What the L?

Governor Cuomo makes an announcement regarding the L Train shutdown
Governor Cuomo makes an announcement regarding the L Train shutdown
Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo holds a press conference to announce the L train shutdown has been averted - for now.

What the L?

Pols, public react skeptically to Cuomo’s effort to avert L train shutdown.
January 3, 2019

Two and a half years after the L train shutdown was first announced and a few months before it was set to begin, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that the L train doesn't have to close after all.

Instead, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which Cuomo effectively runs, plans to close the subway line on just nights and weekends to conduct repairs to the tunnels under the East River that were seriously damaged from Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Cuomo said the new plan was possible thanks to a “highly innovative” design suggested by “some of the best minds in the world.”

Last month, Cuomo toured the tunnels, known as the Canarsie Tube, with engineering experts and said they would review the findings. Still, Thursday’s announcement came as a surprise, even to plugged-in transit reporters, most of whom seemed to be tipped off by a tweet from the national TransitCenter foundation.

One person did get a slight heads up: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who told reporters at an unrelated press conference Thursday that he had spoken with the governor earlier in the day. De Blasio said he needed more time to evaluate what the announcement meant, but seemed broadly optimistic. “Anything that avoids disruption, I favor, obviously,” he said. “If there’s a plan that can be better for the people of our neighborhoods, that’s great.”

Others weren’t so grateful. Gov. Andrew Cuomo may have been expected the news to receive an enthusiastic welcome, but it was instead greeted with the weary skepticism of a city accustomed to disappointment at the hands of the MTA.

Former New York City Council Speaker and current public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito complained that the announcement came after residents and businesses planned for a full shutdown.

In a statement, New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal, who represents many of the affected neighborhoods in Brooklyn and is also running for public advocate, argued that the city’s contingency plans should be kept in place. “The city should go ahead with its plans to ease that pressure even if the L Train won’t be completely shut down,” Espinal said. “Things like expanding the network of bus and bike lanes and extending CitiBike further into Brooklyn are good proposals and still necessary so the city should push ahead with them.”

Straphanger advocate John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, was also wary of the governor’s plan. “The governor's plan may or may not work,” he said in a public statement. “But you'll pardon transit riders for being skeptical that a last-minute Hail Mary idea cooked up over Christmas is better than what the MTA came up with over three years of extensive public input.”

New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents North Brooklyn neighborhoods serviced by the L train, likewise questioned Cuomo, showing concern for New York City Transit President Andy Byford, who had been leading L train shutdown plans.

Others, like transit blogger Benjamin Kabak, asked whether Cuomo went over Byford’s head on the decision.

But Byford himself seemed to still be in charge of the granular details when he huddled with reporters after the announcement.

Many of those details are still being worked out, and state Sen. Brad Hoylman, who represents areas served by the L train in Manhattan, put in his two cents in a tweet that got many unhappy responses.

One thing reporters could suss out for sure: Cuomo runs the MTA, despite what he says.

To which Cuomo’s senior advisor Rich Azzopardi suggested that maybe we should all just be a little happier about the change of plans.

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.