By Bill Parry
The No. 7 subway line will be in service for customers in Sunnyside, Woodside, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights this weekend after the MTA decided to postpone track work until the end of May.
“We have modified the schedule as a result of community input,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
The MTA issued a press release April 11 that the planned shutdown between 74th Street and Broadway would be delayed until the weekend of May 31. Ortiz also said “all elected officials were notified of the change.”
But the MTA’s message in the press release and its public information system did not seem reach all the riders who use the No. 7 span from Sunnyside to Jackson Heights.
The weekend service shutdowns, which have plagued residents and business owners in Long Island City since the end of February, were supposed to roll east and include every station between Times Square and the 74th St-Broadway stop in Jackson Heights.
Several straphangers leaving the 46th Street station in Sunnyside Tuesday were surprised to hear that the subway would be running this weekend.
“That’s news to me, that’s good news,” said Joe Mack.
In addition to the press release, the agency posted the information on its website and relied on its own system to alert riders.
“We have a robust public information campaign that involves station and street level communications with posters at entrances, turnstile areas, brochures, maps and info on both our on-the-go kiosks and digital panels — all of which is updated with a new schedule,” Ortiz explained. “There is also signage on the trains with updated information.”
Ray Tappas, another Sunnyside resident, said Tuesday, “I was looking for information today on the 7, but I didn’t see anything on the subways or in the stations.”
David Becker, the general manager at Woodside’s Big Six Towers complex, said, “High-tech info systems don’t help many of our residents. We have so many in our 1,000 units that don’t even own computers. We have a significant elderly population and other people of limited means who still depend on broadcast TV and newspapers for all of their information.”
Press aides for several elected officials said the lawmakers were not aware of this weekend’s service change on the No. 7.
Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said, “I understand the need for track repair, but they have got to find a better way to inform people. It’s amazing to me because commuters will be totally confused. We need to make riders more aware, we need better transparency. This is everything that’s wrong with the MTA.”
The ongoing project, which will disrupt weekend service on the No. 7 in varying degrees through the summer, is actually three projects being done at once.
A 90-year old signal system is being replaced with a $550 million state-of-the-art system in one project that will not be completed until 2017. Track Panel replacement is another project that relies on cranes and other heavy equipment to lay new tracks.
The third project is repairwork on the Steinway Tube that runs under the East River. The 100-year-old tunnel was originally built for trolley cars and is too narrow to move trains when crews are working. The tunnel flooded during Hurricane Sandy with saltwater that caused damage to its infrastructure.
At a town hall meeting in Long Island City last month, MTA President Carmen Bianco went to great lengths to explain why the three projects were so important.
“We are cognizant of the impact this has on our customers. It’s inconvenient, but it’s necessary work in order to meet increased ridership,” he said.
Dromm agrees, but he still thinks the MTA does not fully appreciate the economic impact it has on communities.
“When the 7 is shut down on June 1, that’s the day of the 22nd Queens Pride Parade, a day when 40,000 people come to Jackson Heights and spend their money in our stores and restaurants,” he said. “When you disrupt the 7, it really hurts the neighborhood.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.