Brooklyn businesses’ L train troubles

Riders crowd the L train, when it's in service.

Williamsburg residents believe the neon “L” on their subway line stands for “lost revenue.”

During the course of 2011, the MTA diverted L train service for 21 weekends, meaning train service was altered on the line for nearly half of all weekends last year. Without the L train, North Brooklyn business owners say that their shops, restaurants and bars suffered.

“It makes a big dent in our business,” said Brooklyn Brewery owner Steve Hindy, 62. Hindy says the weekend closures cost him up to 15 percent of his weekend revenue, amounting to “a few thousand dollars.”

He’s not the only one angry with the MTA.

A coalition of local politicians and business owners rallied together Thursday, calling out the MTA for their indifference to Williamsburg’s woes.

“The L train is a lifeline for North Brooklyn residents and businesses,” Williamsburg Councilman Steve Levin said. “In a rough economy, this is the kind of thing that can break a small business.”

Last year, the L train was out of service on key weekends for Williamsburg businesses, like the “Taste of Williamsburg and Greenpoint” in September, and Small Business Saturday in November.

Next month, the MTA even planned on suspending service for track work the weekend of March 9-11, coinciding with the Armory Arts Week, a a citywide celebration of art communities.

“It would have been another special event in North Brooklyn in which the artery to and from the North Brooklyn was closed,” said State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who represents Williamsburg. After local leaders and business owners complained, the MTA moved the planned service outage to March3-5.

What’s taking so long?

Weekend ridership
on the L train ballooned in recent years, and the MTA responded by
pledging to increase service by mid-2012. Before they can increase
service, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said, they first must repair the
century-old signaling system with a new, modern one. The track work can
only be done on weekends, Ortiz said, because it requires at least 50
consecutive work hours. Luckily, there are only two more scheduled
weekend outages this year, the weekends of Feb. 25-27 and March 3-5.

Frustration finds it’s way to the web

East Williamsburg resident Jonathan Vingiano, 25, owner of OKFocus, a technology and design studio, was so frustrated with the temperamental L train, he built a website dedicated to the MTA’s service announcements.

“The MTA’s website is kind of gross and I wanted a really easy way to check the L train status before I went to work in the morning,” Vingiano said. “Just to get a heads up to plan my commute.”

Vingiano built IsTheLTrainF**, a site that checks the MTA’s feed every few seconds and lets visitors know if the L train service is good or not. Every month, 5,000 users check his site to find out the status of their subway.

“The whole idea is that they have these scheduled outages, but more often or not, L train service is out or delayed,” Vingiano said.

For more local news, follow Emily Anne Epstein on Twitter @EmilyAEpstein.


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