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- After announcing the closure of New York City’s L train subway line in 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo walked back his plan on Thursday, months before the shutdown was set to happen.
- Cuomo said the L train, which was damaged during Hurricane Sandy, would no longer be shuttered for 15 months, but would instead rely on night and weekend repairs.
- Cornell and Columbia engineers are looking into a European technique for tunnel construction that would allow the train to stay open on weekdays. The technique has never been used in the US.
- While Cuomo’s plan is music to the ears of some New Yorkers, it represents an unfortunate conclusion to an already-disastrous scenario.
Anyone who’s taken the L train on a weekday morning knows what a grueling experience it can be – even by New York City transportation standards.
At my stop at First Avenue in Manhattan, it’s rare to catch the train on the first go-round. I’m often left waiting for two or three cars before I can find room inside. When I finally make it onto the train, I’m sandwiched between frustrated commuters.
It’s been hard to imagine how the city would accommodate these riders under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed shutdown, which was scheduled to begin in April and last 15 months.
The closure, announced in 2016, was part of a plan to fix issues resulting from Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane damaged the train’s two tunnels beneath the East River, tarnishing signals and other electrical equipment. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, the Canarsie Tunnel’s bench walls needed to be replaced “to protect the structural integrity” of the train.
Now, the shutdown has been scrapped. Cuomo recently announced that the train will no longer close for 15 months, but will instead rely on a new European design method that involves night and weekend repairs.
For the governor to suggest this now – mere months away from the now-defunct L-pocalyse – implies a previous negligence and throws years of careful planning by residents, landlords, and business owners into turmoil.
New Yorkers planned for the shutdown
In the wake of Cuomo’s original shutdown announcement, New Yorkers were told that there would be new bus and protected bike lanes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and that improvements were being made to the J, M, and Z subway stations, which would have expanded services.
That didn’t stop the panic from setting in among the L train-dependent, some of whom moved in preparation for the closure. By August, rents in Williamsburg – which has many residents that are frequent L train riders – continued to drop, and landlords began offering discounts to people who renewed their leases.
I weighed the decision to renew my lease in Manhattan based solely on the fact that I would lose access to my main form of transportation.
Still, I understood why the repairs were necessary. I wasn’t about to complain about having to walk an extra mile to the nearest subway if the trade-off was my own safety.
Cuomo’s decision comes far too late
New Yorkers seemed to share my sentiment.
“When they announced the closure, the explanation was clear, both on the challenges riders would face and on the need to do it,” Kate Slevin, a senior vice president at the Regional Plan Association, told CityLab in August. “People got it.”
We knew it was a lose-lose scenario, but we were left in the dark about how the city actually planned to handle the influx of 25,000 displaced commuters each day.
Those concerns were apparently well-founded.
“The simple fact is you have roughly 250,000 people who would need another way to get to work, have a tremendous impact on traffic,” Cuomo said at a press conference on Thursday. “15 months sounds like a really short period of time, but it’s not if you’re doing it one day at a time trying to get to work.”
That’s something many of us understood in 2016, but it seems confusing now.
If a European method of tunnel construction was possible, why didn’t Cuomo entertain it before?
As New York Magazine’s Josh Barro wrote earlier on Twitter, “If Cuomo is right that a closure is unnecessary, then he’s admitting he’s been asleep at the switch for three years.”
New Yorkers are right to be frustrated
New Yorkers have a right to be frustrated that a plan they’d come to accept – and even prepare for – will no longer come to pass.
Minutes after the decision was announced on Thursday, Twitter flooded with angry commentary from people who had made major life decisions based on the shutdown, or worried the new plan wouldn’t adequately protect riders.
“We moved our cool Greenpoint office to Manhattan in anticipation of the L train shutdown … All for naught. It’s too bad this study wasn’t done earlier,” one user wrote.
New York City council member Keith Powers, who represents the First Avenue stop, also lamented the decision.
“The previous plan came after careful planning and extensive community outreach, in addition to months of disruption to my constituents,” he said in a press release. “Today’s announcement comes after individuals have made life-altering decisions about where to live, residents have been impacted by confusing parking changes, and New Yorkers have had taxpayer dollars spent on a design that has become obsolete.”
A few locals, companies, and politicians have pointed to the benefits of a canceled shutdown.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman noted that a functioning L train would mean fewer diesel buses on the roads, which would prevent additional air pollution. Others simply delighted in the fact that they wouldn’t have to give up their beloved subway line.
As a rider myself, I have to acknowledge the silver lining. But these celebrations ignore the fact we’ve been led down a long, winding road of false promises and questionable assertions.
For years we’ve been told that it was necessary to disrupt our lives to ensure our safety, only to find that there was a way out, a compromise we never knew existed.
If Cuomo was really concerned about offering New Yorkers the best solution to their transportation woes, he might have considered pursuing all avenues from the very start.
As it stands, he’s created a disastrous conclusion to an already-difficult transit scenario.