Straphangers exit the L station. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Residents of Stuyvesant Town and Alphabet City received an early Christmas present from the MTA last Thursday when the transit authority announced that a new Avenue A entrance for the L train at the First Avenue station is in the works.
The MTA hasn’t yet secured the $300 million needed for the project, which would also include work at other stations. However, it is seeking the federal funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Core Capacity grant program, which was formed specifically to address issues of system capacity.
There have been requests for an additional entrance at the First Avenue station for at least 50 years, as evidenced by a story in Town & Village in 1964. In the February 27 issue of that year, T&V reported that Federal Republican Club’s subway committee chairman George Comet had argued that the additional entrance was crucial because of new apartments that would soon be completed.
As always, the obstacle was funding. The MTA, officially called the Transit Authority at the time, said that an entrance between Avenues A and B wasn’t possible because the “dollars required” were not available, which at the time would have been $750,000. John Gilhooley, the Transit Authority chief in 1964, told Comet that the TA’s engineering department had conducted a thorough study before arriving at that figure.
Since 1964, the population has only continued to increase, with ridership on the L train skyrocketing because of the growing population in Williamsburg. The MTA reported that more than 300,000 commuters use the L train on an average weekday, an increase of 98 percent since 1998. The MTA said that a new entrance would double capacity for the station and would serve 60 percent of the station’s ridership.
Work on the improvements, which includes changes to both the First Avenue and the Bedford Avenue stations, is expected to take a number of years, with construction on the new First Avenue entrance to begin first.
At a Community Board 6 Transportation Committee meeting almost a year ago, MTA representatives said the agency was considering a feasibility study and residents at the meeting emphasized that the crowds at the station were more than just a nuisance.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” one Stuyvesant Town resident said at the time, noting that the way straphangers congregate at the station’s only exit crowds the platform so much that it makes waiting for the train a hazard.
Another key part of the proposal includes the installation of elevators at both the First Avenue and Bedford Avenue stations to make them fully compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
The transit authority’s request for Core Capacity funds is limited to “vertical circulation” and power improvements that will increase capacity on the L. The application for the funds is expected to take a number of years and the FTA will need to review the plan before a funding recommendation can be made.
The MTA included partial funding for the train’s improvements in the proposed 2015-2019 Capital Program and $50 million for the project was previously included in the 2010-2014 Capital Program.
Other infrastructure improvements that have been proposed for the L train include the addition of three power substations that would allow for two additional trains per hour.
The MTA is planning to coordinate these infrastructure improvements with the repairs to the tube that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy, although it hasn’t been determined yet when these repairs will take place. The repairs for that damage includes work on tunnel lighting, pump facilities, cables, tracks, signals, duct banks and other equipment.
CB6 chair Sandro Sherrod said that since hearing about the plans for the station’s improvements, he has invited Marino and Book to the committee’s next meeting on January 5 to discuss the proposal further.