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L train shutdown cancelation shouldn’t stop bus, bike lane upgrades, advocates say

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The city has said little on if it will keep or roll back the alternative transportation improvements

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Just over a month after Gov. Andrew Cuomo stuned straphangers with a last minute cancellation of the L train shutdown there is still no word from the city on if the improvements to transportation alternatives will survive into the new plan.

On Wednesday, elected officials and transportation advocates gathered outside of the L line’s First Avenue station to demand the city preserve a series of transit changes including new bikes lanes, a busway, and a HOV+3 restriction on the Williamsburg Bridge to accommodate shuttle bus routes between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

“You know, this is a long-fought process, it took years to make a consensus and get a plan,” said Erwin Figueroa, an organizer with Transportation Alternatives. “We don’t want to throw a two, three year plan down the drain because certain aspects of the L train plan are changing—these [improvements] are still needed and we’re going to need them after.”

Gov. Cuomo sent the years-in-the-making L train shutdown into a tailspin when he brought in a panel of academic experts who developed a new plan to renovate the Canaries Tunnel, which is in dire need of repairs after the tube was inundated with salt water from Hurricane Sandy, with just four months to go before the tunnel work begins in April.

The bombshell reversal ignited mixed feelings for residents and business owners along the L line and sent them into frenzy over what the changes meant for them and the series of street and transit changes the city had prepared.

In preparation for the full L service closure, the de Blasio administration planned bike lanes on Manhattan’s 12th and 13th streets—which are already complete—and a dedicated busway on 14th Street that is in the process of being rolled out. On Grand street in Brooklyn, the city planned and partially implemented a new protected bike lane and more room for bus access.

The city has stayed mum on if these and other changes will remain now that the L plan has altered course, leaving residents and local leaders on pins and needles for the tunnel reconstruction with less than three months to go before the project is in high gear.

“I think the concern [the city has] is now that you don’t have the full shutdown you don’t have the full need for the mitigation plan,” Manhattan City Council member Keith Powers, whose district includes part of the 14th Street corridor, told reporters Wednesday. “For me personally, I think [the streets] need mitigation regardless of the shutdown—it only needs it a lot more when you actually shutdown the train down.” The Department of Transportation did not return request for comment.

But even without a full L train shutdown the MTA’s new plan to overhaul the tunnel will still make it extremely difficult for commuters to get around. Riders will face at least 20-minute waits for trains during nights and weekends and the First and Third avenue stations in the East Village may convert into exit-only stops on weekends.

In light of those looming challenges for L train riders, it’s a no brainer that the city would press forward with the bike, bus, and street improvements, said one state senator.

“We need to have a plan in place. We have these beautiful painted busways—we gotta use ‘em,” Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman said at Wednesday’s press conference. “We have planned for years for the MTA L train shutdown, now that it’s a slowdown we should be able to put these mitigation plans into effect.”