The MTA is doing track work on the #7 line to improve speed and reliability. That’s good. As they have done for previous track work projects, they will be shutting down the line between Queensboro Plaza and Times Square for the next seven weekends. That’s bad.
The N, R and E trains will be running, and people coming from points east will be able to transfer. The MTA usually runs shuttle buses for people to get to and from the three stations in Long Island City with no service. That’s good. But the transfers can add five to ten minutes to a trip. Worse, the shuttle buses don’t go to Manhattan; they stop at Queensboro Plaza, where passengers have to change for the N. For the next several weekends, people who are normally fifteen minutes from Grand Central will spend fifteen minutes on the bus just to get to the N, which doesn’t even go to Grand Central. That’s bad.
What’s especially frustrating for LIC residents is that many of them live only five minutes by car from the Queens Midtown Tunnel. If they could walk through the tunnel, they could get to Manhattan faster than by taking the shuttle bus. Those who own cars can drive into Manhattan if they want to deal with the traffic and the hassle of finding parking. Those who don’t own cars are stuck with the shuttle bus.
Last year, in response to a previous service disruption, Councilmember Eric Gioia held a rally asking the MTA to run buses through the tunnel to Grand Central. Cap’n Transit took that a step further and suggested running the buses on the 34th Street bus lanes to Penn Station, so that travelers could switch to the subway at Penn Station, Herald Square or Park Avenue. He produced maps showing that, according to Google directions, when there is no traffic (as on weekends), buses can get to Penn Station in ten minutes from Ravenswood, Dutch Kills, Sunnyside or Greenpoint. In fifteen minutes they can get to Penn Station from the Triboro Bridge, Jackson Heights, Maspeth, Bushwick or Williamsburg. Of course, if they made stops in between it would take a little longer; the point is that lots of people want to go to Manhattan, and a bus could get them there pretty darn quick.
As far as I know, the MTA never responded to Gioia or to Cap’n Transit. They ran the inconvenient shuttle buses, and that was it. Now they’re planning to do it again. This morning, Gioia’s successor, Jimmy Van Bramer, held another rally asking for a tunnel bus. He was joined by Astoria Assemblymember Mike Gianaris (who has announced that he is running to represent this area in the State Senate next year), Assemblymember Cathy Nolan and Council Chair Christine Quinn.
WNYC’s Brian Zumhagen was actually able to get a response from the MTA. An unnamed spokesman says that “shuttle buses directly to Grand Central would create big traffic tie-ups in Long Island City and on the East Side of Manhattan.” It’s not clear why they would cause any more tie-ups in LIC than the buses to Queens Plaza, or why they would cause any significant tie-ups in weekend traffic. That comment shows that the MTA is looking for reasons not to accommodate riders.