Next year, a small segment of a single New York subway line is shutting down for 15 months — and it’s a very big problem. As the transit authority repairs a tunnel badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the L line will no longer cross the East River. Though the closure may sound insignificant, for many New Yorkers, the shutdown feels like an existential crisis. The L shuttles 400,000 riders between Manhattan and Brooklyn daily. Dwell on that number for a second: For a year and a half, a population the size of the entire city of New Orleans will have to find an alternative means of getting around New York every day.
To cope, the city’s departments have created an elaborate plan that involves six replacement bus routes, largely shutting down a crosstown thoroughfare to private vehicles, and closing the Williamsburg Bridge to any cars with fewer than three passengers. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs have spent years proposing both public and private transit alternatives to compensate for the shutdown. These include e-ferries, e-scooters, e-mopeds, gondolas, pontoon bridges, and an “ultra-luxe” shuttle called “The New L.” Only some of these will actually happen. (Sorry, Gondola and pontoon bridge aficionados.) Uber, Lyft, and other e-hails are poised to take financial advantage of the shutdown just as they have done with the subway struggles writ large. Meanwhile, the city’s bike-share system is expanding to cope with an expected surge in cyclists, and the city’s Department of Transportation is installing miles of bike lanes to accommodate them.
New Yorkers will soon see what a disaster really looks like.
But none of these efforts will be enough to replace the L. On a typical rush-hour morning, the L transports as many people under the East River as all the six East River bridges and tunnels combined. New Yorkers who scoff at the suggestion that the subway is anything other than a disaster will soon see what a disaster really looks like.
But in a perverse sense, the fact that the L shutdown poses such an immense challenge is a testament to the subway’s…