TransAlt Statement: L Train Shutdown Plan a Good First Step, But Bold Action Is Needed to Mitigate Congestion and Ensure Transit Is Top Priority

Joseph Cutrufo -
(646) 873-6027

Statement of Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White on the plan to accommodate increased bus and bike traffic during the 15-month L Train shutdown.

We commend the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and the MTA for working together on a plan that takes into account the L Train corridor on both sides of the East River. What they have put forth is a good first step, and we're pleased to see that street space has been set aside for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders. In the coming weeks, it will be important that the DOT and MTA continue to enhance the initial proposal, specifically looking for synergies between L Train solutions and Governor Cuomo’s anticipated congestion pricing announcement in January.

More specifically, while the plan calls for limiting the Williamsburg Bridge for HOV 3+ and trucks, stronger traffic management measures are needed. Full-time bus-only lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge, for example, would ensure that transit riders would not have to compete for space with trucks, municipal vehicles, private carpools, and ride share services like Via, uberPOOL, and Lyft Line. The L Train does not share its right of way with other vehicles, why should the buses that step in for the L Train during the shutdown? Without a full-time dedicated right-of-way for buses across the East River, the Williamsburg Bridge may prove to be the plan's weakest link, and must be revisited to ensure swift bus connections between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

\We also have concerns about local buses slowing down Select Bus Service buses on 14th Street. Additional bus traffic is of course a crucial component of the plan, but there is little detail about where shuttles will stop, and how passengers will board these buses. The L Train allows passengers to board on any door; all-door boarding is an absolute must for the shuttles that will carry transit riders who will be using L Train replacement bus shuttles.

In addition to a full-time bus-only lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, the DOT should think holistically about mitigating congestion on all of the East River crossings. Restricting the use of single-occupancy vehicles on the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges, for example, may be a necessary step to stave off the additional congestion that would come from "bridge shopping" in northern Brooklyn and western Queens. Ultimately, a variable-rate pricing mechanism is what's needed on all East River crossings, and we would challenge city leaders and the governor’s Fix NYC panel to be bold and to prepare to fast track such a scheme by the time the Canarsie Tunnel is shut down in 2019.

We applaud the inclusion of a protected bike lane along Grand Street in Brooklyn, as well as the plan to remove parking on Manhattan's 13th Street to clear space for a two-way protected bike lane. And while the bike network additions at Grand, Delancey, 14th and 20th Streets are necessary, there must also be considerations made for cyclists on 14th Street. Working cyclists in particular must use 14th Street as it is a commercial corridor that is home to dozens of restaurants.

And finally, while the MTA has committed to increase service on the J, M, Z and G lines, we believe the current plan is too optimistic about the volume of passengers these trains can actually absorb, even with reopened entrances and improved passenger flows. The subway is at capacity; additional service is absolutely necessary, but we remain doubtful that these trains will handle as much additional ridership as is predicted.

This plan certainly includes a number of welcome improvements, but there remain some areas of concern. The coming weeks and months will no doubt bring a variety of suggested changes; Transportation Alternatives stands ready to assist the DOT as information is gathered and adjustments are made.