L train

The long-awaited L train shutdown has been a source of consternation among New York residents for a while now. Recently, the MTA and the New York City Department of Transportation finally revealed their transit plan for how they plan on dealing with the expected 16 month closure.

For those not in the know, the damage to the subway tunnel, known as the Canarsie Tunnel, that runs between Manhattan’s East Village and Brooklyn’s North Williamsburg during Hurricane Sandy will required the MTA to completely shut down the L train that runs through the tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn for at least 16 months, starting in April 2019.

L train closure plan

The L train is a major east-west route and runs between two of the city’s most popular and fast-growing neighborhoods. Anyone who has ever tried to ride the L train on a Friday or Saturday night also probably know it’s a prime “drunk rush hour” hotspot.

Without the L train, many Williamsburg businesses are concerned about a steep drop in foot traffic in the neighborhood. This includes many of the music venues that are only a few minutes from the first stop in Brooklyn, but are much further from other subway stops, like Schimanski, Brooklyn Bowl, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and others. Not only that but many East Village establishments are also concerned about a drop in people coming the reverse direction.

Unfortunately, the plan released for dealing with the closure hasn’t done much to assuage concerns. It includes several new bus routes and a three person HOV requirement during rush hour across the nearby Williamsburg Bridge that runs between Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Brooklyn’s South Williamsburg. There would also be a new ferry route and a realignment of the streets running parallel to the L train to emphasize bike and bus traffic. Nearby subway lines like the J/M/Z and the G would also see increased service (higher frequency for the J/M/Z, full-length trains for the G), improved stations, and free transfers at a couple of points that inexplicably don’t connect already.

There are two big issues with this plan. One is the big one everybody is complaining about. The other is nightlife specific.

Williamsburg Bridge
Williamsburg Bridge

The first issue is there is currently no plan to set up a bus-only lane, which many transit advocates were calling for. Many view this as nothing but a concession to private vehicles and trucks by continuing to let them use the already limited space on the narrow eight lane bridge. This, combined with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s refusal to consider congestion pricing within the city’s core despite pressure from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, advice from transit experts, and proven examples that it works, have many fearing that the bridge will be overloaded and that the transit plan is doomed to fail.

The second big issue is that many of the proposals to deal with fluctuating volume during different hours seem to only address commuter hours. Between two such busy nightlife hubs, the L train currently sees a traffic spike on Friday and Saturday nights as well as during regular commuter rush hours weekday mornings and evenings. Many of the presented options either do not accommodate those hours (such as the HOV lanes), are not feasible at night (how many people do you know who bike to concerts?), or won’t be able to handle the volume (the ferries are nice, but they’re not the most efficient transit option).

There are no ideal situations to solving the transit crisis that is coming. The L train needs to shut down between Manhattan and Brooklyn to do repairs on the tunnel, and any major closing will have negative reverberations. The city can and should do better by making some of the tough decisions now to limit private car and truck traffic at what will become major choke points. You already made the tough call to shut down the tunnel, what’s a couple more?

Will this be the end of Williamsburg nightlife overall? No. The neighborhood will bounce back after the closure is over sometime in 2020. But will every business be able to weather the 16 months? It’s going to be brutal, especially if the city doesn’t do its best to make a bad situation slightly less bad.


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