L train shutdown plans need to accommodate wheelchair access


The L train shutdown necessitates that the MTA update nearby stations to be compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, politicians and advocates say.

Freaking out about the L train shutdown? You’re not alone. The L train plays an integral role in getting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day.

In 2012, superstorm Sandy’s storm surge flooded the 100-year-old Canarsie Tunnel under the East River with millions of gallons of salt water, causing severe damage.

In response, the MTA said it would need to shut down the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn for 15 months beginning in April 2019 so that it could make critical repairs.

The state-run agency and the city Department of Transportation have since released their official, comprehensive plan to mitigate the effects of the shutdown, which includes a busway and bikeway in Manhattan; increased subway service along lines near the L train; the establishment of high-occupancy vehicle restrictions over the Williamsburg Bridge; a new bus network and a strategy to improve subway access that includes reopening several closed station entrances in Brooklyn.

The DOT and MTA recently announced two town hall-style public meetings to be held in May in order to answer questions from commuters and offer the latest information on the shutdown.

Below, find out more about Sandy’s impact, the shutdown plan, the official transportation alternatives and unofficial proposals that have been floated by others.

L line facts and figures

The Canarsie Tunnel, which serves the L line,
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The Canarsie Tunnel, which serves the L line, consists of two tubes. Both tubes sustained damage due to flooding during Sandy.

The L line runs from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan to Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, making it one of only three crosstown subway lines in Manhattan.

The L train’s daily weekday ridership between Manhattan and Brooklyn is 225,000, while its daily ridership along the entire line is 400,000, according to the MTA. Ridership on the L line has more than doubled since 1990, the MTA said.

How Sandy damaged the Canarsie Tunnel

When Sandy slammed into New York, it brought
Photo Credit: MTA / Patrick Cashin

When Sandy slammed into New York, it brought a massive storm surge that flooded the coast. The MTA said the Canarsie Tunnel was one of nine underwater tunnels that flooded during the storm, all of which needed extensive repairs. The Canarsie Tunnel in particular was flooded with 7 million gallons of salt water, according to the MTA.

A 7,110-foot-long section of both Canarsie tubes suffered damage to tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts and bench walls, the MTA said. In order to protect the structural integrity of the entire tunnel, the MTA said bench walls throughout that section need to be rehabilitated.

Work on other MTA tunnels has already been accomplished through night and weekend closures, while the Montague Tunnel under the East River, which serves the R line, was shutdown for over a year and the G train’s tunnel was closed for two months, according to the MTA.

MTA’s shutdown plan

In 2016, the MTA set forth two proposals
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

In 2016, the MTA set forth two proposals on how to go about shutting down the L line for repairs.

After considering an operational review and input from the community, the MTA decided to suspend service between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn for 18 months beginning January 2019 at the earliest. But in April 2017, the agency’s board voted for the project to begin in April 2019 and last 15 months instead.

During the shutdown, L train service will continue to operate in Brooklyn between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway.

The MTA also plans to repair and improve stations closest to the section that runs under the East River. New stairs and elevators will be placed in the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn and the First Avenue station in Manhattan, the agency said.

The other option that was on the table would have shut down one of the tubes at a time, which would have allowed for limited subway service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but would have taken three years to complete repairs.

Transit alternatives during the shutdown

A comprehensive plan to lessen the negative impacts
Photo Credit: MTA and DOT

A comprehensive plan to lessen the negative impacts of the L train shutdown was put forth by the MTA and DOT, amid demands from transportation advocates and elected officials complaining the agencies weren’t working together or providing enough information to subway riders.

Here’s a look at what the MTA and DOT plan to do:

Additional subway service on the J, M, Z and G lines:

– The MTA will provide increased service on those four lines.

– Additional turnstile and stair area capacity will be provided at stations along those routes.

The MTA expects to reopen or expand as many as 24 staircases at subway stations on or near the L line in an effort to stem overcrowding issues it anticipates. The improvements will happen at the Metropolitan Avenue and Hewes Avenue stations, but further details about other selected stations have not yet been released.

– More cars will be added to trains on the G and C lines to increase capacity.

– Free MetroCard transfers will be provided between the G at Broadway and the Lorimer-Hewes J, M and Z station, as well as at the Junius Street 3 train station and the L train at Livonia Avenue.

– The DOT will add new crosswalks, bike parking and pedestrian spaces to the Myrtle and Broadway corridors near the J, M and Z lines and improve crossings around the Nassau Avenue G train stop.

L-Alternative buses will have a dedicated lane across the Williamsburg Bridge:

– The bus lanes will connect Grand Street in Bushwick to Delancey Street on the Lower East Side.

– The city DOT will add High Occupancy Vehicle restrictions to the Williamsburg Bridge during rush hour.

A busway and bikeway will be added in Manhattan:

– 14th Street, between Third and Ninth avenues, will be available only to buses during rush hour. All other vehicle traffic will not be permitted during those times.

– Upgraded Select Bus Service treatments, including a sidewalk expansion and more pedestrian space, will be added to 14th Street.

– Cyclists will see a two-way protected bike lane installed along 13th Street.

– A new pedestrian space will be created on Union Square West between 14th and 15th streets and 16th and 17th streets.

– A new pedestrian area with a bike parking hub will be installed on University Place between 13th and 14th streets.

A new MTA ferry route will connect North Williamsburg with Stuyvesant Cove:

– The Stuyvesant Cove ferry station will connect with M14 Select Bus Service.

– Connections for cyclists at Stuyvesant Cove and the East River Greenway will also be improved.

– A protected bike lane will be installed on Delancey Street between Allen Street and the Williamsburg Bridge.

– Citi Bike provider Motivate will work with the city DOT to improve capacity where possible.

Community input

The MTA and DOT have held over 40
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

The MTA and DOT have held over 40 public meetings to discuss the project and transportation alternatives since announcing the L train would need to be shut down.

The meetings began in 2016 after community members expressed outrage over a lack of initial information about the shutdown. Since then, subway riders and transit advocates have been outspokenly critical of the two agencies over what they claim is a lack of communication and subpar mitigation plans.

The DOT and MTA vowed to hold more public meetings as plans move forward, announcing two new town hall-style meetings to keep commuters informed.
Manhattan meeting:
Wednesday, May 9, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
66 West 12th St.
New York, NY 10011
Brooklyn meeting: 
Wednesday, May 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
850 Grand St.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Unofficial alternatives proposed during the shutdown

The MTA and city DOT may have put
Photo Credit: Rendering from L-Ternative Bridge

The MTA and city DOT may have put forth an official plan on how to get New Yorkers between Brooklyn and Manhattan during the L train shutdown, but that hasn’t stopped the more creative minds in the city from offering their own ideas.

Dozens of people took part in the launch of the so-called L Bike Train on April 12. The bike train aims to promote cycling as a viable commuting alternative during the shutdown by offering strength in numbers.

All cyclists, from novices to veterans, are invited to bike together on their daily commutes over the Williamsburg Bridge via Grand Street. The bike train will be held weekly leading up to the start of the L train shutdown roughly a year from now.

In February, a Kickstarter fundraising campaign was started to support the construction of what is known as a pontoon bridge, pictured above. The proposed project, called the L-Ternative Bridge, would use 30 pontoons made out of 90-foot-long deck barges to support a two-lane roadway for buses and two walking/biking paths over the East River.

There is no current cost estimate for building the bridge, but the Kickstarter seeks to raise $50,000. A similarly designed bridge that is twice as long cost $38 million to build in 2008, per the Kickstarter page.

The L-Ternative Bridge and L Bike Train are the latest in a long list of proposals that have surfaced since the shutdown was announced, including a renewed push for an East River Skyway, Newtown Creek boat shuttles and the “L Transporter,” a floating, inflatable pedestrian tube across the East River.

Funding the L train shutdown

The contract that the MTA approved for the
Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

The contract that the MTA approved for the Canarsie Tunnel rehabilitation is projected to cost $477 million.

According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), the MTA was awarded $5 billion in federal Sandy aid, and funds for the infrastructure improvements on the Canarsie Tunnel were prioritized.


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