CONEY ISLAND — The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is suspending F train service on the Culver Line to Coney Island on weekends between Church Avenue and Stillwell Avenue, beginning March 21 that will continue into 2021, just weeks before the beginning of the boardwalk’s busy season, devastating local businesses.
The MTA will be upgrading the F line’s outdated signaling system, which is part of an improvement plan to install Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC). The project costs $253 million to implement, and to install the new system F trains will be suspended weekends, save for Easter weekend, Fourth of July weekend, Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas weekend, and a few weekends in October.
“We’re excited about installing modern signaling to the Culver Line, which will bring dramatically improved reliability to our customers for decades to come,” Andrei Berman, MTA spokesperson, told Bklyner. “This is an essential project that is at the heart of broader efforts to dramatically improve the subway system. Train lines with modern computer-controlled signaling are more reliable, increase speeds, and tend to experience far fewer delays.”
The suspension overlaps with the N train changes. N is not running between 86th Street and Stillwell Avenue through the end of April, and commuters were recommended to take the F instead. Now, free buses will replace the F trains between Church Avenue and Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue stops. Station specific tips can be found here.
The Coney Island Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel open for the season the first weekend of April, bringing many city dwellers and tourists to the shoreline neighborhood during the warm months. There are many events that happen on weekends, besides the thrill of riding the Cyclone and visiting the Aquarium — like the Mermaid Parade, Brooklyn Half Marathon, and celebrations like the Wonder Wheel’s 100th anniversary this summer.
Dennis Vourderis, VP of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, a historic landmark on the boardwalk and popular attraction, is devastated with the timing of the suspension.
“The closure of the F line on weekends will be terrible for not only Deno’s but will have a huge negative economic impact to all of the Coney Island businesses,” he told Bklyner. “Many of the 100 of our employees use the F line to get to work. Everyone will be late, I guarantee you. Visitors will be very upset and probably not come back again as the shuttle buses will be stuck in traffic trying to get past the increased traffic.”
Vourderis realizes the maintenance to the F line is necessary — just like regular upkeeping of the Wonder Wheel — but believes it is being completed at the wrong time.
“We are busy all winter long doing what we have to do in order to be ready for the crowds that come to enjoy the rides during the summer when kids are out of school and tourists come to Coney Island,” he told us. “Why can’t the MTA do what they have to do during the winter months and the offseason? It works for the Wonder Wheel, why not the MTA?”
The MTA, however, said that spring and summer weekends are advantageous to the construction.
“Above-ground work must be done during daylight hours and in good weather,” the MTA told Bklyner. “Doing this work on weekends greatly minimizes the impact on customers, as ridership is much lower on weekends.”
Alexandra Silversmith Executive Director of the Alliance for Coney Island, an organization advocating the local businesses and communities of Coney Island, was also devastated by the news.
“This dramatically impacts the community, businesses, and visitors,” Silversmith told us. “I don’t understand why the MTA doesn’t see that.”
The alliance has reached out to the MTA and will continue to amplify their voices in hopes that the MTA will take a different route and schedule repairs at other times.
“This is a very small period of time when these businesses can make their money,” Silversmith said. “There have been recent closures in Coney Island, and we have a high vacancy rate right now, so we want to make sure these businesses can thrive and the MTA is punching us in the gut.”
Silversmith also worries that many people will lose employment opportunities due to the inability to get to work from other areas in Brooklyn. The F train service changes impact connections to Southern Brooklyn from Northern and Western Brooklyn, “and it’s not helping reduce congestion in Southern Brooklyn,” something that has been plaguing the area, she adds.
“It’s quite appalling and shows a clear disregard for the Coney Island and Brooklyn communities,” Silversmith told us. “To think that you can give no notice to all of these people is appalling and shows that there’s no equity of how [the MTA] gives notice to these communities.”
Local Councilmember Mark Treyger did not comment in time for publication.