Despite it being only four months away, the impending L train shutdown — slated for April 27, 2019 — becomes more real every day for those who take the train into Manhattan daily.
L train service will be suspended in all of Manhattan for 15 months as the MTA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) repair the Canarsie Tunnel, which flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Service in Brooklyn will remain the same, but for those 225,000 daily riders who take the train between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the 50,000 who take the L in Manhattan, commuting will look a whole lot different.
To help alleviate ridership on trains that will bear the brunt of taking L train riders, the MTA will implement a new bus plan. There will be increased M14 bus service, which will take riders across Manhattan, but there will also be four different bus routes — aptly named the L1, L2, L3 and L4 — running between Williamsburg and Manhattan with limited stops.
Currently, New York City buses are some of the slowest in the world, with average speeds being around 5.7 miles per hour in Manhattan. The MTA aims to run 80 buses an hour across the Williamsburg Bridge by restricting car traffic and creating an HOV lane, which requires cars to have three or more passengers. So not only will traffic along the bridge and on 14th Street become more congested, the cost of ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft will likely inflate during peak hours. That’s not even including pedestrian or bicycle traffic.
Yuli Yea, a daily L train rider who works in Bedford, said she has been walking the Williamsburg Bridge back and forth three to four times a week to prepare herself.
“If anything happens, I’ll be just like, ‘Okay, let’s go walk across the bridge,’” Yea said. “It’s really going to be tough. A lot of people think that Uber or Chariot, you know the van, [will work] but it’s going to be so bad. I rather just walk. I don’t want to be stuck in traffic and just waiting.”
For people who don’t live close enough to Williamsburg or who don’t want to take the bus, the MTA expects these riders to take the J/M/Z, G, A/C/E and 7 trains. G trains, which normally have only four cars, will now have eight and will also run three extra trains per hour — therefore increasing ridership by 14,000 extra people. Most riders will likely take the G to the E, M or 7 in Queens or to the J/M/Z in Brooklyn. The G is the only line that can increase its capacity, even though the MTA and DOT expects that the J/M/Z will take most of the burden.
“It’s annoying, cause we live a block down from the L train,” said Pena Genesis, a 23-year-old studying at John Jay College. “But when that’s not working, we have to take another alternative. So we take the bus to the M, the F or the J, whatever’s closest. It sucks because it adds like 40 minutes to our commute. From here to our college, it’s like 30 minutes. It’s 25, if it’s a good day. It turns to 45, maybe an hour without the train working.”
Martin Omangyi, 19, also studies at John Jay and takes the L every day from Rockaway Avenue to 8th Avenue in Manhattan.
“It’s already a long commute as it is,” Omangyi said. “My commute is about an hour and fifteen minutes to John Jay College. For me, luckily there is a 3 train by my house so I could take that, but most people aren’t that fortunate, so I’m not sure what other people are going to do. It just doesn’t work out.”
Those extra 20 minutes can add up, though, according to Genesis. “It’s a hassle to wake up earlier than intended just to get to class when I could get an hour of extra sleep,” Genesis said. “It gets in the way. It’s one of those small things that kind of adds on, you know, makes your life a little harder.”
During the summer of 2017 in what was penned “the summer of hell,” 74 percent of New Yorkers were late to work, 13 percent had lost wages and 2 percent had been fired because of subway delays — and the L train wasn’t even shut down yet.
Laurie Walker, a Ridgewood resident who works at a Manhattan Bloomingdale’s, said that she’s been late because of the train at least a few times a week.
“They’re kind of understanding, but I try not to make it a habit,” Walker said. “I usually just take the M and then I’ll catch the L when the M isn’t running. I think the M will probably pick up more service, but I think it won’t be that big of a difference, unless the M shuts down, which I’d be screwed.”
This summer, the M train normally suspended service in Manhattan around 9 p.m. For Maggie Meskhi — an NYU student who works along the L and who lives in Ridgewood off the Fresh Pond M stop — this became a problem when the L also ended service on the weekends. Most of the time, she rushed back home in order to avoid a longer commute.
“Like, you obviously want to go out,” Meskhi said. “You want to have fun with your friends. A lot of times, I wouldn’t be able to because I didn’t want to, I don’t know, take like an hour and a half to two hours to get home. I really couldn’t think of other options, like the L train isn’t running. The M train isn’t running. I’m nowhere near any other train. So I would — I still do — have to make sure to get home early because on the weekends L trains that aren’t running sometimes.”
Meskhi said that she doesn’t anticipate taking the L to take any of the buses, and that she’d rather just transfer by taking the M to the 6 to get to work.
“I highly doubt ever getting on,” Meskhi said. “I really hate the bus. There’s so much people and it just takes much longer. I still don’t know what Bedford L people are going to do. Their commute is going to like quadruple in size, if not more. There are a lot of unnecessary time-consuming rituals that come with having a bus and I just I don’t think I would ever.”
While the L train in Brooklyn suspended service during some weekends in the summer, Manhattan-side service will end the following weekends ahead of the actual shutdown:
- Feb 2-3
- Feb 9-10
- Feb 16-17
- Feb 23-24
- Mar 2-3
- Mar 9-10
- Mar 16-17
- April 27-28
Restaurant and shop owners along the L expressed concern for their livelihoods at meetings in the past few months, claiming that foot traffic is how they get most of their business. The shutdown has even affected the cost of rent in Brooklyn, cutting costs by almost $250 per month since renters want to have access to more reliable trains.
Meskhi had even considered moving ahead of the shutdown because of the emotional and physical toil of being late to class or work.
“I’m the kind of person who is very impatient and I take everything very close to heart,” Meskhi said. “I would like almost break down and almost cry when I would repeatedly get in traffic and I was late for yet another class. God forbid, like, what if I have an early final and that happens, you know? It’s so fucked up.”
It’s going to be a long 15 months if everything goes to the MTA’s plan, but few have hope that service will change post-shutdown or that the MTA will even stick to schedule at all.
“I’m not expecting much,” Genesis said. “It’s gonna look the same. It’s probably going to run the same because it’s the L train. We’ve been living on this train for 20 years. So I think even after we’re done with the shutdown, it’s going to have its problems. Maybe 10 percent less, but at least it will be open.”