The G Train Crusader
Sculptor Peter Eide wants a tunnel from Fulton to Atlantic;
M.T.A. says too few people would take it
by Leigh Kamping-Carder July 24, 2008
Photo by James Hamilton.
When Peter Eide moved to Clinton Hill, he had a "fantastical" idea.
The sculptor had spent 12 years moving around the borough after arriving from Philadelphia: Greenpoint, Williamsburg, back to Clinton Hill. But Mr. Eide, now 37, never strayed far from the G train, the only subway line in the city that doesn't travel through Manhattan. And he never stopped thinking of that idea he had: to connect his neighborhood G train stop, Fulton Street, to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street transit hub, effectively linking the line to almost a dozen other routes.
The fantastical part? A 660-foot tunnel buried under Fort Greene.
"It just didn't make sense to me that it wasn't there," he said of the tunnel. "And this was a while ago. This was before these neighborhoods changed as drastically as they've changed."
The Atlantic Avenue station services the B, Q, 2, 3, 4, 5, D, M, N and R lines. On average, over 30,000 commuters cross through its turnstiles every weekday, making it the second most trafficked hub in Brooklyn and the 29th busiest station in all of the M.T.A. But the G? Transit advocates call it the system's "forgotten stepchild." Most recently, M.T.A. CEO Elliot Sander announced the line would not receive the service enhancements that the transit agency had promised riders last February, due to budget constraints.
But Mr. Eide is not sympathetic to the M.T.A.'s financial woes.
"I live here in the city, and if they're going to increase my fares, they need to do certain things," he said. "If they want to have a successful mass transit system, I think they need to have [a tunnel]. They do make improvements to their lines, and they can make one here."
When we met for coffee at a local cafe, Mr. Eide arrived in a rumpled button-down shirt, with a weekend's worth of stubble on his chin. But he's no slacker artist. Mr. Eide was involved in the campaign to halt the construction of a 15-story luxury condominium tower at 163 Washington Avenue. Community members formed a coalition, Building Too Tall, to fight the developer, the GLC Group, over the course of three hearings before the Board of Standards and Appeals. The BSA approved construction of the tower last March.
During the course of the hearings, Mr. Eide met City Councilwoman Letitia James of Fort Greene. In February, the M.T.A. had promised Ms. James that it would conduct a study to determine the costs associated with digging a passageway between Fulton and Atlantic. (Ms. James declined to be interviewed for this story.)
It was her efforts that convinced Mr. Eide that his long ago tunnel idea was more than a pipe dream. He created an online petition to the M.T.A., publicizing it through the Brooklyn blogs, such as Brownstoner and Save the G.
Since February, over 1,200 people have signed, including James Surowiecki, The New Yorker writer and author of The Wisdom of Crowds, and Eric Demby, the cofounder and curator of the Brooklyn Flea Market. Not that Mr. Eide could tell you that -- he hasn't combed the names for notables. He's just happy that the petition has a space where riders can comment, testifying to their experiences with the G.
"I can make anonymous comments on blogs about the M.T.A. as much as I want," he said, "but it's not going to affect anything. But maybe the petition will."
Riders from as far away as Canada and the U.K. have affixed their names and observations to the petition.
"My husband and I have long considered a move to Clinton Hill," wrote Pamela Remickof Brooklyn last April, "but always hesitate when we consider that the G train is the primary train service. If it were connected to Atlantic, our fears would be erased!" Another, Kristine Ganancial, wrote, "my entire NY life, I've based my living situation entirely on how far and how much I can avoid the G Train."
Others called the tunnel a "no-brainer," and a few even suggested that the developers behind the Atlantic Yards should pay for its construction.
Cate Contino, of the transit advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, wrote, "This line serves one of the fastest growing populations in NYC. It's time transit reflected the vibrancy of G-dependent communities. Why not add a few more cars while we're at it? If you build it, the riders will come."
But New York City Transit is not convinced that they will. When NYCT looked into the viability of creating a free passageway between the stations, it found that only 1,000 to 5,000 commuters would use it daily.
"The prohibitive cost would not be justified," said Deirdre Parker, deputy director of NYCT's public affairs, in an e-mail. Ms. James, the councilwoman, told the Brooklyn Paper in February that it would most likely take 5 to 10 years to complete but would be "the biggest shaft in the subway system."
Of course, many G riders think they've already gotten the shaft. "The G train suffers from neglect," said Mr. Eide. "Part of that neglect is engineered." In other words, the M.T.A. has created a vicious cycle: low ridership numbers lead to service cuts, which lead to a decrease in ridership.
"If they did make some of these critical connections that they could make, then ridership would increase," Mr. Eide continued, "and they'd be forced to do something. I think regardless they're going to be forced to do something at some point soon."
However, the feasibility study that the M.T.A. promised Ms. James died along with congestion pricing. To go ahead, the study would have to be a part of the agency's capital budget, she said in an e-mail.
Many G train riders wonder why the M.T.A. couldn't at least allow for a street transfer between Fulton and Atlantic, allowing commuters to transfer aboveground for the cost of a single fare. (This is already in place between the G and the 7 lines at Court Square in Queens and between the F at 63rd Street; and the E, V and 6 lines at 53rd Street in Manhattan.)
If such a system were in place, Peter Eide, for one, would use it. He currently rides the bus to Atlantic, transferring to the Q train on his way to Rockefeller Center, where he works part-time in the graphics department of a financial advisory firm. Although the ultimate goal of his campaign is to build the tunnel, Mr. Eide believes that any kind of improvement to the G line -- increased frequency of service, street transfers, a longer train -- would benefit the community.
The petition will close in December, but until then, the signatures and the comments -- what Mr. Eide calls "the motor of the petition" -- will continue to accumulate.
"It's sort of like power to the people," he explains. "The great thing about it is that there's weight in numbers."