STUY TOWN — The L train platforms at First Avenue are so overcrowded that it poses a hazard to the thousands of straphangers who use it each day, according to residents who are pushing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to make safety improvements.
Weekday ridership at the station at First Avenue and East 14th Street spiked more than 10 percent between 2009 and 2012, with 22,436 weekday riders in 2012, up from 20,006 in 2009, the MTA said.
Now, straphangers are pushing the MTA to build a second entrance for both the eastbound and westbound platforms of the station to ease the congestion, an issue that the MTA's New York City Transit division acknowledges is a problem.
“It’s tricky because there’s one stairwell,” Marcus Book, assistant director at NYC Transit, told Community Board 6 at a recent meeting. “The station was built in 1924, and it probably wasn’t designed for the level of service that we have now. We are looking at various options to deal with that.”
Book did not elaborate on the potential solutions or the timeline for implementing them. He did not offer a cost estimate for a new entrance but called it "an expensive proposition."
Still, critics warn that if nothing is done soon, people could be seriously hurt.
“The problem is, especially in the last couple of years as Williamsburg has ramped up, the station has become extremely overcrowded,” said Gene Santoro, a resident of Stuyvesant Town for 25 years. “I’ve watched the traffic change year after year, and it’s now at the point that it’s way beyond annoying — it’s dangerous.”
The First Avenue station currently only has one stairwell leading from the mezzanine to the western edge of each platform, which often leads to pileups, residents said. Riders say the station's single entrance for the train quickly turns into a bottleneck at rush hour, as incoming straphangers pour into the station while others battle to get out.
“It’s watching the people mass up in the train and at one end of the platform as people are trying to get up the stairs or down the stairs or on the train,” Santoro said at a meeting of Community Board 6’s transportation committee on Monday. “It’s a bunch of accidents waiting to happen.”
Committee member Fred Arcaro proposed adding extra trains to the route, but the L train line is likely already at capacity, Book said.
Other members suggested creating a new entry point to the platform at the eastern side of the station, near Avenue A, and they even went as far as offering to fundraise for the cause.
“Four or five years ago, we first started talking about having an eastern-end exit and entrance that would help alleviate the congestion on that platform,” said Sandro Sherrod, chairman of CB6. “It would be very helpful for us, or anyone who’s trying to advocate for that, to have a ballpark figure so we can try to figure out how to get that amount of money.”