Worries mount over tunnel closure
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The event was billed as an “informational happy hour,” but no one there was really happy. You put a group of R train riders together and you get very few smiles. What you get are stories about how the subway line serving Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and other neighborhoods is just plain terrible. The trains are always late, according to riders, who said passengers are packed into subway cars like sardines in a can. Another complaint: the R never coordinates with the N train at transfer stations, leaving passengers fuming at stations after just missing their connection.
No one at the Greenhouse Café on Third Avenue for the informational happy hour sponsored by the Riders Alliance on June 27 wanted to talk about how wonderful the R train is.
“I’m here because I’m frustrated with the R train,” Donna Dickerman told the group. “It’s horrible, the R train,” Elyssa Zeller said.
Doris Cruz, a Bay Ridge resident and a member of Community Board 10, said she came to the Greenhouse Café out of curiosity. Fellow board member Andrew Gounardes, a Riders Alliance member, told her about the group and its efforts to http://www.ridersny.org/bayridge/ organize grass-roots groups to fight for better transit services. “I just want to learn more about them,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Rebecca Bailin, senior organizer for the alliance, said she put together the informational happy hour to give Bay Ridge residents a chance to learn more about what is going to happen to the R line starting this summer and to strategize solutions to bring to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). The session was also held to find new members to join the alliance, she said.
Starting Aug. 4, the MTA will close the Montague Street Tunnel to repair extensive damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. The tunnel, which provides a vital link between Brooklyn and lower Manhattan for the R train, is expected to be closed for 14 months, according to MTA estimates. The R train will terminate at Court Street in downtown Brooklyn on weekdays. The train will travel over the Manhattan Bridge on weekends.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) expressed skepticism at the 14-month timetable. “I haven’t seen the MTA get a project done on time in my entire life,” he said.
Alliance members said they understand that the tunnel has to be fixed. “The tunnels are put together with glue,” Bailin said. But they contend that the MTA hasn’t come up with a plan to ease the burden on the traveling public. Adding insult to injury, the MTA has no plans to run additional trains on the D, N, 4, or 5 lines, Bailin said.
"We understand that these repairs are necessary. But for those of us who don't get to ride the fast and shiny cars of other subway lines, and instead depend on the rickety R line, we can't help but feel shafted,” Gounardes told the Eagle. “By working with the communities affected by these changes and helping to alleviate the burdens these repairs will cause, the MTA will go a long way to building goodwill with riders who simply don't trust them right now," he said.
“Something has to be done before the Aug. 4 date. Up to now, the MTA has said commuters will have to plan on longer commute times. That is not a plan!” Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said. Gentile said 65,000 riders a day will be adversely affected by the disruptions in R train service and by a repair project on the G line.
“The MTA didn’t give R train riders or G train riders a plan. It’s ridiculous,” Bailin said.
Gentile is calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund a temporary ferry service from the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park to Wall Street to accommodate R train riders during the repair project. He is also calling on the New York City Department of Transportation and the Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the city’s waterways, to approve the ferry. Getting FEMA to pay for it makes sense, Gentile said. The tunnel damage was caused by Sandy, he noted. “This is a direct hit from Sandy,” he said.
Gentile said he is working with US Senator Charles Schumer’s office and with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s office to convince FEMA to institute a ferry service.
Judith Collins, a Board 10 member, said she hopes the ferry is approved by FEMA. I support Councilman Gentile’s effort to get a ferry service. As he said, since it was caused by Sandy, we should make use of any federal funds we can,” Collins said. “Out whole way of life has changed, just as it has for so many others in the city,” she said.
Justin Brannan, Gentile’s communications director, has started an online petition drive for the ferry.
Another idea put forth at the informational happy hour was the notion of seeking deep discounts on express buses so that R train riders could take the buses to work.