Straphangers who use the R line are in for a complicated commute beginning in just a couple of weeks.
The Montague Tube, which carries the R train underneath the East River, will be closed starting late Friday, August 2 until at least October, 2014, in order to make extensive repairs to damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Andy Inglesby, assistant director of government and community relations for the MTA, and Jay Krantz, director of rail and network planning for the agency, were at Community Board 7’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting on Wednesday, July 10 to brief residents about what to expect during the construction.
“It’s important that many people know the full story,” Inglesby said. “All of the work was necessitated by Superstorm Sandy. The nine river crossings were all hit with varying degrees of severity, but the R and G tunnels are the worst two. Everyone that takes the R on a regular basis knows that there have been delays.”
The R’s schedule will be as follows: During morning and evening rush hours, instead of 10 trains per hour there will be just eight trains; off-peak service will remain the same and on weekends, the R will run over the Manhattan Bridge, skipping the MetroTech and Court Street stations in Brooklyn, as well as Whitehall, Rector Street, Cortlandt Street and City Hall stations in Manhattan. The N train will also be re-routed over the Manhattan Bridge during late nights.
The MTA has no apparent plans to supplement service with extra shuttles, buses or trains on other lines. The agency is simply telling riders to use the 11 other lines at the last four stops in Brooklyn. You can catch the D, N, B, Q, 2, 3, 4 and 5 lines at Atlantic Avenue, the B and Q at DeKalb Avenue, the A, C and F at MetroTech and the 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Court Street – just like they did after Sandy.
“We are confident that this service pattern will work. We will be monitoring all subway lines that are affected,” Inglesby said. “If we find a need to increase service along these 11 lines, we will do so.”
In addition, the MTA will have extra agents in stations, redirecting straphangers who are not familiar with transferring.
But these plans were not enough to satisfy residents present at the meeting.
“People aren’t cattle,” said CB 7 member Ryan Lynch. “Can’t you mitigate?”
Inglesby and Krantz said they were in the process of evaluating elected officials’ mitigation proposals, including restoring B37 service and a Southwest Brooklyn ferry.
Jeremy Laufer, district manager of CB 7, expressed concern about another storm hitting the city during this extensive construction.
“We seem to be putting all of our eggs in one basket. If a storm hits next month, we have reduced capacity: no B37, no ferries. How are people getting downtown?” he asked.
“Right now, we feel that the other lines will be able to handle the extra crowding,” Inglesby said.
“We need redundancy in our transit system,” Laufer contended. “If one line goes down, a bunch of communities are put out.”
Inglesby and Krantz contended that with two fewer trains running per hour during rush hour, a train will come every seven and half minutes instead of every six minutes. But riders shot back that an R rarely comes every six minutes during rush hour.
“It’s not going to be 45 seconds more,” said Rebecca Bailin, senior organizer for the Riders Alliance, suggesting that the MTA add more trains in general.
CB 7 member Gloria Espinal concurred. “There is no way under the sun that it will take an additional 45 seconds,” she contended. “We are grown adults who need to get to work…you have to do a lot of [construction]. That’s fine, but give us something for us.”
Cynthia Gonzalez, also a board member, agreed. “We are not talking about a weekend; we are talking about 14 months,” she said, saying that the current contingency plan is “inadequate and not going to work.
“What I don’t see happening is concern for the safety of people,” she went on, noting that R stations south of 59th Street have no functioning speaker system. “I have to voice my concern about the congestion on those platforms. They are going to be packed to the max. The service is cut, but the congestion is not. The people who need service’s numbers are not going to go down.”
Another CB 7 member, Maria Roca, asked what preventive work will be done, so “when the next Sandy hits, these millions of dollars spent to replace equipment won’t suffer the same fate,” she said.
“You use the word, ‘resilience,’ but to me resiliency means that we will be in a better position next time,” Roca went on. “It’s not an onerous request from the riding public.”
Inglesby could not provide details of preventive measures but said, “We are fixing it so, God forbid another super storm happens, we won’t go through the trauma and drama that it [just] did.”
He added that at the next MTA board meeting, scheduled for July 24, possible recommendations for additional service will be made.
“In the next two weeks, a lot of this will be fleshed out,” Inglesby said.