Feb. 21, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
A panel of private business owners, transit experts and local leaders criticized the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s lack of innovation and transparency in its new L train construction plan at an open forum in Greenpoint on Tuesday night.
The hour-long event, held by venture start-up accelerator URBAN-X, was intended to discuss impending disruptions from the partial closures and consider the state of transportation citywide. The conversation, while wide-ranging, focused primarily on the MTA’s failure to meet with the public about its new plan, and what alternative mobility options should still be explored.
The five-person panel included Benjamin Solotaire of Council Member Stephen Levin’s office, who spoke in a personal capacity; Phil Jones, East Coast Senior Director of Lime, a dockless bikeshare program; Toby Moskovits, CEO of Heritage Equity Partners, owners of the Williamsburg Hotel and 25 Kent; Rodrigo Bautista, Principal Change Designer at Forum for the Future; and Kate Slevin, Senior Vice President, State Programs and Advocacy at Regional Plan Association. Greg Lindsay, the urbanist in residence at URBAN-X, moderated the panel.
The panelists repeatedly said Governor Andrew Cuomo and the MTA have been less than forthcoming since the bombshell announcement in January that the L train shutdown had been “averted.”
The transit authority, which took public opinion into account when drafting the initial shutdown plan more than three years ago, has yet to meet with impacted communities to gather input on the revised plan and the alternative transportation being offered during the shutdown, the latter of which differs significantly from initial mitigation plans.
Bautista said there’s “an element of trust” that comes with long-term, impactful decisions.
“Participatory design, in terms of how these types of decisions are implemented, is key,” he said. Bautista noted that the MTA had incorporated a considerable amount of public input into its initial shutdown plan, with the community at large, in several meetings with the agency, largely preferring one sustained shutdown over a plan like the one in place today.
Solotaire, building on these sentiments, called out the MTA’s failure, as he saw it, to implement real innovative components in its new construction mitigation plan, which does away with a majority of the alternative transportation measures initially planned for the full shutdown. Previously planned new bus routes, ferry service, and a transformation of 14th Street in Manhattan into a public transit corridor, for instance, will no longer be happening as part of L train work–a move that has already seen criticism from transit activists and elected officials.
“At this moment, the alternative transportation plans, they’re not reaching for the stars, they’re not reaching for new ideas,” Solotaire said. “They’re trying to solve this problem that they have spent three years on and now trying to fix in three months. They may be adequate, but they’re not going to expand the system and they’re not going to benefit us in a long term situation that we were hoping to see.”
Bautista agreed with Solotaire’s insight, and called on the MTA to put into place alternative transportation modes that will be kept in place once construction has wrapped up and that will be meaningful in the long term.
Later, the conversation turned to a discussion of what micro-mobility options would help commuters, decrease car traffic, bring workers into the outer boroughs from Manhattan, and allow for easier transportation between the outer boroughs.
Jones recounted a story of one of his workers whose commute to Lime’s Sunset Park warehouse on public transit totaled two and a half hours, but with access to an e-bike, like the ones offered by Lime, the commute is cut down to 45 minutes. Lime is currently being pilot tested in Staten Island and Far Rockaway and is not operable outside of these zones.
“If we are able to show how this is viable no matter where we are in the city, then we can make it reliable, sustainable and fun.” Jones said. “I think it will revolutionize the multi-modal way of viewing the city,” Jones said.
Moskovits, who herself drives from Queens to Brooklyn every day for work due to a lack of reliable and efficient public transit between the boroughs, advocated for improved public transit as a means to bring more jobs to Brooklyn and Queens.
“The outer boroughs need to be a place where you can live and work, and that’s going to be a phenomenal impact,” Moskovits said. “No longer forcing people to go into Manhattan to conduct their work life.”
Construction will begin on the L train line on April 26 and is expected to last 15 to 20 months. The MTA, which said the proposed plan for the L train project “is still evolving,” is planning four community conversations in March and April—two in Brooklyn and two in Manhattan—to provide information on the construction and help riders plan alternative routes.