With the Bay Ridge Avenue subway station officially closed to allow for major reconstruction, straphangers, elected officials and a bevy of local political candidates are continuing to blast the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)’s handling of the shutdown, most specifically its seemingly last-ditch efforts to prepare the ‘hood for the overhaul.
The station, one of just four R train stops in Bay Ridge, was shuttered on Saturday, April 29 and will stay that way for at least half a year to allow for reconstruction that focuses on station enhancements and technical upgrades.
The closure, however, comes with no real backup plan from the MTA, which, earlier this year, was on the receiving end of numerous letters formally requesting that the city soften the blow of the shutdown with either the addition of shuttle bus service or an increase in service for the station’s three surrounding bus routes — the B9, B37 and B63 – while the hub is closed for repairs.
One of those letters was penned by local resident Andrew Gounardes and sent to both MTA President Veronique Hakim and Governor Andrew Cuomo alongside a subsequent petition. At least two more were sent to the agency by a swathe of local elected officials, including one from Councilmember Vincent Gentile and another from State Senator Marty Golden and Assemblymembers Nicole Malliotakis, Felix Ortiz and Pamela Harris.
“The renovation is good news, but the closure is bad news and the particular way the MTA is going about it is bad news,” Gentile said at Community Board 10’s April 24 general meeting, where he also informed attendees that, on Friday, April 21 (just over one week prior to the shutdown), his office had finally received a response from the MTA. “They acknowledged the fact that there may be an overcrowding issue once the station closes . . . but they are willing to wait to see what kind of crowding there is going to be.”
With everyday riders on the bus routes considered, Gentile contended, overcrowding seems inevitable.
“They are not willing to accept that, at this point,” he went on. “They said they will monitor it in real time so that, if there is a problem, they can address it immediately by adding buses to those three lines.”
Gounardes received the same response.
“The MTA’s wait-and-see approach is just their way of telling Bay Ridge riders that the burden now placed on their commutes is not important enough to justify supplemental transit services,” he told this paper. “R train riders in Bay Ridge pay the same fare as R train riders on Broadway — we are entitled and we deserve the same level of service as any other neighborhood in the city.”
The station is just one of 31 stops citywide that will see an overhaul, as announced by Cuomo over the summer, alongside the 53rd Street station in Sunset Park, which closed late last month to similar resident and politician backlash, most specifically because the MTA failed to give advance notice in multiple languages.
Once reconstruction is complete, both revamped stations will feature enhanced lighting throughout, as well as improved signage. They will also include at least one countdown clock each, improved cell service, new art and real-time navigation systems.
However, protesters contend, the Bay Ridge Avenue closure comes at a cost to nearly 8,379 commuters on average that now have to travel to another stop to catch their already unreliable R each day. The shutdown leaves just three points of access to the R train in Bay Ridge — 95th Street, 86th Street and 77th Street — and leaves an 18-block gap between neighboring stops.
“The biggest concern that I had from the beginning is that the MTA seems to have gone with this wait-and-see approach,” said CB 10 member and local straphanger Brian Kaszuba, whose morning commute – until now – has included catching the R at Bay Ridge Avenue.
According to Kaszuba, the MTA didn’t begin flyering (this time in multiple languages) until about two weeks prior to the shutdown and, adding insult to injury, sent surveyors to the station the day before the closure to ask riders and residents their thoughts.
“Obviously, there was some confusion on the first day,” he said, adding that he tried his luck with the B9 for his first two commutes, but, despite there “maybe” being “a few more” buses than usual, opted for a walk – eight blocks out of his way – to the 77th Street station Wednesday morning.
But, perhaps more worrisome than the confusion among riders, he said, is what appears to be a confusion among MTA employees.
“I think people will eventually figure it out but, hands down, not enough people knew what was going on,” Kaszuba said. “Even the conductors coming into Brooklyn – they’ll typically say they’re not stopping at 53rd Street but, during one of my commutes, the conductor made no mention of Bay Ridge Avenue. The message is not consistent. None of the communications have been.”
Similarly, he said, the signage for both station closures are drastically different, adding even more confusion.
“The lack of consistency is baffling,” Kaszuba said, noting that the service change announcement for 53rd Street is “so much cleaner,” while the one for Bay Ridge Avenue is text-heavy and cluttered, despite the fact that both are hanging from pillars on the same platform. “And this leads to confusion.”
And, while the shutdown may be no more than a footnote for some people’s commute, Kaszuba contended that the Bay Ridge Avenue shutdown could have easily been a game-changer for those straphangers who might not have had room in their schedules for last minute changes.
“For most of us, we’re like, ‘Okay, we have to get there 20 minutes early,’” he said, “but, in the instance of, say, people with children, those 20 minutes can be a big deal. For some of us, it’s a little inconvenience but for others, it’s huge.”
While the implementation itself cannot be reversed, Ridgeites say, further damage can be prevented by an increase in bus service.
“I don’t know why they have to wait to see people’s frustration on these crowded buses,” said Gentile, “but that’s what they’ve said they’re going to do.”
In the meantime, council candidates were quick to react to the closure – one of them, Democratic hopeful Reverend Khader El Yateem, hosting a rally outside the shuttered station (similar to a protest held outside the 53rd Street station prior to its shutdown) and another, Republican hopeful Liam McCabe driving unaware riders to and from 59th Street in his own black Buick (just as Sunset City Council hopeful Delvis Valdes did in that district via rented shuttle bus on the first day of the 53rd Street shutdown). In addition, Democratic hopeful Justin Brannan has been collecting people’s experiences since the shutdown to forward to the MTA.
The MTA has not yet responded to a request for an updated statement.