What the L!

Canarsie Tube 002 NEW
The span under the East River, aka the Canarsie Tube, is the aorta of the L train

On January 13th North Brooklyn felt a change in the Force. Potential despair and immediate gasps churned the air into a vortex of anxiety.  This had nothing to do with a foreboding that the Powerball drawing later that evening would inform everyone in the area they weren’t getting a $1.6B payout. Instead the source of this fretting was news that the Carnarsie tube, that glorious tunnel of love connecting Williamsburg to Manhattan that makes immediate cuddle buddies of its riders, could see a piecemeal closure for 3 years or be totally kaput for 1 year.

Canarsie Tube 001 web
Inside the Carnarsie Tube, during the signal and track recovery operations post Sandy.




“Are you serious?”

Those were the some of the first responses heard at the Bedford L stop on hearing this news.

“I’ll make a raft.”

“I would consider moving.”

And many pleas to “Don’t do it!” were secondary ones.

Council Member Stephen Levin commented, “I am deeply concerned to learn of the possibility of a prolonged closure of the Canarsie tube, which would have a severe impact on L train service. Thousands of New Yorkers in my district and across Brooklyn depend on the L train for their daily commute. These straphangers already contend with increasingly crowded cars and frequent delays.  Our infrastructure must be repaired, fortified, and maintained, but we must ensure that this important work is done in a way that minimizes disruption to the jobs and lives of New Yorkers. I look forward to discussing the proposed work schedules with local stakeholders and the MTA in the days ahead.”

Reports of the looming shutdown at this point can only raise questions not answer them. The MTA is not forthcoming with information on the subject. They have not released a timeline of when the work is to begin or an estimate of its completion, nor have they informed about any options of transportation that would stand in for L.

Felice Kirby, (co-founder of Babar, board of NAG, and former owner of local favorite Teddy’s) has begun amassing a coalition of community organizations, business owners, electeds, nonprofits, etc. to amplify the voice of those most directly impacted by an L-train shut down. “We need MTA info now! Different neighbors will experience different impacts, such as business operators & commuters to work or school, SO we need to work for a coalition response from all over the L Train community. It’s pretty cool to see the diverse Brooklyn mobilizing together for community,” she said after the meeting on forming the coalition.

The L train has a long rocky history. Before Williamsburg was chic to the hipster and affluent sets, the L was one of the more inconsistent trains. Then the boom happened and any moves to expand transit infrastructure didn’t come near to matching the expansion in population. The difficulty of getting across the East River without the L is still fresh in the minds of the community as 3 years ago the Carnarsie tube was closed for several weeks after Sandy hit, and last spring there was no L for six weekends or late night/early morning for 9 weeks.

A detoured/extended commute with the shutdown of the L train is one facet of difficulty to be experienced, there is also a probability it will have a serious economic impact. Commuters would have to dig deeper in their pockets to switch to ferry, private van, uber, etc., and the three R’s (restaurants, retail, and real estate) are convinced of the negative effect this shut down will have on their businesses. Some businesses reported a 40%–80% decrease in revenue during last spring’s L shutdown.

“The work has to get done,” Adam Lisberg, spokesman for the MTA, has stated. “There is no way around it. Unfortunately, the L is unique in that there is such heavy ridership in an area that has so little redundancy from other subway lines.”

While the MTA is staying mum about the specifics of a closure, there are those creating backup plans for getting to and fro.

Here are a couple of alternative modes of travel for an East River  passage during an L-train shutdown:

  • Bus lane over Williamsburg Bridge

City Councilman Antonio Reynoso is extremely concerned about the impact a commuting shutdown would have on the neighborhood. He urged officials to consider creating an express bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge to help move people in and out of Brooklyn. “Getting it done is the most important thing — and getting it done as soon as possible,” said Reynoso.

  • The Popular Pat Kiernan Plan

The NY1 anchor who moved to North 9th Street in 2012 put forth his proposition on Twitter. It includes single track (each of Brooklyn only and Manhattan only) service with two-train travel through the Carnasie tube where one would load at Bedford and the other at Lorimer. The former train would go express to 8th Avenue and the latter would go direct to Union Square. Then both would return to their points of departure. His math works out to 4 minute travel time and trains departing every 12 minutes.

The L Subway line first opened as a segment on June 30, 1924, on a track vestige from a former steam-powered railway built in the 1860s. Its final segment opened on May 30, 1931, and the entire two-track line spans 10.3 route miles between Eighth Avenue in Manhattan and Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn.

Author: Lori Ann Doyon

Managing editor, head writer, and lead photographer of Greenline | North Brooklyn News since October 2014. Resident of Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 1990.

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