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L train shutdown: EVERYTHING you need to know

May 14, 2018

Brace yourselves, New Yorkers: the L train shutdown is coming. 


In April 2019 the Canarsie Tunnel, which connects Brooklyn and Manhattan along the L line, will be closed entirely for 15 months. About 225,000 people ride use the L on a daily basis, and that closure—while essential to fix the tunnel’s battered infrastructure—will be a major source of consternation for its commuters, particularly in areas where an alternate subway route is a considerable distance away.


Blame Hurricane Sandy for the closure; the storm devastated the tunnel’s infrastructure, and it’s only five years later that the MTA is getting around to repairing it. And though the shutdown itself is still a little less than two years away, it’s already causing plenty of agita for folks living in the affected neighborhoods (in both north Brooklyn and Manhattan)—not only will commutes change, but real estate in those areas may be greatly affected. 


Why does the L train have to be shut down?

Like we said, blame Hurricane Sandy; when the storm ripped through New York, it caused extensive damage on a 7,100-foot-long section of both tubes of the tunnel. The storm damaged “signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts and bench walls,” according to the MTA, and without a permanent fix, the tunnel would continue to deteriorate. 


The MTA carried out similar repairs on the Montague Street Tunnel for 13 months beginning in August 2013. That tunnel, which shuttles the N and R lines between Brooklyn and Manhattan, also sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Sandy. The MTA determined that a total closure, rather than doing work intermittently, would be the most efficient way to carry out repairs. Service on that tunnel resumed a month earlier that scheduled, so L train commuters can certainly be hopeful for fast-tracked repairs.


What will the Canarsie Tunnel repairs entail?

The MTA will carry out extensive demolition and reconstruction work in the tunnel. This includes “60,000 linear feet of duct banks, 14,400 linear feet of track and track bed, 270,000 linear feet of cable ducts and associated cables, repair of 7,000 linear feet of concrete lining.” The tunnel will also get new lighting and fire systems.


Before the tunnel is closed, the MTA will also spruce up the L train stations at Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn and First Avenue in Manhattan by adding new stairways and elevators to make them more ADA-accessible, and generally improving the flow of traffic.


Finally, construction on a new power substation at Avenue B and 14th Street in Manhattan will eventually allow the MTA to run more L trains along the route when it is back up and running.


How long will the repairs last?

Mercifully for riders, repair work has been shortened to 15 months from the originally-planned 18 months. The MTA was, at one point, debating between two repair plans: a partial closure that would last three years, and a complete closure for 18 months. Eventually the agency decided to go with the latter, and earlier this year announced an even shorter timeline for completion.


The repairs will cost $477 million, and the two firms carrying out the work, Judlau Contracting Inc. and TC Electric, will receive an additional $15 million to complete the work in the shortened time frame. Repair work is currently scheduled to begin in April 2019.


What will happen during the L train shutdown?

Service on the L line will continue on its normal schedule in Brooklyn, running between Bedford Avenue and Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway. But it’ll stop there—the train won’t run between Brooklyn and Manhattan, and there won’t be any L service in Manhattan at all.


At one point, MTA had contemplated running the L train in two sections: one in Manhattan between First and Eighth Avenues, and the second in Brooklyn between Bedford Avenue and Canarsie. In the end, the MTA decided against it because it would limit access to the Canarsie rail yards; if a train on the Manhattan side needed repairs, for example, there wouldn’t be an easy way for it to get to deep Brooklyn.


What are the transit alternatives during the L train shutdown?

The MTA is looking to tackle the issue through bolstering service on other lines, offering a new ferry route on the NYC Ferry, and prioritizing bus service.


In terms of the subway, the MTA will offer increased service on the J, M, Z, and G lines, and the G train will also get additional cars on each train. Commuters will get free transfers between the G train at Broadway and the J,M,Z trains at Lorimer-Hewes; they will also get free transfers between the 3 train at Junius St. and the L train at Livonia Ave. Other service enhancement efforts include running the M train to 96th Street/Second Ave. on weekends and overnight, and increasing the number of turnstiles and staircases at subway stations that will have to accommodate more passengers during the shutdown.


With the debut of the Lower East Side ferry this summer, there will also be a connection between North Brooklyn and Stuyvesant Cove during the shutdown. The 14th Street Select Bus Service will have a stop there, offering riders a connection back to the 14th Street area.


Bus service will probably be the MTA and DOT’s biggest focus; There will be bus lanes that connect from the Grand Street Station in Brooklyn to Delancey Street on the Lower East Side. These buses will run on the Williamsburg Bridge on High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes during rush hour to speed up the commute. On 14th Street, the area between Third to Ninth Avenue on the eastbound lanes and Third to Eight Avenue on the westbound lanes will be open only to buses during rush hour. The city is also planning to improve the existing SBS service on 14th Street by expanding the sidewalk, and adding more pedestrian space.


For cyclists, the city is creating the first two-way, protected crosstown bike lane in Manhattan, on 13th Street, and a new bike parking hub on University Place between 13th and 14th Streets.


Unofficially there have been some outlandish proposals by private parties; one of these alternatives proposed connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan with an air gondola, but for now that will just remain a pipe dream. Another proposal was extending the E train beyond the World Trade Center stop to meet the G train in Brooklyn, but that proposal too has not gained much traction.


How will the repairs impact Williamsburg’s lucrative real estate?

That remains to be seen. At first there was panic among real estate brokers, but for many residents, the shutdown may actually come as a boon, with rents in the neighborhood expected to drop. In March this year, news emerged that median rents had dropped 0.6 percent from the same time last year in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and East Williamsburg.


Thanks to the MTA’s advanced notice, developers are also now shifting their focus to other parts of the borough, particularly along the J, M, Z lines. But ultimately, we won’t know how the market is affected until the shutdown actually happens.


What are some of the reactions to the impending shutdown?

The city has held 40 public meetings (more meetings are to follow) since the shutdown was first announced, but the impending work continues to cause anxiety among riders. 


Over two dozen Lower Manhattan community groups came together in April to file a lawsuit against the MTA and the city claiming that the agencies did not conduct an environmental review before the shutdown, and that the mitigation plans didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Recently a group of elected officials called on the MTA to make ADA improvements at the Broadway Junction, Court Square-23rd Street, and Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street stations.


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