The L Train Closure: Who Gets Screwed?

Who is most affected by the L train closure and what should be done?


The 2019 closure of the L train threatens to devastate the trips of up to 200,000 New York City commuters every day. Many possible solutions have been floated to mitigate the dramatic impacts of closing this key link in New York City’s transportation system. Shortly after the original announcement, we developed a few preliminary ideas which we wrote up on Streetsblog.

Now, as the L train shutdown moves closer to reality and government response is lagging, we are taking a deeper look at the problem. Some solutions, particularly those that require some construction, need to go into detailed design immediately if they are to be ready in time.

To best provide alternatives to L train passengers, we took a look at which of today’s L train trips will be most affected by the closure.

We created a matrix of many of the popular origins and destinations in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including between many of the L train stops, and calculated the shortest existing peak hour (8am – 9am) travel times, using the L where appropriate. We then created a second matrix showing the travel times between the same origins and destinations, but as if L train stations from Bedford to 8th Avenue were closed. We assumed no changes to the transit network as none have officially been announced. Also, we did not assume slower speeds which would inevitably result from overloaded buses and trains. This would make the picture even worse.

The resulting matrix shows the increase in travel times for each origin and destination under the L train closure scenario.

Additional Travel Times no L train
Additional travel time (minutes) during L train closure

This shows that the most affected trips will be those headed from all Brooklyn L train stops to 1st Avenue and 14th Street on the east side of Manhattan. This is because there are few ways to get to 1st Avenue and 14th Street besides the L train.

The stations furthest from M train connections are the most adversely impacted. Passengers from Graham Avenue to most Manhattan destinations are hurt the worst, since Graham is the furthest from any M train connections: as you move further out on the L train, you get closer to Myrtle-Wyckoff Station where there is a direct connection to the M train or to Broadway Junction where you can take the A/C; closer in (Bedford or Lorimer) and you can walk – albeit a long distance – to Marcy or Hewes.

Trips into Union Square are less impacted than trips to the east side but equally, if not more, important due to the higher volumes of passengers headed directly into Union Square. We are still working on a matrix which shows passenger volumes between each origin and destination but we know intuitively (and from observation) that more people go from Brooklyn to Union Square than from Brooklyn to 1st Avenue.

Interestingly, the above matrix also shows that many trips within Manhattan will not necessarily be affected. Those going from the far east side (e.g., 1st Avenue) to the far west side will lose up to 14 minutes per trip and that is obviously not negligible. But only these extreme cases will experience more extreme (but comparably not as bad) travel time increases, and these short flat trips are the most easily replaced by bike trips.

We created another graphic showing the various modes current L train riders would need to take to get between stations by transit.

New trips to from L train stations
New trips (shortest path) to/from L Train stations.

In many cases, significant walking times (between 8-17 minutes) will become part of the trips: a considerable hardship for senior citizens and people with disabilities. Again, this shows that passengers to 1st Avenue and Union Square will be hurt the worst.

There are a few conclusions that can be drawn from this information:

  1. MTA should increase frequency on the:
  • J/M trains: Probably most important since many of the trips will shift to the J and M as the next closest direct route into Manhattan.
  • G train: Because the G Train connects some of the affected population to several lines that run directly into Manhattan, MTA should increase frequency on the G. Adding cars to the G will increase capacity but generally won’t decrease travel time for impacted passengers. Adding frequency will both increase capacity and decrease travel time. Though it has operating cost implications, added frequency on the G should be considered as an L train mitigation measure. More cars and more frequency would be even better.

And should maintain frequency on the:

  • L train: Many passengers will still use the L to connect to the J, M, A, C, and G, some of them headed outbound in order to go back inbound. While a high frequency on the L may not be warranted from a demand perspective, the current frequency should be maintained as a mitigation measure since most of its passengers are already being greatly inconvenienced by the closure. The longer they have to wait for an L Train that will take them to their connecting train, the longer their already-long trip will become.

2. MTA should provide free transfers between the following stations where passengers otherwise have to pay a second fare:

  • G at Broadway and J/M at Lorimer (or better, open the closer Hewes Street entrance of Hewes Station and make that transfer free instead)
  • G and Manhattan-bound F at Bergen St.
  • G at Fulton St and Atlantic Terminal

3. Ferry services may be increased but are not a panacea. They help only the people near the Williamsburg and Greenpoint ferry terminals traveling to East 34th Street (and potentially E. 20th St). However, expanding bicycle access to and on the ferries would help broaden their catchment areas.

4. Citibike and bike parking should be expanded at all key subway stations and the bike network should be upgraded, especially to serve the most impacted trips.

5. NYCDOT should build full BRT (not shuttle buses) to serve trips that are extremely impacted. Shuttle buses that take people to subway stations would back up on already congested streets and would represent another leg in an already multi-legged trip. Most people wouldn’t take them. Bus lanes or HOV lanes on the Williamsburg Bridge and through the Midtown Tunnel, with direct bus services between Brooklyn and Manhattan, would help. However, dedicated bus lanes need to continue into Brooklyn and Manhattan as congestion is not limited to the bridges and all BRT measures need to be included or we will face long queues of buses.

We have developed several BRT concepts to go along with this final recommendation and will publish them in an upcoming post.