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M Train Shutdown Driving Neighbors Out of Beloved Block

By Gwynne Hogan | June 29, 2017 2:08pm
 Ada Hernandez, 48, and her father Gregory Hernandez, 66, have lived on Ditmars Street for decades.
Ada Hernandez, 48, and her father Gregory Hernandez, 66, have lived on Ditmars Street for decades.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — For one local family, the 10-month M train shutdown set to begin on Saturday means saying goodbye forever to the block they've lived on for five decades.

Ada Hernandez, 49, who grew up on Ditmars Street in a house located within a few inches of the Bushwick Cut — a curved section of crumbling concrete tracks the MTA needs to demolish and rebuild — decided to sell her home to the MTA, despite initially vowing to fight the authority to stay put.

The MTA only needs residents of Ditmars Street out for 10 months during the repair work, and everyone else on the block plans to move back after that time. But Hernandez weighed her options, realizing her home needed repairs she couldn't afford, and decided to that an MTA buyout was the wisest financial decision.

"I took advantage and sold my home to the MTA and bought a newer one," said Hernandez, who moved into a two-family home in Maspeth with her father and partner, adding an extra 45 minutes to her daily commute. 

"I'm not complaining," said Hernandez, who sold her home to the MTA for $1.3 million, records show. "[I] just miss our old neighborhood since everything was at our fingertips, the memories of my childhood. I love that tiny block."

Aside from Hernandez and her father, about 60 residents who live within a few feet of the M line have moved out, while three businesses prepared to shutter.

The extended M train closure offers a glimpse of what residents, commuters and businesses along the L line will face during its planned 15-month shutdown beginning in April 2019. It also hints at what may be on the horizon for riders along lines across the city as the MTA struggles to upgrade aging infrastructure amid booming ridership.


The M line shutdown will allow crews to rebuild two sections of the aboveground tracks desperately in need of repairs. 

During the first two months of the shutdown, all service between the Middle Village and Myrtle-Broadway stations will be cut off, with shuttle buses running along two different routes connecting passengers to the L and J/Z lines.

During the next eight months of work, from September through April 2018, a shuttle train will run between the Middle Village and Myrtle-Wyckoff stations, and shuttle buses will take passengers from there to the Myrtle-Broadway stop.

Nadia Digregorio, 38, who recently packed up the last of her belongings from the Ditmars Street apartment she's lived in for the past 10 months, said leaving the block was "kind of bittersweet," adding that "I'm resilient enough." 

The MTA will compensate her during the shutdown while she rents an apartment in Ridgewood, and her Ditmars Street landlord said she'll be allowed to move back in after the work is done. She declined to give specifics on her deal with the MTA.

All in all, Digregorio is excited the repair work will ultimately mean a train that's not quite so noisy. As part of reconstruction on the 103-year-old viaduct, new low vibration tracks will be installed and trains are expected to travel along them more quietly.

"It sounds old. It screeches, it's terrible. I almost lost it when I moved in," she said. "It's constant. Every two minutes there's a train going."

Three Myrtle Avenue businesses — the bike shop Harvest Cyclery, coffee shop Baby Skips and Asian-fusion restaurant Little MO — will close for just three months during the shutdown, with plans to reopen in October.  

"I think the MTA did everything in their power to deal with us fairly. In the end I think the agreement represents a fair meeting of the minds," said attorney Kenneth Belkin, who negotiated with the MTA on behalf of all three businesses and said each will get a monthly sum from the authority during the time of the closure, though he declined to say how much. 

"We just hope the closure is only for three months," Belkin said.

Baby Skips co-owner Hector Marcel, who also own Little Skips down the block and recently opened Little Skips East on Broadway and Covert Street, said the idea of shutting down his cafe — a watering hole for artists, musicians, "50-year-old skateboarders," "coffee addicts" and other "weirdos" — was hard to swallow at first. 

It's like if you "all gather at a church, and your church is shut down," he explained. "This is the Bushwick Church, a coffee shop."

But in the long run, everyone will benefit from the M train repair work, Marcel acknowledged. 

"How do you keep New Yorkers moving without doing this kind of maintenance?" he said.

"We could be greedy, we could be stubborn, but we're part of the community. It's good for Brooklyn; it's good for Bushwick."

Businesses that rely on M train train traffic that are staying open during the closure will have their own challenges. Many got a taste of the decline in foot traffic during a series of weekend shutdowns this spring.

"It's going to slow down," said Maria Sostra, 30, a hairdresser at Diva Hair Studio off of the Seneca M train stop in Ridgewood. "It's bad for all these buisnesses."