For Brooklyn Residents and Small Business Owners, “What The L” is Next?

The L Train Coalition presents their proposal to community members and small business owners. (The Ink / Courtenay Brown)
The L Train Coalition presented proposed transit alternatives to community members Tuesday night. 
(The Ink/Courtenay Brown)

For Melissa Magal, the clock is ticking. As the owner of two restaurants in Brooklyn, she has less than 800 days before her employees and customers will be cut off from subway access to Williamsburg and her businesses.

Magal, 51, was one of dozens of Brooklyn residents, business owners and workers who met at the Automotive High School in Williamsburg on Tuesday night to voice their frustration about the looming L train shutdown.

In July, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) announced that the L train service between Brooklyn and Manhattan would be suspended for 18 months, beginning in 2019, in order to repair damages caused by Hurricane Sandy. But since that announcement, the MTA has not proposed substitutions to riders who depend on the subway line to commute to work or school.

A group of concerned organizations, businesses and local residents, The L Train Coalition, decided to take action to develop alternative transit options for the thousands of passengers who will be affected by the closure of the subway line. Tuesday’s forum, fittingly called “What The L,” was one of the first steps of getting feedback from Brooklyn residents about the recommendations they plan to make to the MTA.

There was no representation from the MTA at the event, but the L Train Coalition said the agency is aware of the proposal.

Magal said she is shocked by the lack of communication from the MTA.

“You can’t tell a community and business owners that a major subway line is going to shut down with nothing else after that,” said Magal, who owns a café and eatery in Williamsburg.

The MTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the L Train Coalition presented a proposal  of alternatives for commuters while the L train is out of service. The plan, developed independently of the MTA by the Regional Plan Association and Riders Alliance, both nonprofits, offered includes the introduction of new bus service; more frequent ferry service; and the creation of a “14th Street Transitway” that would be open exclusively for pedestrians, cyclists and buses to get across town.

“We need to have the best, world-class systems,” said Jon Orcutt, director of communications and advocacy at TransitCenter, a transportation research firm, during the presentation.

Orcutt, who served as a policy director at the New York City Department of Transportation for seven years, moderated one of the forum’s several breakout sessions in which attendees could hear specific proposals about transportation alternatives, including subways, ferries, biking and walking.

Participants raised several concerns in the small groups, including how the proposed plans would be executed and financed. Constructing additional bus lanes would be helpful, but would make door-to-door truck deliveries difficult, some attendees said.

Masha Burina, a senior community organizer at Riders Alliance, said that some business owners were worried whether tourists who are in town for only a short time would know how to navigate the alternative transit systems to get to Brooklyn.

Residents and business owners need a forum to air such concerns, she said.

“Everyday business owners, managers and L train riders who are not directly engaged in coming up with the proposal should have a space to give feedback,” said Burina, whose organization helped develop the transit recommendations.

Magal is concerned about how her employees, who use the L train daily, will get to work after the shutdown takes effect.

“If I don’t have the staff to open the store and help my customers, it doesn’t matter if people are able to get to my store,” said Magal.

Orcutt said attendees, despite their concerns, remained “pragmatic” about the proposed plans. Still, he said, a lot more work is needed.

“Ferries and bikes are nice, but they won’t move huge numbers of people,” he said.

The L Train Coalition plans to compile feedback from community members in an addendum to the proposal.