L train shutdown plans

The shutdown of the L train, scheduled to begin in April 2019 and last 15 months, will impact the commutes of 400,000 daily riders. Photo: Steven Strasser
DOT plans major reconfiguration of 14th Street to accommodate “extraordinary volume of buses” during subway closure
By Michael Garofalo

Beginning next April, much of 14th Street will be closed to through-traffic and converted to a dedicated “busway” to serve displaced subway riders during the 15-month shutdown of the L train.

From 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, the busiest stretch of 14th Street — from Ninth Avenue to Third Avenue eastbound and between Third Avenue and Eighth Avenue westbound — will be reserved primarily for bus traffic. Eliminating excess traffic on 14th Street is necessary to make way for “an extraordinary volume of buses” along the corridor during the shutdown, MTA and NYC Department of Transportation officials explained at a June 26 City Council hearing. Roughly one bus every minute will run along 14th Street during peak hours, serving an estimated 84,000 riders each day.

In response to feedback from members of the public and elected officials, the latest iteration of the agencies’ joint L train shutdown mitigation plan will permit limited local access to 14th Street within the “busway” zone for private vehicles. Vehicles will be allowed to access 14th Street for pick-ups and drop-offs, deliveries and parking garage access, but will only be permitted to travel on 14th Street for a single block before exiting, subject to enforcement by traffic cameras.

“I think we’ve hopefully found a balance here that will provide the local access that we’ve heard loud and clear that residents need while keeping those buses moving,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said.

Beginning in April 2019, L train service will be suspended for 15 months to repair damage to the Canarsie Tunnel caused by flooding during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. L Train service within Brooklyn will continue during the tunnel repairs, but no trains will run on the Manhattan side of the tunnel or between the boroughs.

The logistical challenges presented by the shutdown are immense. The 15-month project will affect 225,000 daily riders who commute between Brooklyn and Manhattan on the L and another 50,000 who use the line to travel within Manhattan. Were the L Train a stand-alone transit system, New York City Transit President Andy Byford noted, its daily ridership would place it among the ten busiest in North America.

“This will, without question, be the biggest logistical, customer service and community challenge that I’ve ever faced,” Byford said.


Council Speaker Corey Johnson, whose district includes the western half of 14th Street, pressed Byford on the likelihood that the project would be delayed. “I think I speak for everyone in New York City when I say it better be a hard stop at 15 months and not go longer than that,” Johnson said.

Byford said he is “95 percent certain or north thereof” that the project will be finished within the 15-month timeframe, citing incentives for early completion and penalties for delays in the service contract. “I think we could bring it in early,” Byford said.

Johnson said that additional traffic on smaller numbered streets north and south of 14th Street is a critical concern, citing the safety hazards posed to pedestrians and cyclists by commercial vehicles illegally using those roads to travel across town instead of 14th Street. Police enforcement must “be meaningful from the very beginning as a deterrent, so that people know from day one of the shutdown that they cannot be doing crazy things on side streets,” Johnson said.

The NYPD plans to deploy 102 traffic enforcement agents and 46 police officers to facilitate traffic during the shutdown. “There’s no way, unfortunately, that we can say this is not going to have a congestion effect,” Trottenberg said. “It clearly is.”

Trottenberg said that there has already been an increase in cyclist volume in advance of the L train closure. DOT officials scrapped earlier plans to install a two-way bike lane on 13th Street and will instead install separate one-way lanes on 12th and 13th Streets protected from traffic by plastic bollards. The city will also expand the number of Citi Bikes and docking stations in Brooklyn and Manhattan to meet an anticipated increase in demand for the bikeshare service during the shutdown.

Transportation officials project that 79 percent of displaced L train riders will use other subway lines as an alternative during the shutdown. The MTA will adjust service on the J, M, Z, G, C, E and 7 lines to accommodate L riders with more frequent and/or longer trains.

Roughly 17 percent of L train riders are projected to opt for interborough bus service. The MTA will launch four new high-frequency bus routes between Brooklyn and Manhattan during the shutdown. During peak hours, 80 buses per hour will travel over the Williamsburg Bridge, which will be subject to new high-occupancy vehicle restrictions. Four percent of displaced L train commuters are expected to use a new East River ferry service.