By Joe Anuta
The Flushing community began its annual refrain Tuesday of denouncing the state’s plan to perform No. 7 train maintenance during Lunar New Year celebrations even though the transit authority calls off its crews for larger holidays.
Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in many East Asian countries like China and Korea and naturally a time for celebration in Flushing.
But for the past several years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has performed track maintenance during the holiday on the No. 7 line, a public transportation lifeline to the neighborhood, according to Dian Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District.
“We are stating a fact. It does have a big impact,” Yu said of the effect on small businesses. “We are also upset that after years of pleading with the MTA and the city, they don’t recognize the importance of the Lunar New Year holiday.”
Yu, lawmakers and business leaders gathered at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel to voice their displeasure at what they contend is the authority’s continued indifference to the needs of the neighborhood.
“They can do it earlier or after,” said Timothy Chuang, a local business owner on the board of the BID.
Chuang added that while Superstorm Sandy did not flood Flushing, gas and transportation outages sapped commercial spending for weeks, and businesses are depending on a Lunar New Year boost more than ever.
The MTA is in the process of installing an upgraded signal network called the Communications Based Train Control system, which requires laying fiber optic cable and computer equipment along the entirety of the track.
Once it is installed, it will allow for more frequent trains and real-time scheduling information passed on to customers, the authority said. The maintenance is estimated to take until the year 2016, according to the MTA, which will also be making other concurrent repairs while service is down.
The MTA is planning to hault service between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza for 13 weekends this winter beginning Dec. 29, instructing anyone coming from Manhattan to take the N train to the Queensboro Plaza station and transfer to the No. 7 train in order to reach the parade.
The weekend track work on the Lunar New Year will cut out three stops in Manhattan, including the line’s terminus at Times Square. But not only does the N train stop there, the line also runs directly through Chinatown and Korea Town in Manhattan and Sunset Park in Brooklyn — other major Chinese and Korean enclaves in the city.
But the MTA has suspended maintenance work for other holidays. The authority scrapped service disruptions for Thanksgiving and Labor Day this year, according to MTA announcements, although those holidays typically post some of the highest ridership numbers of the year.
According to state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), in 2008 the authority also suspended its work on the No. 7 train during the Flushing festivities, but they have not bent to the community’s wishes since then.
The authority contends that the winter signal work affects the least number of passengers — about 280,000 each weekend — since each summer the No. 7 train transports fans of the New York Mets to Citi Field and throngs traveling to the US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.