The L-Train Shutdown, or How I Will Stop Worrying and Love the Bus, the Bike, the Boat, and the G Train

Almost invariably, every time I meet someone new and tell them that I live in Williamsburg, I get asked this question: what ever will I do during the L Train Shutdown.

The “L Train Shutdown,” officially known as the Canarsie Tunnel Reconstruction project, will result in the closing of the Canarsie Tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn to repair the damage the tunnel sustained during Sandy in 2012. The closure will cease L train service in all of Manhattan and in Brooklyn west of Bedford Ave. The closure and repairs, announced at least a year ago, will start in April 2019 and are expected to last into summer 2020.

The shutdown will have a profound effect on the lives of thousands of people, and like an old boss of mine used to say, “shit rolls downhill.“ I expect the L Train Shutdown will disproportionally affecting New Yorkers depending on their class, similar to what happens after a blizzard or major snow storm. The poor will have to endure the trains and busses to schlep to work because they have inflexible work arrangements, while affluent professionals will be able to stay home and “remote” into work.

But for all its disruption, the L Train Shutdown could also be an opportunity to remake transportation in North Brooklyn and in downtown Manhattan. Earlier this week, we learned how the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation plan to implement numerous mitigations for those traveling between Brooklyn and Manhattan during the fifteen months that the Canarsie Tunnel repairs will be underway. Many of the changes are additions that could very well make commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan easier, even after the Canarsie Tunnel repairs are done.

In short, the two agencies plan to…

  • restrict automobile traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge to vehicles carrying three or more people, known as HOV-3, during weekday rush hours,
  • launch a ferry route between the North Williamsburg ferry terminal and Stuyvesant Cove in Manhattan,
  • add extra capacity on the J,M,Z C and G trains, including adding cars to trains and extending station platforms,
  • add a dedicated bus lane and Select Bus Service on 14th Street in Manhattan,
  • add protected bicycle lanes on Grand Street in Brooklyn and Delancey Street in Manhattan to accommodate twice as many bicycle riders as there are now,
  • build a two-way protected bicycle lane on 13th Street in Manhattan,
  • add bus shuttle routes from Bedford Avenue and Grand Street stations in Brooklyn to “key connection points” in Manhattan.

These are some pretty aggressive measures to transport people between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and I hope that many of them stick around beyond 2020. For example, it would be great to have a dedicated right-of-way for busses on 14th Street even after the L train starts running again in Manhattan. There has been a need for a Select Bus Service route on 14th Street for as long as the MTA started SBS in 2004, and I’m glad to see it is coming to 14th Street. Also, the new protected bicycle lanes will likely remain in place after 2020 because everyone will just get used to them.

Imagine how many more people can travel between Manhattan and Brooklyn with these additional transportation options after the L train service resumes in 2020. Between this and being able to vote President Pence out of office, I finally have reason to look forward to the future. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

One can already see some of the changes taking shape. Many station platforms on the G line are being extended to accommodate more passengers and longer trains. The M line viaduct reconstruction is also happening in preparation to receive future displaced L-train passengers. And as I wrote earlier this year, there are new east-west bike lanes running on Meserole and Scholes Streets to handle the additional bicycle traffic the DOT anticipates during the L Train Shutdown.

Finally, if you are wondering what ever will I do during the L Train Shutdown, you won’t be surprised to hear that I plan to primarily use my bike. I only regularly travel to Manhattan on a couple of days per week and on most of those days, I ride my bike. Because the L Train Shutdown is starting in April, it only leaves about three winter months when there are days that are too cold to ride. Case in point: I rode yesterday and today because temperatures were in the 20s and 30s, but if this were December 2019 with no warm L train to zip me to and from Manhattan, I likely would have bundled up and gotten on my bike.

But 2019 is still 15 months away—as far away as the L Train Shutdown is expected to last. A lot of life changes can happen between now and then, and who knows if there even a need for me to worry about all this.

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