With the wildly inconvenient train tunnel closures right around the corner, advocates took to the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall to contend that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has still neglected to offer a comprehensive alternative for the thousands of riders that depend on the already overcrowded routes every day.
On Thursday, June 27, elected officials, along with members of the Rider’s Alliance, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and the Transport Workers Union of Greater New York gathered together to put pressure on the MTA and city to create a comprehensive plan to accommodate riders during repairs that will close vital subway connections between Brooklyn and Manhattan and Queens, some for over a year.
The planned closures include the R train tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan – which will be closing fully for 14 months, beginning in August — and the G train tunnel between Brooklyn and Queens – which will be closing for 12 weekends this year and five consecutive weeks in 2014.
A letter addressed to Tom Prendergast, chairperson and chief executive officer of the MTA, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and signed by 17 elected officials states, “We understand that it is vital to undertake this repair work. The storm caused unprecedented damage to tunnel infrastructure, and comprehensive reconstruction is necessary to ensure the long-term stability of our transit network. However, we are greatly concerned that the MTA New York City Transit and the City of New York are not doing everything they reasonably can to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of affected riders during this long period of construction.”
The closures are expected to cause colossal crowding on connecting lines including the 2,3,4,5,A,B,C,D,F,J,L,M,N and Q trains.
“This is going to affect everyone who rides the trains,” John Raskin of Riders Alliance said.
G train rider and member of the Riders Alliance Alexis Saba described her frequent travels on the G train as “a sardine-can like experience,” despite the fact that construction hasn’t even begun yet.
J.P. Patafio, the vice president of the Transport Workers Union, emphasized that the train construction is not exclusively going to impact subway riders.
“The bus and train systems are symbiotic. If the R train goes down, it’s going to heavily affect commutes on the bus. It’s going to be a disaster for bus drivers. People are going to be forced into the buses like cattle,” said Patafio.
“We don’t want the same issues we had during the hurricane,” added Division Chair Willy Rivera.
The letter includes suggestions for plans to accommodate riders during tunnel construction including increasing frequency of service on nearby train lines; increasing bus service in the affected communities; restoring the B37 on Third Avenue; accelerating implementation of the B32 bus route on the Brooklyn waterfront; extending the B32 route to Queensboro Plaza; running some weekday R train service over the Manhattan Bridge during peak hours; running weekday ferries; expanding bike shares in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Long Island City and communities along the R train; providing free out-of-system transfers from the G train to nearby lines; and adding express buses from Bay Ridge to Lower Manhattan, with temporary discounted express bus fare during construction.
“The pressure is on, the momentum is building, and the MTA has no choice but to respond,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile “To tell commuters to allot more time for their commutes is not good enough.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz noted that Brooklyn is the number one user of public transit, emphasizing that the MTA should be doing a better job at responding to the borough’s needs.
“We need an increase in service; it’s not rocket science,” said Markowitz.
MTA Board Member Allen Cappelli, who has been advocating for increased services or alternative methods of transportation in the affected areas, says that the hold-up has been due to money, but also added that the New York State has allotted an additional $40 million to the MTA.
MTA Spokesperson Adam Lisberg, who attended the rally, used maps to point out the potential ways for commuters to deal with the repairs.
“In the last four stations leading up to Court Street, riders can get on 11 other trains, which we believe is the best way to transport people,” Lisberg said.
“The weekend R is going over the Manhattan Bridge,” he added.