By Deepti Hajela
iders who use a subway line that goes through the lone tunnel connecting some of Brooklyn's hippest neighborhoods to the city's commercial heart are facing a "Would you rather" question that they would rather not be asked.
Should the tunnel be closed entirely for 18 months or have extremely limited service for three years as damage from Superstorm Sandy is repaired?
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city's subway system, will decide in the next few months which of the two painful scenarios it will inflict on people who rely on the L train to get across the city's East River. Work would start in 2019.
The agency asked riders for their thoughts and presented the options in the first of two public hearings on Thursday night in Brooklyn. Another meeting will be held in Manhattan.
"No matter what, it's going to be inconvenient for the public. Either way it's going to be bad," said Carmen Vega, 66, who lived for decades in Brooklyn before moving to Queens and still uses the L train to get into Manhattan.
The L train runs from Manhattan through the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick — fast-changing areas that have become magnets for young people, artists, musicians and others who can no longer afford to live in ultra-pricey Manhattan. Farther reaches of the line serve some of Brooklyn's poorest neighborhoods.
Ridership on the line has increased dramatically since 1990, with 400,000 rides on an average day, 225,000 of which go through the Canarsie Tube running under the East River. The tube was badly damaged in 2012 by Sandy's floodwaters.
One proposal for repairs would halt all service through the tunnel and on the Manhattan portion of the line for 18 months while keeping service going in the section that runs through Brooklyn. The other proposal would allow one track to remain operating below the East River, but with significantly limited service for three years. Both plans include people using alternatives, like other subway lines, ferries and buses.
Leila Shams, 41, a fashion designer, didn't find the idea of alternatives appealing.
"Either way I would just move," Shams said as she waited for the train with her 2-year-old daughter. "There's no other way besides the train."
There could be, according to a New York City businessman who says the looming transit disruption is an unexpected opportunity for an idea he's been pushing for at least the last 18 months — an aerial gondola between the Brooklyn waterfront and Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Dan Levy of East River Skyway said that he had been pushing for a gondola system even before he knew of the L train project and that putting it in place could help displaced riders with another alternative to the train. He estimated it would cost $120 million to $130 million, which he was looking to raise privately, and could be in place by the time the subway tunnel project gets underway.
"We very much believe we can be part of the solution," he said.
MTA chairman Tom Prendergast said the agency had looked for alternatives that were in place, like the ferries and buses, and as far as gondolas went, "If somebody wants to explore them, fine, but we're going to devote our efforts in terms of things that we think are more sure for us."
The idea had at least one fan. Lauren Gould, 33, a nutritionist who lives in Williamsburg, has a hard enough time dealing with the crowded trains on the L line as it is and isn't looking forward to what the repair project will bring.
"I do not like the subway. It's the bane of my existence," Gould said. "I think a gondola would be awesome."