It's early December. Across the street from my apartment, a U-Haul sits idling in the street. My homeowning neighbors are moving to Manhattan to spare their kids a miserable trek to school. They were anticipating the L-pocalypse which we all thought would soon be descending upon us.
Fast-forward a few weeks. In a brief press conference held 3 days into the new year and 3 months before work was set to begin, Governor Andrew Cuomo upended the L train shutdown plans which had been on straphangers' minds for months.
Instead of completely shutting down the L train for 15 months as per the original plan proposed by the MTA, Gov. Cuomo announced a new plan which would only require the Brooklyn subway line to run on a limited schedule on nights and weekends, maintaining a normal timetable otherwise. Shortly after, the MTA Board voted to adopt this plan. At the time, Cuomo was hailed by many as a savior.
I've yet to see my neighbors return. Like most people dependent on the L train, they're cast in doubt as to whether this plan will work as advertised. A few weeks after the press conference and Cuomo's metaphorical mic drop, a slew of news outlets started to report that the reduced night and weekend service may surprisingly be worse than if the L train was not running at all. It is anticipated that reduced service will cause overcrowding on platforms as people wait for a train which will be running once every 20 minutes. Furthermore, weekend riders will likely need to let an overcrowded train pass them by before waiting for the next one. At that point, any time saved by the semi-functional train would be negated, meaning that passengers would be better off finding a bus or taking an Uber rather than toughing it out on the packed platform. There also are questions about whether the technology behind the alternative innovative construction method will actually work. Plans like new bike lanes, an exclusive busway, added pedestrian space, HOV+3 on the Williamsburg Bridge have all been cancelled.
I'm riding home on the L train from another day at work. People are sardined around me and through my headphones I hear more concerned talk, this time about how a friend of a friend of this stranger (his bag jamming into my side) isn't sure if he will sell his business or not. He claims his friend of a friend was almost ready to pull the trigger before the reworking of the shutdown. Weekend traffic can be crucial to businesses and with L train service being practically non-existent on weekends the future is uncertain. Work on overnights/weekends begins the weekend of April 26 and is expected to last for 15-20 months with an uncertain end date.
I push through the turnstile and out onto the street, walking the rest of the way home. The route home is as familiar to me as the future of my commute is uncertain. I've been looking into alternate options for getting to and from Manhattan on nights and weekends, as any sane person would do. So far, no clear winner has emerged. Crowded buses, alternate lines not being able to keep up with demand, expensive Ubers ‒ none stands out as better than the others. As I write this, there is preparatory work being done requiring closure of the line on the weekends and the train tunnel has mysteriously smelled of diesel fumes for several days. Hopefully, this is not a bad omen...
I'd like to see my neighbors move back into their home across the street, as well as experience a less congested L train commute. I'd also like to see the line carrying the same happy energy I witnessed when Cuomo's plan was first unveiled. For that to happen though, Cuomo needs to address the valid concerns many have raised about the viability of his plan. So far, he has done nothing to allay the fears, and the future seems as dark as my nighttime trek home.