How Screwed Will Your Subway Line Be by the L Train Shutdown? A/C Edition

Broadway Junction and Hoyt-Schermerhorn could become massive choke points for commuters seeking alternate routes into Manhattan


During the upcoming L train shutdown set to begin in early 2019, the MTA expects 70 to 80 percent of displaced L riders to take other subway lines. This will affect not only those displaced riders, but all the commuters who currently take the lines that will become filled with L refugees. This week, the Village Voice examines the impact on the A and C lines.

From a map’s perspective, it doesn’t seem like the A/C line, which runs through Brooklyn along Fulton Street, should be impacted by the L train shutdown. It’s more than a mile from the L along most of its route, and a whole other line, the J/M/Z, runs in between the two. One would think that displaced L riders would find other options.

And they will try. But as I wrote last week, the J/M/Z is a disaster waiting to happen, and as I wrote two weeks ago, the G to Court Square will be a nightmare. Don’t even think about the replacement bus service, which will likely take forever because the Williamsburg Bridge won’t have a dedicated bus lane and the buses will dump you off not at just any subway station, but at the first subway station in Manhattan of the aforementioned overcrowded J/M/Z.

Desperate times will call for desperate measures, and the A/C is a desperate measure indeed.

After testing the J/M/Z waters, putting up with the Court Square transfer, or getting off a 40-minute bus ride from Williamsburg to Essex Street only to watch seven completely full J/M/Z trains go by, it’s exceedingly likely thousands of L refugees will revisit their options. And then they will discover a sudden appreciation for the A.

There are two groups of L riders that will find the A particularly appealing. First, there are those who will transfer from the L — which, yes, will still be running in Brooklyn — to the A at Broadway Junction. Not only will L riders from east of Broadway Junction do this, but those who get on the L at Halsey Street, Wilson Avenue, and Bushwick Avenue–Aberdeen Street will do so as well, heading deeper into Brooklyn before doubling back on the A/C.

In theory, this isn’t so bad. The A runs express, so it’s only six stops to Fulton Street in Manhattan. But given the extreme crowding expected along the G and J/M/Z, it would not surprise me if L riders at Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues, DeKalb Avenue, Jefferson Street, Montrose Avenue, and even Grand Street opt for the same reverse-L-to-Broadway Junction strategy.

The problem is that Broadway Junction is not equipped for this volume. Despite being a transfer point for the A/C, the J/Z, and the L, the station feels like an accident. It’s less a major hub than three small stations cobbled together with rickety links. The J/Z and L elevated platforms are quite close together, and each resembles the small J/M/Z elevated stations elsewhere in Brooklyn. The A/C platform is below ground, requiring a transfer via a fairly low-capacity stair and escalator pairing.

It’s an emerging pattern for the L shutdown: A route already nerve-inducingly crowded during rush hour is going to handle a load multiple times higher than it does now, with only minor or no station improvements at all to help cope with the increased ridership. Broadway Junction is getting an extra set of staircases to and from the J/Z platform. That’s it. The L platform and transfer to the A/C are getting nothing.

The other A/C transfer point affected by the shutdown will be at Hoyt-Schermerhorn, which has a cross-platform transfer to the G. I’m deeply skeptical of the ridership estimates the MTA released showing almost no extra G ridership south of the Broadway station and very little impact on the A/C. (The MTA has not released any formal numerical estimates or explained how this model works.)

I believe the issue is similar to that with the model DOT used for the 14th Street bus service: It’s not dynamic. It is predicting Day One of the L shutdown, as everyone pursues their ideal plan B. It’s not capable of modeling Day Two, Three, Four, etc. as commuters adjust to the consequences of most people coming up with the same plan B.

For any L rider starting at Bedford Avenue, Lorimer Street, Grand Street, and Graham Avenue and heading to 14th Street or points south, the G to A/C feels like the best alternative to the J/M/Z nightmare. Metropolitan Avenue to Hoyt-Schermerhorn on the G is a fifteen-minute ride, and then it’s only another three stops on the A/C to Fulton Street.

The problem with this? You guessed it: A route already nerve-inducingly crowded during rush hour is going to handle a load multiple times as high as it does now with only minor station improvements to cope. In this case, Hoyt-Schermerhorn is getting zilch.

What You Should Do If You Currently Take the A/C

Along with all my advice from the J/M/Z edition — move far away from north Brooklyn if you can, get a bike or change your work hours if those are more workable options — there’s one commuting trick that A/C riders can try availing themselves of:

  • If you currently take the A/C to and from Bed-Stuy and have an unlimited MetroCard, consider taking the C to Lafayette Avenue — I highly doubt many displaced L riders will take the C all the way from Broadway Junction — and walking to Atlantic Avenue–Barclays Center. This means you’ll transfer to another line before the A/C hits the crowded G transfer at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. It’s only four short blocks from Lafayette to Atlantic-Barclays, and those stations will be relatively undisturbed by the shutdown.

No one’s saying this is an ideal solution — especially in bad weather — but it may be the best of a set of bad options. As you make the trudge to Atlantic-Barclays, consider that at least you’re no more screwed than most subway riders will be come 2019.