The dreaded L train shutdown is coming sooner than anyone imagined. On Saturday, the MTA quietly announced that there will be no L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn during 15 weekends in the coming months, so that the transit authority can prepare for the 15-month total shutdown between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue, scheduled to begin next April.

The pre-shutdown shutdown will halt weekend L service between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Myrtle-Wyckoff (or sometimes Broadway Junction) in Brooklyn for the entirety of October and February, three weekends in March, and also this coming weekend. Additionally, weekend service will be suspended on April 13th and 14th—suggesting that the actual tunnel reconstruction won't begin until the second half of the month. The full shutdown between Bedford Avenue and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan is scheduled to begin sometime in April, though an official date has not yet been announced.

To make up for the disruption caused by the track and signal maintenance, and as a preview of what riders have to look forward to, the MTA will offer an unspecified amount of additional train and bus service along the impacted routes. (Details here.)

Meanwhile, local elected officials and transit leaders got their own glimpse of the misery soon to be visited upon hundreds of thousands of displaced L train users during a private bus ride on Monday morning, in which they witnessed firsthand the "herculean task" of shuttling commuters through already-congested stretches of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The route—from Bushwick Avenue and Grand Street in Williamsburg across the whole of 14th Street, and ultimately back to Union Square—was intended to loosely mimic the new bus network set to be launched ahead of the shutdown. In total, buses are expected to accommodate up to 4,200 people per hour, or about 17 percent of the 225,000 riders who previously relied on the L train's Canarsie Tunnel.

During the two hour ride, state senators and city councilmembers battled traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge, observed private vehicles obstructing bus lanes, and took note of several choke points made worse by construction. They ultimately arrived at their destination—a press conference in Union Square—about 20 minutes late (though an MTA spokesperson claims that was because the politicians on board had so many questions).

NYCT President Andy Byford and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg greeting reporters after a two hour bus ride with elected officials (Gothamist)

"We encountered traffic that backed up a quarter to a third of the Williamsburg Bridge, and sat in traffic for around ten minutes," City Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents Greenpoint and parts of Williamsburg, told Gothamist. "We'll see how it plays out with the volume of buses coming off the bridge—it's hard to envision with the tour we just took."

According to New York City Transit President Andy Byford, the creation of four new bus routes will send up to 80 buses across the Williamsburg Bridge each hour. There will be no dedicated bus lane on the bridge, despite the urgings of transit experts, and Byford's own declaration on Monday that "bus lanes are the way of the future." Instead, one lane of the bridge will be devoted to vehicles with three or more passengers between 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A busway on 14th Street will have restrictions on cars during that same time frame—a compromise between commuters who wanted a permanent car ban and 14th Street residents who did not. Asked why the contingency plan doesn't call for a 24/7 busway on 14th Street, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg cited the vocal opposition from some West Village and 14th Street residents, and added, "We have tried to thread the needle and as a result everyone is mad at us."


While Manhattan politicians—State Senator Brad Hoylman and Borough President Gale Brewer, among them—brought up the issue of clean buses and turning radiuses at certain intersections, representatives from Brooklyn seemed more focused on figuring out how the MTA actually plans on transporting stranded riders between the boroughs. "Enforcement on the Williamsburg Bridge is going to be really important. How it's enforced is going to be a big challenge," noted Levin. "That remains a huge concern."

As for the issue of luxury vans replacing, or possibly blocking, the buses, Trottenberg noted that the agency was monitoring the companies, while Byford insisted that the bus plan, if done right, will be attractive enough to dissuade people from relying on private vehicles.

"At one point along the route we went on a bus route that was unimpeded," Byford beamed. "We absolutely sailed past a line of traffic in Brooklyn. Where bus lanes are properly policed, and where people don't selfishly park in them, the bus can do its job."

Come April, that assurance will be tested by an onslaught of riders left without reliable subway options; those stranded by weekend service disruptions may see for themselves even sooner.