The L train plays an integral role in getting hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers between Manhattan and Brooklyn every day.
In 2012, superstorm Sandy’s storm surge flooded the 100-year-old Canarsie Tunnel under the East River with millions of gallons of salt water, causing irreparable damage.
In response, the MTA announced it would need to shut down the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn for 18 months beginning as early as January 2019 so that it can make critical repairs.
amNewYork took a look at the L line and what the shutdown could mean for New Yorkers.
The Canarsie Tunnel, which serves the L line, consists of two tubes. Both tubes sustained damage due to flooding during Sandy. The L line runs from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan to Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, making it one of only three crosstown subway lines in Manhattan. The L train's daily weekday ridership between Manhattan and Brooklyn is 225,000, while its daily ridership along the entire line is 400,000, according to the MTA. Ridership on the L line has more than doubled since 1990, the MTA said.
The Canarsie Tunnel, which serves the L line, consists of two tubes. Both tubes sustained damage due to flooding during Sandy.
The L line runs from Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan to Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, making it one of only three crosstown subway lines in Manhattan.
The L train's daily weekday ridership between Manhattan and Brooklyn is 225,000, while its daily ridership along the entire line is 400,000, according to the MTA. Ridership on the L line has more than doubled since 1990, the MTA said.(Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)
When Sandy slammed into New York, it brought a massive storm surge that flooded the coast. The MTA said the Canarsie Tunnel was one of nine underwater tunnels that flooded during the storm, all of which needed extensive repairs. The Canarsie Tunnel in particular was flooded with 7 million gallons of salt water, according to the MTA.
A 7,100-foot-long section of both Canarsie tubes suffered damage to tracks, signals, switches, power cables, signal cables, communication cables, lighting, cable ducts and bench walls, the MTA said. In order to protect the structural integrity of the entire tunnel, the MTA said bench walls throughout that section need to be rehabilitated.
Work on other MTA tunnels has already been accomplished through night and weekend closures, while the Montague Tunnel under the East River, which serves the R line, was shutdown for over a year and the G train's tunnel was closed for two months, according to the MTA.(Credit: MTA / Patrick Cashin)
Earlier this year, the MTA set forth two proposals on how to go about shutting down the L line for repairs.
After considering an operational review and input from the community, the MTA decided to suspend service between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn for 18 months beginning January 2019 at the earliest. During that time, L train service will continue to operate in Brooklyn between Bedford Avenue and Rockaway Parkway.
The MTA also plans to repair and improve stations closest to the section that runs under the East River. New stairs and elevators will be placed in the Bedford Avenue station in Brooklyn and the First Avenue station in Manhattan, the agency said.
The other option that was on the table would have shut down one of the tubes at a time, which would have allowed for limited subway service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but would have taken three years to complete repairs.(Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert)
Although the MTA has now decided on a shutdown plan, the options in terms of alternatives for commuters are still up in the air. The MTA, however, has outlined several potential options, including shuttle service over the Williamsburg Bridge, increased service on the J, G, and M lines, and regular and Select Bus Service across town in Manhattan.
The shutdown announcement has also led to a number of creative proposals for transportation alternatives from outside groups. One group has suggested turning Grand Street in Williamsburg into a "peopleway" by shutting down traffic to motorists as a way to offer a safe and more established connection to the Williamsburg Bridge. Other proposed ideas include an East River skyway, ferry shuttles through Newtown Creek and an extension to the E train.(Credit: Scout Tufankjian)
The MTA has said the 100-year-old Canarsie Tunnel is in need of about $300 million in infrastructure repairs. According to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the MTA was awarded $5 billion in federal Sandy aid and funds for the infrastructure improvements on the Canarsie Tunnel were prioritized. (Credit: Anthony Lanzilote)
A full shutdown of L line service will severely impact Brooklyn residents' abilities to get to and from Manhattan on a daily basis.
Following the MTA's 18-month plan announcement, Masha Burina, community organizer at Riders Alliance, applauded the decision as the best possible option.
"The MTA made the right call for 300,000 daily L train riders. But even the best option is painful for people who depend on the L train," Burina said. "The MTA and the city have to put together an aggressive, comprehensive plan to serve L train riders from all of the communities that will be hit by this closure."
A lack of information when the MTA first announced the Canarsie Tunnel rehabilitation, however, had caused fear and concern to spread rapidly throughout the communities that would be impacted, especially in Brooklyn. During a community meeting about the shutdown held at the Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg in January, the group asked the MTA's representative to leave when he did not answer questions about the plans being considered or offer more details about the shutdown.
State Sen. Martin Dilan, who represents many of the Brooklyn communities that will be impacted by the shutdown, said he's spoken with business owners and residents to find out their biggest concerns.
"I'm sure many business owners are trying to figure out the economic impact," Dilan said, adding that many have expressed they want the work to be done as soon as possible and in the least disruptive way possible.
Joe Cirone, of real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield, called the L and M train shutdowns a "zero-sum game." While the L train shutdown would bring more business to communities along the J, M and Z lines, it could be "devastating" for communities along the L line. In addition, a planned shutdown of the M line ahead of the L could mean a temporary displacement of dozens of residents so that the MTA can repair a section of elevated track.
Meanwhile, the Grand Street Business Improvement District expressed concerns about the negative impact the shutdown would have on the area's small businesses.
"The L train is a vital component to the Grand Street Retail Corridor and the surrounding community in North Brooklyn. We are very concerned about the impending shutdown and its potential negative impacts on our small business community," a spokesperson for the Grand Street BID said. (Credit: Linda Rosier)
In wake of community outrage over lack of initial information about the L train shutdown, the MTA set up several meetings with residents, businesses and community leaders before any decisions on how to go about the rehabilitation project were made.
During each meeting, MTA officials discussed potential construction plans and gave a presentation. Attendees were also given a chance to discuss their concerns with MTA staff.
MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Prendergast has vowed to continue to engage the community as the planning process for the shutdown continues.
"While the MTA always looks to avoid service disruptions, there is no question that repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel are critical and cannot be avoided or delayed," Prendergast said in a statement on Monday, July 25, 2016. "Throughout this process we have committed to engaging the community and listening to all concerns so that we can address them as we prepare for this necessary work. We are committed to working with the community just as closely as we develop ways to add service to help minimize the impacts of the closure." (Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert)