MTA Grilled Over Alternate Plans
A slew of MTA officials, including Transit President Carmen Bianco, were grilled at a town hall meeting in Long Island City last Thursday, Mar. 27, over up to eight scheduled weekend closures of the 7 line through mid-July.
Annoyed residents, business owners and elected officials- including City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer and State Sen. Michael Gianaris-bombarded the MTA officials with criticism and questions regarding the regular shutdowns and, in particular, the alternate methods for commuters to travel to and from the neighborhood.
Gianaris and Van Bramer suggested a direct shuttle bus route from Vernon Boulevard in LIC to Grand Central-42nd Street-an idea idea which drew loud applause.
Six closures from August through November are tentative and expected to be approved shortly.
The entire project should be finished by 2017.
Van Bramer organized the event and thanked the MTA for coming to hear from the community. On several occasions, he expressed frustration on behalf of many of his constituents in attendance.
“The 7 train is the lifeblood of our community,” he said. “It’s shut down again on the weekend. I know you all have suffered and this is not the last time.”
The MTA plans to shut the line from Times Square-42nd Street to Queensboro Plaza on the weekends of Apr. 12-14, May 31-June 2, June 7-early morning June 8, June 31-23, June 28-30 and July 19-21.
The special exception on Sunday, June 8, is to allow for travelers to the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Additional weekend shutdowns from Times Square-42nd Street to 74th Street-Broadway are scheduled for May 3-5 and May 31-June 2.
“I know this isn’t easy, I know this is disruptive, but we have to find a way to make these repairs,” Bianco said of the closures.
He began the presentation by MTA officials, explaining the vital need for the work which, when complete, will increase ridership along the Flushing line.
“My top priority is the safety and reliability of the system,” Bianco said.
He did his best to sympathize with angry riders, and said, “this happens all over the city. I apologize to you, again my apologies.”
The three ongoing projects on the 7 are installing communication based train control signaling systems, the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Steinway Tube into Manhattan, and track panel replacement throughout.
Work on the tube is expected to be completed by 2015.
To protect workers safety, repairs on elevated sections of the line, which almost cover its entire length, can only be done during daylight hours and in fair weather according to Joe Leader, senior vice president for subways
Communication based train control (CBTC) is a state-of-the-art signaling technology that more accurately determines the exact position of a train. Currently the Canarsie line is the only subway in they system with this technology.
When installed, CBTC is a more safe and reliable way to manage train traffic than the current 50 to 90 old signaling system, according Fred Smith, MTA senior vice president for capital program management.
“The CBTC is the main driver of this work,” Smith added.
He then mentioned recent terrible accidents on rails, including the Metro North derailment in December 2013 and said, CBTC “is the safest system we can provide. The trains stops where it is programmed to stop.”
The major reason for a total shutdown of the line is that workers cannot make any repairs to the tube into manhattan while any trains are running because of its narrowness.
Originally built for trolley traffic under the East River, and completed in 1907 the tube pre-dates the subway system. It was modified to accommodate subway cars in 1914.
With a very narrow tunnel and two tracks, Smith noted, it is too small to allow workers any clearance areas while trains in the opposite direction are in service, thus necessitating the total shutdown in both directions.
Rehabilitation work on the Steinway tube is also necessary after damage incurred from Hurricane Sandy.
Before the presentation by the MTA, Van Bramer and Gianaris told the crowd they already met with transit officials, but wanted members of the community to hear directly.
At Thursday night’s meeting Van Bramer said he “wanted a real shuttle bus from Vernon Blvd. to midtown,” and criticized the MTA for making a 10 minute commute over an hour commute.”
He then added, “all of you pay for this service. This is a serious, serious problem for (our) community” and urged residents gathered to “make sure you let the MTA know how you feel.”
Riders did just that, lining up at least 10 deep in two aisles to ask questions and voice their concerns. Many were from small businesses that rely on traffic from Manhattan to support their enterprises.
Richard Mazda, LIC Arts Open director, was specifically concerned about closures the same weekend as the festival. He complained that “every single year” the event has been held it has had to deal with problems related to the 7 train.
The festival has run annually since 2011. It is scheduled for the weekend of May 14-18.
Bianco said providing a bus that would benefit riders close to LIC is not appropriate because “It wouldn’t benefit everybody.”
“The operation of the shuttle bus will be a very limited time savings. Not everyone is going to Grand Central,” he said.
Van Bramer disagreed with this reasoning, and asked aloud if the shuttle bus “would be a better plan” to applause from the crowd.
David Rosasco, president of the Woodside Neighborhood Association, took a more measured stance, saying he realizes “work needs to be done,” and that “the safety issue is of great concern.”
Jeff Foreman also voiced support for the shuttle bus idea. He thinks it makes sense for the MTA to run a bus through the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
“From Grand Central we can go anywhere we want to go,” he said. “There should be a more robust service (to Manhattan).”
Explaining their decision to not run a shuttle bus through the Queens Midtown Tunnel from LIC, Bianco stated the MTA rationale is to funnel riders to available train lines.
When was asked by Foreman if he could use a MetroCard on the East River ferry, which costs more than a subway ride Bianco said, “we don’t operate the ferry.”
“My suggestion is you have to take that up with the city,” he said.
Responding to several questions from the elected officials and angry residents regarding the shuttle bus, Bianco said, “the decision in this case is to get our customers over to the subway.”
None of Bianco’s answers on the shuttle bus issue seemed to placate the crowd, as many expressed disapproval through audible groans and grunts.