on these and other concerns from L train riders and residents who live around the construction zone. Another concern is that with the revised L train repair plan, service will be dramatically reduced on weeknights from 8 p.m.-5 a.m. and on the weekends.
“The number one concern we (have been hearing) was the possibility of First Avenue (and Third Avenue) being exit only,” Powers said. “I pushed back on this very hard. We can’t close First Avenue if the SBS isn’t ready in time. This is why you need L train alternatives that are good. We want there to be bus service or an L train stop. This is unacceptable. Not to have it in a construction zone, it’s a triple whammy. It’s unacceptable.”
While the matter concerning the exits wasn’t discussed by the MTA at the briefing, “They did not deny that,” when asked, said Powers. When T&V reached out to the agency to ask about this, we received a response on other issues, but not about the exits.
And Powers said he got no commitments.
“They said it’s under review,” he said. “It would effectively be a shutdown for anyone who lives on First or Third Avenue only and that is completely unacceptable. But they still haven’t answered it.”
As for the SBS for 14th Street, Powers said he was told the MTA wanted to do more research on the subject before launching it.
But, Powers said, “The M14 (SBS) will happen and is going to be developed and the bicycle lanes on 12th and 13th Streets are staying. So some things are happening, some are not.”
A previously floated idea for a ferry that would go between Stuyvesant Cove and Williamsburg will not be happening.
On the delay for the M14 SBS until late summer or early fall, Powers said he was told there would have to be some wiring done in the street for the machines that can’t be done until after the snow season. (However, a T&V staffer spotted what appeared to be the steel supports for ticket machines which were not yet installed at First Avenue and East 14th Street on Monday.)
The subject of the SBS was also brought up by neighborhood residents who attended the 13th Precinct Community Council meeting on Tuesday evening. Some said they had concerns about the logistics about the SBS regarding whether or not tickets from the kiosks would be honored on local buses so riders don’t have to pay twice. Powers, who attended the meeting, said that this is another issue that he’s addressed with the MTA and is still waiting for answers. He noted that this problem seemed to be fully resolved on some of the other SBS routes in the neighborhood but it wasn’t confirmed that drivers of local buses would honor SBS tickets specifically on the M14 route.
Powers also said the MTA has talked about a need for “some community engagement, town halls” first, which he believes is unnecessary.
“Just start making it happen,” he said. “Don’t wait to get feedback. We’ll speak on behalf of the community. They want (SBS). There’s a lot where it seems like they’re just stalling but they’re also legitimately trying to figure it out. But we do not want to wait much longer. I want to be able to tell my constituents before the L train slowdown starts.”
As for the ongoing construction on East 14th Street, where the Avenue A entrance to the First Avenue stop will be and a substation on Avenue B, Powers asked about reducing the evening and Saturday work hours and reducing the “footprint” of the construction zone, which would return some lost parking spots to the neighborhood. Powers said he spoke directly with MTA Managing Director Ronnie Hakim and New York City Transit President Andy Byford about this.
“We have been asking them when it’s going to get better. We don’t know yet because they’re in talks with the contractor Judlau because it is revised work,” Powers said. “They still don’t have all the details worked out but we would like to get the parking back on 14th and 20th Streets.”
In one positive change for 14th Street residents, the new plan no longer requires construction debris removal by truck out of the Avenue A entrance. “The original plan called for dozens of additional trucks on our streets but, thankfully, that has been averted,” Powers alerted neighbors via Facebook last week.
Despite the lack of answers on the other issues, Powers said the MTA has been listening and making some changes to plans. He’s also hoping for another briefing soon since the L train is still a top concern of constituents.
“Often getting on the L train myself, I meet someone with questions about buses and parking,” Powers said. “I get questions every day. They all want to understand what’s happening.”
He also said there should be more town halls held by the MTA and the Department of Transportation, including one for East Side residents, though there is not yet a date set.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the MTA, Amanda Kwan, said the agency still expects to begin work in late April and that while SBS is in the works for 14th Street, existing bus service will be enhanced and the MTA will be seeking feedback from the community. Additionally, the MTA and consulting with the DOT to see if a previously planned “busway” on 14th Street should still happen.
Kwan also confirmed that there would be more open houses for affected communities.
During the project, the MTA said beginning around 8 p.m., service will be reduced to accommodate single-tube service. During overnight hours starting at 10 p.m., L service will operate every 20 minutes between Manhattan and Brooklyn as it currently does during overnights. During the project, overnight L service within Brooklyn will increase to every 10 minutes between Rockaway Pkwy and Lorimer Street and the MTA expects that this should mean 95 percent of riders will be accommodated.
Additionally, overnight and weekend G service, overnight 7 service and weekend M service will increase. Weeknight M service will operate to 96th Street in Manhattan.
M14A weekend and weeknight service will be enhanced, and monitored to see if riders are choosing buses to transfer to other subway lines such as F, M and J.