Commuters who depend on the 7 Train are angry over a plan to close the line between Times Square and Queensboro Plaza for 11 consecutive weekends, from Jan. 21 to April 2.
In addition to the weekend shutdowns, the 7 Train station at Court Square will be completely closed between Jan. 21 and April 2. Some 8,000 people who take the 7 at this station on weekdays, according to MTA data, will be affected.
The E, M and G trains, however, will continue making stops at Court Square, while free shuttle buses will run to and from Queensboro Plaza and Vernon-Jackson on the weekends.
On weekends, 7 Train riders who board east of Queensboro Plaza can get to Manhattan by transferring to the N there. Weekday commuters who take the 7 from Manhattan and transfer to the G at Court Square can get out instead at Hunters Point Avenue and walk to the G station at 21st Street, where they will get a free swipe on their MetroCards.
To address the concerns that people have over the shutdowns, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) organized a town hall meeting at Sunnyside Community Services on Jan. 11, where he and residents questioned MTA representatives about the controversial plan.
“When I first heard they were contemplating weekend closures, I said to them, ‘You need to come out and address the community,’” Van Bramer said.
The MTA presented a 15-minute PowerPoint presentation which gave some history on the 7 line, as well as the agency’s reasons for the maintenance repairs. Officials defended their decision by saying the signals in the tunnels are outdated and need to be replaced.
“It’s our goal to improve and expand the system,” said Demetrius Crichlow, an MTA representative.
A press release issued by the MTA the day after the meeting notes that in addition to signal work, the closures will enable the following: construction at Times Square to facilitate the 7 line’s extension to 34th Street at 11th Avenue; $5.2 million in “renewal work” at the 7’s Hunters Point Avenue station; a variety of improvements to the Vernon-Jackson station; and $7.2 million worth of construction to make the Court Square station more accessible to people with disabilities.
Gene Russianoff, staff attorney and chief spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, told the Chronicle on Friday he would “take them at their word that the work is necessary.
“I don’t think they want to shut things down any more than the paying customers,” Russianoff said. “But you are looking at decades of disinvestment that they are trying to turn around.”
At the meeting, Woodside resident Jim Condes said the MTA had waited too long to make these repairs.
“This should’ve been done 60 years ago,” Condes told MTA representatives when he went up to a microphone to speak. “What you’re doing is playing catch-up … The people don’t appreciate it.”
In response to criticisms over the work’s timing, MTA spokesman Charles Seaton, speaking on the phone this week, said the signal system being installed on the 7 line, called communications-based train control, is a “relatively new technology.”
The 7 will become just the second subway line in New York to be outfitted with the new signaling system, which will increase the 7’s efficiency, Seaton said. When asked whether the improvements being made to the line now could have been done sooner, Seaton simply answered, “No.”
While installing the new signals, Seaton explained, the MTA is “taking the opportunity to do a lot of work.”
For many at the meeting, the MTA’s communication, or seeming lack thereof, was a major issue. Brodie Enoch of Transportation Alternatives, a group advocating for pedestrians, cyclists and subway riders, said the MTA could do more.
“We should not be in an adversarial position. Anytime you come into a community and do work, we’re just asking that you reach out to the community,” Enoch said.
Karen Dimit, the chairwoman of LIC Arts Open, an annual arts festival in Long Island City set to take place in mid-May, said she worries about the effect of the subway work on arts organizations.
“The arts organizations that are the lifeblood of these communities are tremendously devastated by your weekend closures,” Dimit said. “I think there’s going to be a number of these organizations, especially the smaller ones, that may not be able to survive.”
Lois Tendler, an MTA spokeswoman, answered that the agency would be “happy to work with the arts community” to make sure they aren’t hurt by the closures, but did not explain how.
Paula Neudorf contributed to this story