1:08 pm Feb. 17, 2012
Twenty-five Williamsburg business leaders and a few of their elected representatives met yesterday to discuss ways to save them from the costs of subway-service cutbacks, as the M.T.A. conducts upgrades on the L line.
“Unlike other neighborhoods that have the ability to shift the burden on other lines, we don’t have that ability,” Councilman Steve Levin said during the meeting, which was held at the restaurant Cubana Social on North 6th Street. “It’s not like Downtown Brooklyn where if the 4/5 is out then people take the A/C.”
Over the last decade, bars, restaurants and boutiques turned Williamsburg and Bushwick into a weekend and nightlife destination, placing new strain on the L, which is the main pipeline for moving people between the neighborhood with Manhattan.
According to numbers provided to State Senator Daniel Squadron by the M.T.A. last fall, service grew, but not enough to meet ridership that more than doubled on weekends. While peak weekday ridership in 2010 topped 130,000 riders, there are 95,000 passengers on Saturdays.
The recent construction-related suspensions of service hit on some of local businesses' busiest days, including last "Black Friday" and the following "Small Business Saturday."
“We all know that the L train is the single artery and connector for everyone in this room, for lots of residents, too,” said Squadron, whose district is in Lower Manhattan and part of Williamsburg. “And when the L Train gets shut down, we have an enormous problem getting folks both in the neighborhood and out of the neighborhood.”
He said the M.T.A. still needs another two weekends to install Communication-Based Train Control systems to computerize the trains, which are supposed to pay dividends in the form of service increases this summer.
Tim Hudock, a manager at Radegast Hall, said half of his business was on weekends. Based on the growth of his business since last year, he calculated the take this year was $32,218 less than it should have been.
"That's someone's salary," he said. “That’s someone with a wife and kids at home.”
Hudock said that the M.T.A. should add more shuttle buses across the Williamsburg Bridge. People in the restaurant agreed that there aren't enough shuttles now, and that the ones that are running are too crowded.
“The shuttle recently has been disastrous," Levin said. "On the corner of Metropolitan and Lorimer on Friday night, there’s like 300 or 400 people standing on the sidewalk."
David Rosen, the owner of local restaurant Masten Lake, said he took an 80 percent hit and proposed implementing a sales-tax holiday after planned outages. Others asked for some free or discounted ad space on Brooklyn-bound subway trains.
North Brooklyn-based assemblyman Joe Lentol said he would propose a bill to prevent outages on Black Fridays and asked Squadron to sponsor it.
"You just convinced me,” Squadron said in front of the crowd. “I'm sold."
Others proposed more boats on the East River Ferry during shutdowns.
Paul Samulski, who does creative and marketing services for the ferry, said for now the boats haven't been able to absorb too many displaced subway riders, but that they could do more.
“If you're in touch with the waterfront, we're there," he said. You’re not going to travel seven miles to get to the ferry when you can find an alternative subway or whatever."
He said there were 600,000 rides since the ferry launched in June.
Brooklyn Brewery President Stephen Hindy said weekend tours typically draw up to 3,000 people but were down 10-15 percent during outages. He wanted the M.T.A. to switch overnight work to weekdays.
“It would still have some impact, but it wouldn’t be nearly as severe as the weekend shutdowns,” he said.
He said even during normal service on weekdays, he has to wait for several trains because of crowded platforms.
“The only time I’ve ever seen a platform packed like that is at a Mets or a Yankees game,” Hindy said.
UPDATE: Here's a letter, released today, to M.T.A. executive director Joe Lhota from Levin, Squadron, Lentol and Borough President Marty Markowitz.
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