The Metropolitan Transit Authority plans to cut service along portions of the No. 7 line during Flushing’s annual Lunar New Year celebration, leaving local businesses and elected officials promising to fight for full service the weekends of Feb. 10 and 16.
The MTA plans to shut down the 7 during selected weekends for ongoing signal upgrades along the line’s Steinway tunnel, only running the train from Main Street to Queensboro Plaza from 12:01 a.m. on Saturday to 5 a.m. on Monday.
The MTA said the new signal system will increase the reliability, speed and safety of the line. It expects the work to be completed by 2016. The upgrade will occur virtually every non-holiday weekend this winter, with exceptions for Christmas and New Year’s.
Flushing’s business community is contending the annual Lunar New Year parade should also be included in the roster of days when work is suspended, citing economic impact and cultural insensitivity.
“Train service is a customer-oriented business. How can they resist serving their customers on the two days they want service most,” said Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) at a press conference held on Tuesday by the Flushing Business Improvement District and the Flushing LaGuardia Sheraton Hotel.
The MTA contends it is picking a downtime in the 7 line’s otherwise busy year.
“Because we have such a limited opportunity to perform Flushing line work during baseball season, these general orders for work must move forward during the remainder of the year,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency.
The speakers, an amalgam of elected officials and the heads of small business associations, aired exasperation over fighting this battle again for what was the third year in a row.
The situation incited the ire of the admittedly placid state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), who was visibly annoyed after receiving what she labeled an “unsatisfactory” response from the MTA regarding its plans.
“I’m not big on demonstrations; I usually like to work quietly,” she said. “But this is different. I may have to make an exception.”
Merchants associations were also left wondering if the city was spitting in the face of a community they said has remained solvent and booming during a time of otherwise fiscal uncertainty.
“Every year it’s the same thing, again and again and again,” said Fred Fu, president of the Flushing Development Center and owner of Flushing Travel.
The sting of truncated service is particularly tough on the Flushing Chinese Business Association’s Peter Tu, who organizes the parade and has gone through pains to make the event be more inclusive of non-Asian demographics.
“The parade does not belong to Asians; it belongs to the community,” he said.
The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in many East Asian cultures, a relatively tame bacchanal that in Flushing includes cultural events and a parade. Organizers said the neighborhood enjoys a flood of visitors, reaching out to family and coming to celebrate in an Asian hub on the east coast.
“All you have to do is walk around Flushing and look at the license plates,” Stavisky said. “They’re from all over the east coast.”
Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman said the MTA’s plans would be different, had it been a western holiday.
“This holiday would be the same as working on Christmas or New Year’s,” she said.
Letter writing has so far left business owners and local electeds unhappy with the response. Koo said he is willing to go a step further.
“If there is a need to, we have to demonstrate in front of the MTA office,” he said. “If they don’t listen, we will have revenge.”