2010-02-24 / Front Page

LIC Residents Grill MTA On 7 Line Shutdowns

By Thomas Cogan

In a meeting last week at a restaurant in Long Island City, local citizens took the opportunity to tell a half-dozen MTA officials what they thought of the partial shutdowns on the No. 7 line, inadequate shuttle bus service as partial compensation for the partial shutdowns, and MTA workers’ use of a giant exhaust fan that has a hammers-of-hell effect on residents within its sonic radius. The gathering was deemed a town hall meeting by its prime organizer, new 26th District City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who began by saying the meeting, “quite frankly should have taken place long ago”.
For the past few years, the MTA has closed parts of its Times Square-Flushing route for several weekends in the early months of the year, while it has performed track and signal repairs. Such repairs are necessary, but each year the MTA informs riders all along the line of the disruptive event in a manner that implies it’s simply inevitable and they must submit to it and deal with it.
Van Bramer said that these notifications, tending to be issued 10 days to two weeks before the first weekend shutdown, are actually examples of bad communication and a failure to consult properly with the persons affected. Not only are riders subjected to inconvenience, but businesses in the shutdown zone also suffer the negative effect. One of the first things he did upon assuming office at the beginning of the year was to insist on a meeting, demanding that relevant MTA persons face the citizenry and its representatives. The meeting occurred some six weeks later.
The table where the MTA personnel (and two persons from the city Department of Small Business Services) sat was situated in front of an operating fireplace at the Manducatis Rustica restaurant, guaranteeing them heat from in front and behind. (One of them made a joke about being set up to be burned at the stake.)  In charge of this delegation was Lois Tendler, MTA vice president, government and community relations. Track work is the driving force behind the shutdowns, she said, and introduced two track specialists, John B. Holban and Fitzroy Thomas. Holban said that only the Washington Metro, Boston’s T Line and the Chicago Transit Authority carry more passengers than the No. 7 Flushing line alone, and that the No. 7 line carries more passengers any Saturday than the L Canarsie line carries any weekday. Thomas said that trackage in Long Island City has been in place more than 25 years and must be repaired or replaced often. He also said that the nine-weekend shutdown schedule (three weekends had already been expended at the time of the meeting) might be cut down to six, such was the progress of the MTA work staff.
The high price of progress could be found in the gigantic exhaust fans used to expel toxic fumes accumulated during work in the tunnel that runs from the Times Square to Hunters Point stations. Tendler said the fan generators were located in Long Island City and, in Manhattan, at the Tudor City housing complex. Each neighborhood hates its generators for the loud and long-running noise they make; but Tendler said, it was currently Long Island City’s turn to bear the burden. A woman right in front of the MTA table flew into a rage, shouting, “It’s roaring in my back yard!” and asking why the fans are in operation at night. She got up and left, vowing on her way out to sue the MTA. A man seated next to her said that the MTA, a state agency, would, if it were a private company, be shut down for violating the city’s noise abatement law. One person in the audience complained that recently the noise lasted for 14 straight hours, another said 21; many agreed it was ruining everyone’s sleep in City Lights and other complexes and residences, large and small.
When asked if there was something that could be done to make the fans operate at a lower sound level, Tendler and the others said that getting up-to-date equipment would cost $300,000. They also were asked how old the fans are. No one knew, moving one man to remark that they knew all about how old the tracks were but the age of anything else was a mystery. Assemblymember Catherine Nolan said they should operate as if aware that Long Island City’s residential population had grown significantly since the old industrial days—and Tendler’s statistical record of how much the weekend rider population has grown at the Vernon-Jackson station in the past few years proved that they were—and not run equipment at night as if the noise it made descended only on silent factories. 
The other great issue was shuttle busing. The MTA buses have been operating only in Long Island City, and none too well there, according to several dissatisfied voices in the room. Many, with Van Bramer in the forefront, asked why the MTA couldn’t run buses through the Queens-Midtown Tunnel between Long Island City and Grand Central Terminal on a 24-hour basis. The reply that there would be no room for them in front of the station on 42nd Street in Manhattan was derided as simply not true. Tendler’s suggestion that train service might be run between the Grand Central and Vernon-Jackson stations didn’t cause a great reaction, perhaps because her listeners believed it was only a feeble promise the MTA would never agree to fulfill. Meanwhile, Terri Adams of the Hunters Point Merchants Association announced that a privately funded shuttle bus was running round trip from Vernon Boulevard between 49th and 50th Avenues, and Grand Central Terminal, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (or Monday, February 15, when Presidents’ Day provided an extended weekend as a bonus).  The Solarium condominium apartments and the Long Island City Guide are initial sponsors, with more sponsors sought. Adams said that unfortunately, the Bridge and Tunnel Authority could not be persuaded to waive the toll for the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, a heavy expense when exacted on several weekend trips.
“We can’t make all the pain go away but we would like to make it better,” said Tendler, who nevertheless told the audience that she wasn’t about to make commitments the MTA couldn’t keep. The first thing to do was to look at abating the noise of the exhaust fans, or at least rescheduling their hours of use to the daytime. Patrick O’Carroll, an MTA engineer on the weekend project, said he would try the following Saturday to run the exhaust fans only between 6 p.m. and midnight, then shut them off. Having speculated that the MTA might eventually run a weekend train shuttle between Grand Central and Vernon-Jackson, Tendler said she would immediately look into getting MTA bus shuttle service between 42nd Street-Grand Central and Long Island City.

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