Public transportation advocates are calling upon the city and the MTA to close 14th Street to private vehicles during the looming L-train shutdown between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and invest upwards of $1 billion in modernizing the train line in a new report released Tuesday.
Created by the Riders Alliance and the Regional Plan Association, "Fixing the L Train and
Managing the Shutdown" offers a series of recommendations for mitigating the impact of the planned 18-month closure of the L train's East River tunnel for Hurricane Sandy repairs, requiring the suspension of L service in Manhattan. The L transports more than 225,000 New Yorkers between Manhattan and Brooklyn each day. Recommendations were based, in part, on information gathered in community surveys in affected neighborhoods and consultations with community groups, elected officials and other transit advocacy organizations.
The focal point of the report is a proposal for the "14th Street Transitway," a revamped 14th Street designed for buses, cyclists, and pedestrians. The Transitway would feature dedicated bus lanes for two proposed new Select Bus Service lines, protected bike lanes, and widened sidewalks. Private automobiles would be banned from 14th Street and truck deliveries would be restricted to avenues off 14th Street—or overnight along 14th itself.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he is open to the possibility of closing the corridor to private cars during the shutdown.
Beyond 14th Street, the report includes calls for an array of changes big and small, including creating a dedicated bus lane with SBS service over the Williamsburg Bridge; opening shuttered exits and installing high-capacity turnstiles at stations likely to see increased ridership to improve pedestrian traffic flow; expanding ferry service, with the possibility of landings on 14th Street; and offering free transfers from the A and L trains in Central Brooklyn to the LIRR to shorten commute times and alleviate overcrowding.
Nick Sifuentes, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, told Gothamist that the report has been shared with the MTA and the DOT and said the agencies have been generally responsive to concerns about the shutdown.
"We're actually rather positive about the seriousness with which the MTA and DOT have taken this issue and the substantiveness of their public process so far, but that we want them to go even further than they have with both expected mitigations and especially what they can do during the shutdown to make the L a better train," he wrote in an email. He added that the report's authors want the agencies to publicly endorse a proposal to create a working group of local, state, and federal elected officials; affected businesses; commuters; and advocacy organizations to ensure ongoing input on relevant planning decisions.
The report also looks more broadly at ways in which the city and the MTA can use the shutdown to improve the city's public transportation infrastructure and improve the L itself. "If the crisis is handled properly, it could provide an opportunity to test new technologies and street designs that could benefit New Yorkers in the long term," it says. "It also gives the MTA a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the L and address overcrowding and station accessibility issues along the line.
It calls for modernizing closed stations and renovating them for ADA accessibility, and revamping the terminal at Eighth Avenue to speed train turnaround time and increase the number of trains that can run each hour.
Currently, two of the five L stations in Manhattan are ADA accessible. Under the plan, the First Avenue, Third Avenue, and Sixth Avenue stops would add ADA accessibility. (Audible pedestrian signals would also be installed at intersections along the corridor to improve accessibility for the hearing impaired.)
The report estimates the improvements to the L line would cost between $880 million and $1.1 billion, a figure cited as a "considerable discount" of the cost of doing equivalent repairs while service is running.
A spokesperson from the DOT said the agency is "working closely" with the MTA on developing responses to the shutdown and that it would review the new proposal. The MTA said it is currently doing traffic modeling for the shutdown. "We will give riders at least a year's notice about all mitigation options," a spokesperson for the agency wrote in an email. The shutdown will begin January 1, 2019, so that deadline would come in January 2018.
That's a long time to hold your breath.