I love public transit. I really do – it’s affordable, it gets me places, it means I don’t need a car.
What I don’t love is when transit is disrupted during major holidays. And the MTA has decided to conduct track work on the 7 line, which runs between Flushing and Times Square, every weekend for the next 3 months. This makes it harder for people in Manhattan to get to Queens, and vice versa. (I know because I went to Flushing last weekend, and all the extra transfers meant that my commute was 50% longer – about an hour total during daylight.) This also happens to fall during the Lunar New Year (LNY) and the Lunar New Year parades, which will be on 2/16 (Flushing) and 2/17 (Manhattan) of this year.
For those who don’t know, Lunar New Year is a big deal. It is the biggest of holidays in many East Asian cultures. In China, they close the factories for two weeks so that people can go home and see their families. It’s a big deal, even here in the States. It’s like Hanukkah or Christmas, and there are religious components to it. In Chinese culture, you clean your house and pray to the Kitchen God for a fresh start to the new year. LNY is not just celebrated by the Chinese American community, it’s also celebrated by Korean Americans, Japanese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, and other Asian Americans. There are over 1 million Asian Americans in New York City, and APAs are the fastest growing population in NYC – a number that grew 38% in the last decade alone.
If you’ve never been to a Lunar New Year parade in NYC, it’s intensely festive and magical. Last year all the major elected officials showed up and marched in Manhattan, and the parade took hours to wind its way down, with animal shaped floats, lion dancers, and marching bands. In Flushing, they have 4,000 marchers alone. Last year’s crowds were so diverse – New Yorkers of all colors were huddled together under joyful sprays of confetti next to out of town tourists. White, black, Latino, and Asian American families – all celebrating together. And everyone goes to eat at the tasty restaurants and to buy presents to celebrate the new year. So it’s no surprise that the Flushing BID says that the businesses are going to take a hit – 18% of their annual revenue comes from Lunar New Year alone. (New York Crain’s Business)
These are small businesses and large, the vast majority of which are immigrant owned. And the taxes that celebrants pay goes back into the schools and communities. So it’s a shame that the MTA is simply not budging, despite numerous meetings at the bequest of the community. “Merchants associations were also left wondering if the city was spitting in the face of a community they said has remained solvent and booming during a time of otherwise fiscal uncertainty.” (Queens Chronicle)
The MTA contends it is picking a downtime in the 7 line’s otherwise busy year.
“Because we have such a limited opportunity to perform Flushing line work during baseball season, these general orders for work must move forward during the remainder of the year,” said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the agency.
The speakers, an amalgam of elected officials and the heads of small business associations, aired exasperation over fighting this battle again for what was the third year in a row.
So this whole idea that the MTA doesn’t make exceptions at other times of the year is contradicted by a blogger on a transit lover’s forum, appropriately named,
As for the Lunar New Year thing, I understand the feelings of the Asian merchants on the sense that the MTA cancels GOs during the Puerto Rican Parade, Gay Pride Parade and other major holidays or ethnic parades that draw large crowds to Manhattan. The Flushing merchants feel that the MTA should treat them the same way since the Flushing Lunar New Year draws a huge crowd.
Here were some of our newly elected officials comments on the matter from New York’s first Korean American legislator, Assemblyman Ron Kim, and from the first Asian American Congressmember to represent NYS, Rep. Grace Meng:
“We are all grateful for MTA’s willingness to sit down with us and explore a reasonable solution to this problem. However, the people of Flushing deserve more,” added Assemblyman Ron Kim. “In some parts around the country, the transit authorities celebrate Lunar Year’s Day by even providing free services. In New York City, instead of encouraging people to celebrate this holiday, we are making it more difficult for people to commute. New York City should be proud of the fact that Flushing’s Lunar New Year festivities are known worldwide. The MTA has a tremendous opportunity to build a stronger relationship with the minority communities of Flushing and I hope they take it.”
“The MTA’s decision to not restore subway service for Lunar New Year celebrations is extremely disappointing, and it’s a real disservice to those who take part in this important holiday,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens). “Clearly, this will have a devastating impact on residents, visitors and businesses during this special time of year. We understand the importance of upgrading and conducting maintenance on the No. 7 line. It’s critical work that must get done. But the MTA cannot disregard the needs of the people who depend on this service, which for many is the only way they can travel to and from Lunar New Year festivities. It is essential that the MTA plan accordingly so that these service suspensions do not occur during the 2014 Lunar New Year. I join with my colleagues in urging them to assure us that they will not.”
Hopefully, this is not the last word, and the MTA will start hearing the community’s concerns.