NEW YORK—It is the lifeline for the increasing number of Asians who reside in Queens and travel to Manhattan, and for those who leave Manhattan for Queens, especially to Flushing, one of the gathering places in the borough.
But the ride on the 7 train becomes more difficult on the weekends, as a major signal upgrade shuts down a portion of the track from Times Square to Long Island City, including the bridge over the East River.
With the Chinese Lunar New York celebration fast approaching, mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis is calling for the city to respect the Asian community by halting work for the weekend of Feb. 15-17. Catsimatidis is a multi-billionaire who, among other holdings, owns the grocery store chain Gristedes.
“The Asians are very important element to our city and our small businesses are a very important element to our city,” he added. “Nobody cares that there is the Lunar New Year.”
As of 2010, 1.4 million Asians lived in New York, and about 50 percent of those live in Queens, according to statistics on the U.S. Census website.
He said if he were mayor, he would have a deputy mayor in each borough to keep him updated on issues. “This problem should’ve been solved already,” said Catsimatidis, standing in Great Kills Park, a patch of shrubs and sidewalk near the aboveground subway track in Long Island City.
“If the mayor has a deputy mayor in Queens, everybody, the business community, the chamber of commerce, can sit with that guy every week,” he said. “You gotta get the, what do you call it, the pulse of the situation. You need a real person in charge, not a professional politician, not a bureaucrat.”
Besides keeping the track open for the Lunar New Year: Feb. 15 through Feb. 17, Catsimatidis and small business owners in the area want the MTA to stagger work on the weekends and move some work to weeknights.
Midnight to 6 a.m. would be a good time to work on tracks, suggested Catsimatidis. Instead of working for 13 consecutive weekends, the MTA should break up the work over a longer period of time, said Arthur Rosenfield, founder and CEO of CityEntree, and president of the Long Island City/Astoria Chamber of Commerce.
The 7 line is the second in the aging subway system to receive signal upgrades, which enable trains to run more frequently and for the installation of countdown clocks, allowing waiting customers to see when the next train is arriving.
But the upgrade, which started in 2011, will take until late 2016 to complete, and the line is frequently worked on during the weekends.
Although there are multiple other options for subway travel in the area, the 7 line shutdown on weekends adds to the commute, said John Dalliare, who owns Maid Pro, a cleaning company in Long Island City.For workers coming from Manhattan, “A commute that’s normally 25-30 minutes becomes 45 minutes, an hour,” he said.
The MTA in an emailed statement said since the opportunity to work on the 7 line is limited in the summer—when more people ride the subway—they have to do it every weekend as scheduled, including the Lunar New Year weekend.
As for shifting work from the weekend, that won’t happen either.
“We cannot do all of the planned work just at night,” wrote spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “We need full weekends.”