Fresh off last week's rollicking display of NIMBY indulgence, the second and final stop on the MTA's L-pocalypse Listening Tour came to Brooklyn last night, where a significantly smaller and more subdued crowd sought answers about the coming shutdown—now just eleven months away.
In a high school auditorium off the Grand Street L stop, NYC Transit President Andy Byford and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg once again fielded questions about the 15-month shutdown, which will result in a complete suspension of service between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue for repair work necessitated by Superstorm Sandy.
To mitigate the pain of 225,000 soon-to-be-stranded L train riders, the MTA and DOT have released a plan for increased service on the J/M/Z and G lines, additional bike lanes in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the creation of a new bus network in both boroughs, and HOV-3 restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge during still-unspecified "peak hours."
NYCT L train town hall https://t.co/greRkJ4uzH
— Jason Anthony Pineiro (@JasonBXNY0619) May 16, 2018
Whereas those at the Manhattan town hall were largely focused on the disruptions to local neighborhoods posed by the contingency plan, nearly everyone in attendance last night called on the agencies to do more for displaced riders. Their most common recommendation, by far, was to make the HOV-3 restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge permanent during the shutdown.
"It needs to be almost 24 hours a day, at least, otherwise the bridge will become overly clogged with traffic and we won't be able to get the buses through," said Anthony Griffith, who's worked as an MTA bus driver for the past thirty years. As it stands, the MTA is planning on sending 70 buses per hour over the bridge. Asked what will happen if the bus priority is only enforced during traditional rush hour windows—as the mayor has suggested is "common sense"—Griffith told Gothamist: "That won't happen. That can't happen. At any point in the day, there's so many people that need to be moved."
Other common concerns raised by attendees included increasing capacity on alternative subway lines, expanding Citi Bike and ferry service, and doing more to ensure the plan meets the needs of disabled riders. Informing the transit officials that he'd been unable to get on two packed J trains during his commute earlier that morning, Sunny Ng, a Brooklyn resident, questioned how the J/M/Z line could possibly handle the massive influx of riders. "How many more trains can we really fit over the Williamsburg Bridge?" he asked.
In response, Byford explained that "the constraint is the existing signal system." Transit Operations Chief Peter Cafiero revealed that the number of M trains—"the most comparable service to the L"—would be increased from 10 per hour to 14 per hour. "That will bring J and M to 24 trains per hour. It's really the maximum we can fit there," Cafiero added. The MTA did not immediately respond to a follow up inquiry from Gothamist on whether that means there will be no additional service on the J train between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Apprehension about the lack of alternative travel options into North Brooklyn was shared by some in the business community as well. Felice Kirby, the founder of Brooklyn Allied Bars and Restaurants and former owner of Teddy's, Williamsburg's oldest bar, told Gothamist, "We're fearful that the MTA's desire to get people to not come to the area will be devastating for small business."
"We'd wished this shutdown would become an opportunity to make real leaps forward in transportation for the area," she added. "But there's going to be a lot economic loss, a lot of un-liveability in the streets." Later in the night, she asked Byford whether transfers between different modes of transit would be free for all riders, to which he replied that they would.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most notable contrast between the two town halls had to do with planned improvements in biking infrastructure, which Manhattan residents pushed back against last week, citing parking concerns. In Brooklyn, biking infrastructure elicited overwhelming support.
"Unlike the West Village, we accept that this work needs to be done," said Philip Leff, a volunteer organizer with Transportation Alternatives. His question had to do with the proposed bike lane on Grand Street, and whether it would be protected on both sides. Trottenberg replied that there were "geographic questions" on Grand Street, and a DOT official added that the street was not wide enough for protected lanes to be installed on both sides.
The subject of bike lane obstruction, and the misuse of parking placards by cops and other drivers, was also raised several times during the town hall. "I've almost never ridden on the East River bike path without part of it being blocked by something, whether it's police cars, construction, or buses," said Jim Stewart, a Brooklyn resident.
A comedy duo (?) just presented Andy Byford with an award for the worst transit system in the world, crowd mostly boos pic.twitter.com/ToSyVo5kLa
— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) May 16, 2018
Despite the general unease about the shutdown, there did seem to be a sense among many in attendance last night that the plan presented by the MTA and DOT was a strong baseline, even if a few key details remain unsettled. "The vast majority of New Yorkers are not taking cars, so I really like to hear that they're prioritizing buses, bikes, and pedestrians," Michael Francoeur told Gothamist as he was leaving the event.
Earlier in the night, two aspiring pranksters attempted to present Byford with an award for the world's worst transit system, and were largely booed by those in the crowd. A few even shouted words of encouragement—"keep doing what you do!"—at the town hall-fatigued officials.
"I'd say we do have a concrete plan," said Byford in response. "We're bending over backwards to get information from people on both sides of the East River."