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Have Years Of Crappy Weekend L Train Service Prepared Us For The Slowdown After All?


If the first few hours of the L train slowdown were marked by eye-popping wait times and serious overcrowding, by Saturday afternoon the MTA had mostly recovered. As promised, trains were running every 20 minutes or so between Brooklyn and Manhattan, the platforms were chaotic but not overwhelming, and New Yorkers were helping each other figure out other ways to get to where they needed to go. It's almost as if years of crappy weekend L train service has prepared us for this moment.

"The L train's had issues before, I'm kinda used to it," straphanger Rod Stevenson told Gothamist as he rode from Union Square back to his home off the Jefferson Avenue stop. Stevenson pointed to the periods of weekend work over the years in which the L was either shut down altogether or running irregular schedules.

"It's a price to pay, but it's better than it being shut down [entirely] and causing even more problems," Stevenson said of the delays. "I'm glad they found an alternative route to take."

From 8th Avenue to Lorimer, MTA employees paced the platforms, passing out literature and shouting directions to riders into bullhorns. "It adds a human element that the screens or signs can't give you," one MTA worker said. "That kiosk right there is not gonna give you real-time information like I can."

Outside the Bedford Avenue stop, where trains in both directions share a single track, and riders have to navigate a maze of barricades and construction fencing to board, New York City Transit President Andy Byford was keeping an eye on what he said would be the biggest crowds of the day, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. "So far, so good," was how he assessed the first 20 hours of the slowdown.

Byford said that while maintaining the L train's 20-minute interborough nights and weekends schedule (10 minutes for trains running in Brooklyn only) was crucial, "the other mark of success for me is that people have definitely been migrating to other services—we've seen an increase of ridership on the M line."

The subway chief blamed Friday night's delays on a single improperly programmed train. "That did throw the system a little out of kilter. We think we just identified the fix, but in any case we have plenty of staff out, myself included, to give people real-time information." (This phrase, "real-time information," seems to be a favorite of MTA employees.)

Byford's advice to people considering taking the L train? Maybe consider not taking the L train.

"If you can avoid the L line and you can use one of the alternate routes, the J, the M, the G, the 7, the buses that we've put on 14th Street, the M14—those are good alternatives."

This is true, assuming those lines are in good service, and for at least a portion of Saturday, they were not. And while there were definitely more M14 buses, there is nothing to save them from getting stuck in the miserable traffic that clogs 14th Street. It took us 47 minutes to get from Grand Street on the Lower East Side to 8th Avenue and 14th Street.

That may change in June, when the DOT is supposed to begin restricting car traffic on 14th Street by allowing drivers of private vehicles to travel one block before they must turn right. Select Bus Service is also coming.

Nicole Fineman, who was riding the M14A to the Union Square playground with her children Lior and Miko, said that the arrival of SBS would be bittersweet.

"I'm happy that they're doing something to try and fix the service speed," she said, as the bus crawled up Essex Street. "But I'm unhappy that they're closing down three stops on Grand Street that are actually pretty vital to our neighborhood for the people who live on Grand Street. It will affect us a lot."

She added, "My heart goes out to all the L train riders in New York City. With the MTA it feels like you get one thing and you lose something else."

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