From very early on, it was clear that the residents and business owners of Hunters Point would not be satisfied until the MTA gave in to all of their demands.
The No. 7 train, the main vein that passes through Manhattan all the way into Flushing, will be closed for a handful of weekends throughout the spring and summer.
“My top priority is safety and reliability of this system,” Carmen Blanco, president of NYC Transit for the MTA, said at a town hall held on March 27 in the new PS/IS 78 on Fifth Street in Hunters Point. “That’s the contract I have with our customers.”
The event, hosted by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria), was held after dozens of Hunters Point residents and business owners publicly denounced the MTA’s No. 7 line construction plan.
“This is going to ruin my business,” one speaker said.
The debate between both parties has continuously grown more heated as the public learned the transportation agency planned to cancel No. 7 service for 22 weekends in 2014 — later it was revealed that, in fact, the line between Times Square-42 Street and Queensboro Plaza will only close for 17 weekends.
The work will involve installing track panel replacement and communication-based train control. The CBTC will provide riders with a countdown clock and provide safer train rides as the train will automatically stop at designated stations, even if the conductor were to fall asleep.
Van Bramer, Gianaris and a majority of the Hunters Point community are asking for a shuttle to run between the Vernon-Jackson station to Grand Central Station rather than settle for the shuttle to Queensboro Plaza, Court Sq.-23 Street and Vernon Boulevard-74 Street where riders can use the E, F, G, N, Q, or R trains.
“I don’t understand why a shuttle can’t happen,” Gianaris said. “I’ve sat through this presentation before and I’ve heard what the MTA has said but it still does not make sense to me and for those of us representing this community, we will continue fighting for you. Long Island City is no longer a place you go through to get to work. People come here on weekends to enjoy what the neighborhood has to offer.”
The MTA also offered to initiate a citywide campaign to encourage people to visit Long Island City and supply alternative ways neighborhoods — particularly Hunters Point — can be accessed.
The campaign is called “Long Island City: On the Grid, Under the Radar.” Posters will be placed in stations and on trains throughout the city and the MTA is looking to unveil a double-sided, limited edition MetroCard in the fall.
But even the campaign has hit a few speed bumps. The MTA claimed business owners who were responsible for designing the campaign were running behind schedule, pushing the rollout date back.
While business owners, Van Bramer, Gianaris and Community Board 1 Chairman Joe Conley were not happy with the MTA, they did acknowledge that work was necessary.
Blanco and his colleagues laid out a series of reasons why the track work has to be done this way.
For example, a majority of the No. 7 line in Queens is elevated, meaning the MTA must coordinate with the Department of Transportation to ensure construction work occurring above the heads of passersby will not pose a threat. It also limits work hours to daylight.
The Steinway tube, a tunnel built in 1902, is one of the tightest track lines in the city, making it impossible to run a limited amount of trains while workers are in there.
“I’m not going to sacrifice my workers’ safety,” Blanco said. “That is something I am unable to do.”
Of the shuttle, Blanco and his colleagues said it would not be financially viable or save travel time for riders, something Van Bramer thoroughly disagreed with.
“Also, we have checked the numbers and a majority of people who use the line do not take it to Grand Central,” Blanco said. “Most take the train to the city and then transfer to another line.”
“With all due respect to you, we all fundamentally disagree with that statement,” Van Bramer said.
The audience cheered and clapped in support of the councilman, while Blanco stood, stonefaced and overwhelmed.
Gianaris asked Blanco to supply them with the data to prove a shuttle to Grand Central would not be viable.
Richard Mazda, founder and executive director of the Queens Secret Theatre near the Court Square station, said this is not the first year his business has suffered at the hands of train closures.
“Every year I have been hit for many weekends,” he said. “In 2011 I founded the LIC Arts Festival and Mr. Jimmy Van Bramer tried to get the train not to shut down during the festival so that the audience, the artists and everyone else could get here. All I ask of you is that you promise to reconsider closing the line during the festival.”
Blanco said he would look into it.
For now, it appears the MTA has no intention of creating a separate shuttle and electeds have no intention of backing down.
“The 7 train is the lifeblood of our community,” Van Bramer said. “Needless to say, this places a burden on the people of Long Island City. Businesses could go out of business and the MTA has refused to grant us an adequate shuttle. But I say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. All of you pay for this service and there are plans for two or three more years of this. At the very least, you deserve respect.”