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L-Train Shutdown: MTA’s plan to add 200 diesel buses could create health crisis

EPA: Will Add Roughly 14,351 Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

December 12, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
If MTA chooses to use 200 diesel buses to transport commuters during the L-train shutdown, it will create an estimated 14,351 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Asthma attacks, pneumonia, pulmonary cancer.

These are only a few of the respiratory and lung diseases that one can acquire from air pollution.

After Los Angeles and Houston, New York City has the third-worst air quality in America among large cities, according to Science magazine.

And with the L-train shutdown looming on the horizon, MTA’s provisional plan to introduce 200 diesel buses during the closure will damage the city’s atmosphere, according to Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Bushwick-Brownsville-Cypress Hills).

“As far as we can tell, the MTA’s plan is to use 200 diesel buses during the L-train shutdown,” Espinal told the Brooklyn Eagle. “That is the equivalent of 2,200 cars on our roads.

“Our communities will not allow that level of air pollution and environmental disrespect during this crisis, which was originally caused by climate change due to Hurricane Sandy.”

Starting in April 2019, the L line will be shut down for 15 months to repair the Canarsie Tunnel, which was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy.

Adding 200 diesel buses, the equivalent of roughly 2,200 passenger cars, to New York’s streets for 15 months will create an estimated 14,351 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

While there is no perfect solution — and none that MTA has publically announced — to alleviate congestion during the closure, Espinal hopes to pass a bill that will require Gov. Andrew Cuomo and MTA to replace diesel buses with electric ones.

“The L-train shutdown … must not be dealt with by burning dirty fossil fuels into the air of our communities,” Espinal said. “What will already be a huge inconvenience to 200,000 New Yorkers cannot also be a huge blow to our environment and air quality.

“It is time the MTA commits to electric buses during the L-train crisis and into the future as part of its permanent bus fleet.”

“The MTA’s decision to retreat to diesel is a depressing and an antiquated move,” added Darren Aronofsky, Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Sierra Club Foundation board member and Brooklyn business owner. “Hurricane Sandy, which damaged our beloved L train, was a product of human dependency on fossil fuels.

“Isn’t it bitterly ironic that we are resorting to diesel, the same poison that caused this problem in the first place? We need to pivot to the future for our children’s sake.” 

Espinal and Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez are co-sponsoring the bill.

Resolution No. 1443 “calls upon [Gov. Cuomo] and MTA to commit to an expeditious transition to an electric bus fleet and to use electric buses as a robust part of its replacement service during the upcoming L-train shutdown.”

A Transportation Committee Oversight Hearing will feature the bill on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Other councilmembers supporting the bill include Stephen Levin, Vincent Gentile, Carlos Menchaca and Helen Rosenthal.

“I look forward to Thursday’s hearing and furthering this conversation with the MTA, advocates and community members so the L-train shutdown will have the least impact on our residents,” Espinal told the Eagle.

On Dec. 5, L-train riders and North Brooklyn elected officials held a rally in Williamsburg demanding MTA update the public on its plan for the shutdown.

“We are still in 2017 and with a year and a half before the closure takes effect, commuters want to take comfort that we are putting in the time to have the best plan possible,” the city’s Department of Transportation told the Eagle.

“We continue to hear concerns and are working aggressively toward that goal. Our agencies will be ready and a plan is forthcoming.”

One Problem Leads to Another

Aside from the environmental concerns of diesel-fueled buses, New York City’s bus system also poses another issue.  

Bus service can be “slower than walking speed.” That is the unfortunate conclusion of a report on New York City’s bus service that was recently released by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

The report states that the city’s buses are the slowest in the nation among large cities. In fact, the typical New York City bus spends only half its time in motion and in traffic.

Another 21 percent is spent at red lights and 22 percent at bus stops, according to the report. In addition, the average bus speed is 5.5 mph in Manhattan and 6.3 mph in Brooklyn.

UPDATE: EPA responds to MTA’s plan to implement 200 diesel buses during the L-train shutdown. 

“We understand that the need to close the L train tunnel will necessitate some temporary transportation measures that are not as efficient at moving passengers as the subway,” EPA told the Eagle. “Buses are still a viable transit option — 200 buses carrying 60 people each is better than 12,000 additional cars on the road, in terms of congestion leading to excessive idling.

“While the EPA does not have a permitting interest in this matter, we would advocate for the most environmentally friendly option in the interim. We understand the issues and concerns around this decision and support use of clean alternatives to the extent feasible. To minimize any air quality impacts, we would encourage the MTA to use only the newest, cleanest buses (e.g., buses manufactured today are up to 90 percent lower emitting than those manufactured 11 years ago).”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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