Photo courtesy of by Wikimedia Commons
BY TRONE DOWD
Between numerous breakdowns caused by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s aging infrastructure, growing ridership in all five boroughs and capital projects that bring daily commutes to a crawl, Queens residents are distraught over what has become their everyday commuting experience.
At Tuesday’s Borough Hall meeting, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was joined by upset city council members and community board leaders from all four corners of the borough to discuss ongoing repair work by the MTA. After a brief presentation on service changes coming to Queens, borough leaders laid into the MTA regarding service and the agency’s plummeting public perception.
“For many living here, Queens is a transit desert,” Katz told the room. “Our subways reach only a third of the borough. Our subways and buses are overflowing, thanks to increased ridership. We commend the mayor and the governor for putting forward an ambitious transportation agenda, but we face additional challenges because of all that we seek to rebuild at once. Our system is antiquated.”
Katz noted that the shutdowns coming to the J, M and Z train lines would affect “some of our busiest and most used routes” that service Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village and Jamaica into Manhattan. Since 2000, the line has seen a 53 percent increase, equivalent to 60,000 commuters, for the subway stops in those neighborhoods alone.
As a result of repairs along the M line to two 100-year-old structures, commuters will soon have to rely on shuttle buses to get them to their connecting lines on the J, Z and L trains. The first phase of repairs will last from July 1 to Sept. 1, knocking out service from Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village to Myrtle/Wyckoff avenues. From Sept. 2 to April 2018, there will be no service between Myrtle/Wyckoff avenues and Myrtle Avenue, which would force commuters to either hop on the L line to get to the city or use shuttle buses from Myrtle/Wyckoff to access the rest of the M line. On the J and Z lines which start in Jamaica, trains will run locally from Broadway Junction to Myrtle Avenue.
Meanwhile, F train service between 179th Street in Jamaica and 71 Avenue in Forest Hills will be shut down and replaced with shuttle service every weekend until Aug. 7.
The E train will also see outages on the weekends, with no trains running from Jamaica Center to Queens Plaza in Long Island City. Finally, the R train will be replaced with shuttle service from 71st Avenue in Forest Hills to Queens Plaza on weekends.
These changes have had ripple effects on transit throughout the city, with both Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad having to adjust schedules to accommodate the delayed service.
Robert Marino, director of governmental relations for the MTA, assured community representatives that the agency is prepared for the changes and has not heard outcry from riders on social media. He said that MTA staffers will be on-hand at various stops to keep riders informed and provide help.
Elected officials, however, have been hearing a different story.
Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said that the effect of slowing or shutting down all four of Southeast Queens’ subway options on businesses and residents is immeasurable. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said that communication of these changes has been disastrous and her office has received countless calls and e-mails about the changes.
Community Board 5’s Vincent Arcuri asked the MTA if it was assessing the effect that the shutdowns is having on local businesses in areas such as Metropolitan or Jamaica avenues. Marino said that the agency had not yet done so.
Katz mentioned that upcoming shows at Forest Hills Stadium could bring people from all over the state to Queens and that weekend service changes put this economic opportunity in jeopardy.
Councilman Barry Grodenchik complained about the lack of any rail service in northeast Queens. He called for the city to look into providing shuttle service from Belmont Park to the F line whenever normal service resumed.
Council members Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said that LIRR service changes at Hunter’s Point would put a severe strain on the already struggling 7 train. Marino said that it was not a cause for worry due to increased service on the 7. But both Miller and Van Bramer noted that the MTA had said that increasing service on the 7 line was “impossible” in the past and wondered what had changed since then.
At the meeting’s conclusion, Katz said that she wanted “a comprehensive list” from the MTA of all the changes happening this summer.