By Maria Rocha-Buschel
As of Monday night, the MTA would still not confirm or deny the possibility of exit-only L train stations at First and Third Avenues or the specifics of increased bus service during the revised L tunnel construction project.
Representatives from the agency were at a Community Board 6 meeting on Monday, where frustrated East Side residents in attendance didn’t get any of the answers they were hoping for.
The CB6 meeting was the first appearance by the transit authority at the community board since the new plan, which allows the L train to continue running while work is being done, was announced in January. Officials from the agency shared updates at the meeting that the MTA had offered local elected officials in mid-February.
Glen Lunden, manager of operations planning at NYC Transit, said that part of the mitigation efforts under the revised plan includes increasing service on the M14, especially along the M14A, which uses Avenue A and runs from the West Village to Grand Street on the Lower East Side. The M14D uses Avenue D, and goes between Chelsea Piers and Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. As Town & Village has previously reported, the agency is planning to launch Select Bus Service on the M14 route but the express but service won’t be available until later in the year.
Lunden said that once the tunnel work is expected to begin at the end of April, the increase in service aims to offer an M14A or M14D bus every three minutes whenever the L train is running every 20 minutes, instead of the scheduled every four to five minutes. But residents at the meeting took issue with the MTA’s analysis of the current situation, doubting that the changes would make any difference.
Local elected officials also addressed the issue in a letter to transit officials after changes to the plan were announces, noting that riders have already reported that buses are at capacity throughout the L train work already taking place in January and February.
“I have taken them when the L train is shut down and I can wait 12 or 15 minutes,” Stuyvesant Town resident Arlynne Miller said at the meeting. “I have stood out there and waited and nothing has come and I’ve then walked to Union Square. There are no buses. You need to fix this now.”
Peter Cooper Village resident Anne Greenberg specifically asked Lunden if the increase in buses referred to both the M14A and M14D individually, and Lunden clarified that the increase applied to the M14 route collectively.
“At the moment we run more D than A so the additional service that we’re adding will be on the A. The D will be unchanged,” Lunden said.
Greenberg then noted that this isn’t necessarily beneficial for riders who need to travel beyond 14th Street.
“You said that during the off-peak hours you’re going to run a bus every three minutes but if it’s not the bus you need, it’s not every three minutes,” she said.
Committee member Gene Santoro also asked what percentage of the buses are actually on time to begin with, and representatives from the MTA and NYC Transit did not have the data available at the meeting.
STPCV Tenants Association president Susan Steinberg urged officials at the meeting to reconsider the possibility of making the First and Third Avenue stations exit-only. Local elected officials also addressed the possibility of the exit-only stations in their letter and urged the agency to reconsider this change.
Lunden confirmed that the possibility of exit-only stations is being studied and if implemented, would likely be during peak hours.
“We’re doing an hour-by-hour analysis,” he said. “We’re not talking about making stations exit-only 24/2 on weekends. What we are looking at are the peak hours, which are usually afternoon hours, but this process is still under way. We’re still not ready to give a final decision and will do it in consultation with our colleagues at the NYPD.”
Others at the meeting had concerns about the possible impact of for-hire vehicles on congestion and the effect those have on the traffic along the 14th Street corridor, especially since the busway portion of the mitigation plan, which would have barred private vehicles on the thoroughfare during peak hours, has been scrapped.
“I was with my five-year-old daughter and we had to go from Eighth Avenue to Avenue B on the M14 bus and it took 45 minutes,” another Stuyvesant Town resident at the meeting said. “If the buses run one minute sooner than they do now then it’s not going to make a difference out of a 45-minute trip. I could have walked if I was by myself but a little five-year-old girl can’t walk from Eighth Avenue to Avenue B and neither can many seniors and other disabled people who are living on the far East Side. It’s not going to work if you don’t have the right of way for buses to travel without being interfered with all the additional Ubers that we all know people are going to be taking if the First and Third Avenue stations are a mess.”
Stuy Town resident Mary Garvey and others at the meeting also advocated for the previously-announced bike lanes on 12th and 13th Streets to remain to give residents an additional alternative but were not able to get answers from the representatives available at the meeting.
Prior to Governor Cuomo’s explosion of the shutdown plan this past January, the Department of Transportation frequently attended similar community board meetings along with the MTA and NYC Transit, tag-teaming responses when issued related to the various agencies arose, but issues not directly related to the MTA primarily went unanswered at the recent meeting, other than a short response from a DOT representative who appeared at the end of the discussion to note that nothing had been decided yet on the plans for the proposed bike lanes.
Representatives from the MTA and New York City Transit noted multiple times during the meeting that one of the major changes to the plan since January is that service on the weekdays will be available from the beginning of the morning rush hour until around 8:30 p.m. in Manhattan.
“The vast majority of riders on the L during the week will not experience any sort of degradation of service,” Lunden said. What will happen, though, is on weeknights and weekends, when we’ll be having only one track open, we’ll have to alter the service. We’ll still be able to carry most of our riders but trains will come less frequently and will be more crowded.”
Lunden said that while only one of the tracks is open, only one train can pass through the tunnel from Lorimer Street in Brooklyn to Union Square, so planning service involves making sure that the trains are separated and the MTA has calculated that trains will be able to run about every 20 minutes when only one tunnel is open.
“It takes about eight minutes to go from Lorimer to Union Square and takes about two minutes for the switches to be thrown and then eight minutes back, and you add all that up and that adds up to about the 20-minute headway,” he said.