2007-02-21 / Front Page

Protest 7 Line Shutdown

BY DAN MILLER

City Councilmember Eric Gioia (c.) led a coalition of community leaders, local residents and No. 7 line subway riders in protesting the shutdown of the No. 7 line outside the Vernon-Jackson Avenue station in Long Island City on Saturday. City Councilmember Eric Gioia (c.) led a coalition of community leaders, local residents and No. 7 line subway riders in protesting the shutdown of the No. 7 line outside the Vernon-Jackson Avenue station in Long Island City on Saturday. City Councilmember Eric Gioia, community leaders, local residents and No. 7 line subway riders, sent what they hoped was a clear message to the MTA that the continued weekend shutdown of the No. 7 train is unacceptable. The MTA plans to suspend service between Times Square and 74th Street in Jackson Heights on the No. 7 line for six weekends, extending through the entire month of March.

At a press conference at the Vernon-Jackson Avenue subway station on the No. 7 line in Long Island City last Saturday, Gioia updated residents on what the MTA has done to the community which he represents and in which they live.

"When the 7 train is not running, the people of Queens suffer," Gioia declared. "By shutting the train down for such an extended period of time, the MTA is literally erecting a barrier for the hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to get to work, visit with friends and family, buy groceries, or visit a restaurant or museum. Having grown up here and taken the 7 train all my life, I am outraged that the MTA continues to snub the people of Queens." Gioia outlined his concerns in a letter to the MTA sent last Thursday, February 15.

In addition to Gioia, a number of community leaders also shared their disapproval of the MTA's decision to cut service during weekends on the 7 line at the press conference.

"This has been an ongoing problem with the MTA," Barbara Coleman, a longtime resident of Woodside, said. "It is an incredibly frustrating situation within the community when we find out last minute that we may be stranded over the weekend, I'm thankful that Councilman Gioia is communicating with the people about these service disruptions and showing the MTA how unfairly they are treating us."

Sheila Lewandowski, owner of the Chocolate Factory, a performing arts space in Long Island City, said, "We had to spend a lot of time and money today calling people with pre-purchased tickets to warn them about the closure. When the No. 7 train closes, our theater experiences a 60 percent drop in walk-up sales."

An MTA spokesperson, when asked why service had to be cut off to No. 7 line straphangers, said, "This was necessary to upgrade antiquated equipment."

On February 15, Gioia also wrote MTA chief Elliot Sander to request assistance for the riders of the No. 7 line.

"We're writing to you regarding the latest #7 train shut down," Gioia's letter read. "As you know, the MTA plans to suspend service between Times Square and 74th Street in Jackson Heights for the next six weekends, which covers the end of February and the entire month of March. Last weekend, service was also suspended between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza.

"Put simply, when the #7 train is not running, the people of Queens suffer. By shutting the train down for such an extended period of time, the MTA is literally erecting a barrier for the hundreds of thousands of people who are trying to get to work, visit with friends and family, buy groceries, or visit a restaurant or museum. This is unacceptable.

"We have been hammered over the past few years with constant shutdowns and disruptions of weekend service. During the 2003 holiday season, the #7 train was shut down for seven consecutive weekends. The following year, the #7 train was out

of service for 13 weekends, or more than one weekend per month on average. And within the last year, the #7 train was shut down for an additional 14 weekends, including Memorial Day weekend and the 4th of July weekend, times when New Yorkers gather together to honor those who have fought for our independence and join friends and family to enjoy the summer months.

"This is not only a frustrating inconvenience, it has a severe economic impact. Long Island City businesses report diminished business activity when the #7 train is not running between Manhattan and Queens. Cultural institutions dot the length of the #7 train, and the visitors they attract provide an important economic lift to our local economy. And for our borough of working people, a $40 or $50 taxi fare to get to work on the weekend is a severe economic hardship.

"The people of Queens demand to know what work is being done, how long will it take, and when it will be done. We demand a level of transparency, accountability, and consistency that is commonplace in both the private sector and in other aspects of government. The six weeks of disruption were not posted on the MTA's Web site until less than two weeks before they were scheduled to begin, leaving businesses and individuals little time to make necessary adjustments.

"Furthermore, in addition to providing more consistent #7 train service, we request that you conduct a comprehensive study of the current public transportation system and infrastructure in the area and evaluate the need for increased transportation options. Queens is continuing to attract more and more people. However, as we continue to grow as a borough, sufficient public transportation is essential to both growth and livability. This could include options such as:

+ Expanded #7 train service

+ Expanded bus service, particularly in highgrowth communities.

+ Expanded ferry service, with the ability to easily transfer with one fare from subway and buses to ferries.

"In the meantime, we believe that there is more that the MTA can do to mitigate the hardship. While we appreciate that the MTA is providing bus service between 74th Street and Queensboro Plaza, and between Vernon/Jackson and Queensboro Plaza, it is not sufficient. The following measures would make weekend commutes easier for Queens residents and visitors:

+ Express shuttle bus service to Manhattan from 74th Street, 61st Street, 46th Street, Queensboro Plaza and Vernon/Jackson.

+ Increased Long Island Rail Road service from the Woodside station during service disruptions, with a reduced fare.

+ Free ferry service between Hunters Point in Long Island City and Manhattan.

"With an average daily ridership of 400,000, the #7 train is a lifeline for the more than two million people living in the borough of Queens. Frequent service disruptions are detrimental to the quality of life and economic development of the entire borough. We recognize that in a transit system that operates 24 hours per day, 7 days per week it is impossible to perform certain maintenance and repair work without disrupting service. Nevertheless, these frequent weekend service disruptions between Queens and Manhattan have been going on for years, with no apparent end in sight. Queens residents need a public transit system we can rely on, and when service goes down, we need to know when and why well in advance of scheduled work."

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