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L train ‘slowdown’ first weekend: Frustrating, but not a fiasco

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The slowdown got off to shaky start on Friday, but by Saturday and Sunday had mostly smoothed out

Riders waiting to catch the L train at the Bedford Avenue stop in Brooklyn.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

The L train slowdown is finally upon us.

On Friday night, trains began rolling at 20-minute intervals as MTA crews work to repair the Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Canarsie Tunnel. And while the partial shutdown of a train line that shuttles some 400,000 riders per weekday got off to a shaky start, with eye-popping wait times and crowds, by Saturday and Sunday the MTA had recovered and fallen into a fairly consistent arrival time rhythm.

“Friday was rocky,” said Alyssa Fortier, who was waiting on the Bedford Avenue platform on Sunday. “It took me 30 minutes longer than usual to make it home and the countdown clocks were all over the place. At least it’s better now, not as crowded.” Fortier was on her way home from the Upper West Side on Friday when she was swept up in long lines at the Union Square stop.

MTA workers clad in highlighter orange vests were out in force over the weekend ready to assist frazzled straphangers. Nearly a dozen roamed the platform at the Bedford Avenue stop, some handing out “L project” pamphlets on enhanced alternatives including the M, G, and 7 lines and the M14 bus, urging riders to avoid the L train debacle altogether if they could.

One of those workers outside of the Bedford Avenue station—who did not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to reporters—said that things had gone “better than anticipated” on Saturday, likely because of the flood of information from the agency.

On Sunday, lingering issues with arrival information still managed to stymie commutes, with some straphangers trying to time their arrivals only to turn up and discover the train had just pulled out of the station. “The app told me the train was five minutes away but I just missed it, which is very frustrating,” said Max Avery with an exasperated huff. “I’m just going to find a cab at this point, I tried to plan ahead but 20 minutes is a long wait.”

The L train is running in 20-minute intervals for the next 15 to 18 months.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

Initially, the MTA planned a complete shutdown of service between Manhattan and Brooklyn. In a January bombshell, Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought in a panel of academics who developed a new plan to rehabilitate the tunnel without a complete tunnel closure.

The new concept scrapped plans that were several years in the making and threw the transit authority into chaos as it worked to reconfigure its scheme. But New Yorkers still lack answers to pressing questions including concerns about managing hazardous silica dust and the new plan’s price tag. MTA officials still refuse to outline the details of its new contract for the slowdown despite work already being underway.

Fearing the doomsday predictions of sustained crowds and staggering wait times that never quite materialized over the weekend, many riders peeled off onto the MTA’s suggested alternatives. One Williamsburg woman who was visiting a friend Sunday on the Upper East Side typically takes the L to the 4 train to reach her destination, but instead opted to avoid the L by taking the G to the 7 to the 4 line.

“It’s an extra step and it adds some time, but it’s just less stressful this way,” said Gina Torres, who works as a bartender in the East Village. “[But] I work right off the L and I live right off the L so it’s kinda impossible for me to avoid it on a regular basis.”

Posters printed with “G might be faster” were pinned to columns across the line, which is running additional trains every eight minutes during peak hours. Passengers crowded into a Court Square bound-G train at the Metropolitan Avenue station Sunday afternoon. Frequent warnings from train conductors blared over the speakers, “The L is running every 20 minutes between Brooklyn and Manhattan. You will have a long wait.”

The subway system is plastered with magenta signage on the L train slowdown.
Caroline Spivack/Curbed NY

A breadcrumb trail of signs guided straphangers from the Broadway station to Hewes Street station for a free transfer onto the J/M lines with a barrage of signs urging riders, “Take the M for faster service.” Williamsburg resident Robert Cruz heeded those warnings on Sunday.

“I’m avoiding the L like the plague. For the next 15 months the M is my go-to train,” said Cruz, who was on his way to visit his girlfriend in Hell’s Kitchen. “I’d rather go a little out of the way and take a train that I know is going to show up with some regularity. I saw the crowds at Union Square on Friday and said, ‘No thanks, I’ll take my chances with the M from now on.’”

On Sunday, those who opted for the M14 to go crosstown in Manhattan also had smooth rides, although congestion and bus bunching was an issue throughout the weekend. Kate Puls, an East Village resident and member of Community Board 3, noticed a big difference in the bus route’s service. “I just checked the app and there are a bunch stuck together just like the Avenue D buses, there are lots more buses,” Puls said. Another frequent M14A bus rider, Robin Waring, was encouraged to see that several parked buses were on standby in case of a shortage.

A barely crowded M14A bus gradually made its way through traffic on 14th Street.
Jose A. Rios

Come Monday, in a series of tweets, the MTA thanked riders for bearing with the system during the first weekend slowdown and said it will make adjustments as the slowdown unfolds over the next 15 to 18 months.

“First of all, THANK YOU for your patience this weekend, and to the many customers who planned ahead and used enhanced alternative service options,” NYCT Transit tweeted. “We are tweaking our operations and working to ensure train arrival information is accurate moving forward, but know that this was the first weekend of a long project.”