OPINION: For F’s sake, add a Bergen stop
After years and years of advocacy, planning and controversy, the MTA has finally agreed to institute a very part-time express on the F train starting next month. And, as the Brooklyn Eagle has reported, no sooner was this announced than it sparked a conflict between representatives of southern and northern Brooklyn.
While there is a third track between Church Avenue and Kings Highway that could easily accommodate rush-hour express service – and did before the end of the original F-train express in the 1970s — today’s F-train express would only skip stops between Church Avenue and Jay Street-Borough Hall. The only express stop in between would be Seventh Avenue.
Personally, I don’t see how two express trains in the morning and two in the evening would have that much of an effect. According to the latest northbound turntable, the F train leaves Coney Island (or, in some cases, Kings Highway) every 4 to 6 minutes from 7:32 a.m. to 9:10 a.m. That’s at least 18 trains, and the great majority of them would still make all stops.
One of the main problems — perhaps the main problem, in fact — is that one former express stop is missing: Bergen Street. In the old days, pre-1976, there were two platforms in each direction, the express platform below the local platform. The stairways that are now behind closed doors were then open. Manhattan-bound commuters often stood halfway down the stairs waiting for the first train to arrive, and they would then race up or down the stairs, depending on whether the local or the express arrived first.
The reason the original F-train express ended is unclear – some say the MTA said it would “temporarily” stop running and never reinstituted it, while others say it was discontinued as a cost-cutting measure. However, complaints from people living near local stops between Church Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn who were tired of being bypassed were also a factor.
Also, at that time, the G train, which nowadays can pick up some of the slack at the local stations north of Church Avenue, terminated at Smith-Ninth Streets.
When the grassroots campaign to reinstitute the F-train express began more than 10 years ago, I, like most observers, assumed that Bergen Street would be one of the express stops. I learned otherwise at a public meeting at an elementary school in Carroll Gardens, not far from the Carroll Street station.
An MTA representative told the crowd that since trains had stopped using the lower (express) level of the Bergen Street station, the transit agency used the platforms to store huge HVAC machines, and it would be impractical and costly to move them elsewhere. In addition, for unknown reasons, MTA New York City Transit had removed the wall tiles from at least one of the platforms.
So it now appears that we will have an F-train express, albeit an abbreviated one. But it will serve many fewer people than if it stopped at Bergen Street.
If there is any moral in this, it’s that the MTA should not assume that stations or connections that are taken out of service won’t someday be needed again. Bergen Street isn’t the only example. In the 1950s, the MTA closed the Myrtle Avenue station that was just north of DeKalb Avenue approaching the Manhattan Bridge, on what is now the D, B, N and Q route.
When MetroTech was built in the 1990s, some planners felt that this was a good time to reopen the station. But it wasn’t possible, because someone had removed one of the staircases.
It will be interesting to see how the new F-train express is received once it’s put into service. I, for one, hope it’s a success.
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