Joe Del Senno, 25, works long days and irregular hours. As a freelance cameraman, he lugs cameras and tripods between City Hall, Park Slope, Midtown and back home to the small three-bedroom he shares with a roommate in Astoria, Queens. He owns a car – he grew up in Flushing – but cannot afford parking rates in Manhattan. These travel-related woes pale in comparison to what he might face if the M.T.A. passes a package of proposed transit cuts at its next scheduled board meeting on Dec. 17.
The nightlife of Astoria’s 20-somethings is at risk.
“In terms of getting into Brooklyn, it’s impossible,” said Mr. Del Senno. We sat at a chic local restaurant that only three weeks ago, he said, had been a diner. “So many people live in Brooklyn. Anyone our age living in Astoria is going to have a ton of friends in Brooklyn. And it’s just hard to see them.”
The M.T.A.’s budget proposal includes a list of cuts that would target nighttime travel to and from the neighborhood, eliminating the W line, which makes local stops between Astoria and the Financial District; terminating the G train in Long Island City, Queens; and extending late-night wait times from 20 minutes to half an hour. For many young Astoria residents, what could be a quick trip to Williamsburg will become an increasingly daunting prospect.
“It shouldn’t be this huge problem that I’ve chosen to live three miles away from my friends,” said Claire Skowronek, an Astoria-based writer and filmmaker who loathed the idea of settling in Williamsburg. “Sometimes I feel like I might as well live in Rockaway!”
Ms. Skowronek often takes the G train to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Atlantic Center, or McCarren Park. Although G trains rarely run their full route on weekends, it is the only subway line that directly connects Brooklyn and Queens, and without it, Astoria residents are forced to travel through Manhattan.
“If the G was gone,” said Ms. Skowronek, “I’d never go to Brooklyn. I’d stop going all together.”
Some young Astoria residents have given up on the G altogether; for them it is the possible discontinuation of the W that poses more of an inconvenience. Without the train, which stops service at 11:00 p.m., they will be forced to take the N, an express train, instead. The lack of transit options is one of several reasons why Sarah Aasbo, a 25-year-old paralegal, is contemplating moving out of her one-bedroom apartment.
“I don’t follow this as a hard and fast rule,” said Ms. Aasbo, “but if I am planning things, I’ll try and say, ‘O.K., I’m doing this one thing with a friend who lives in Brooklyn, let me see if I can do anything else with someone in Brooklyn.’ … It sounds kind of sad to plan out your social calendar that way to see as many people as possible, but it becomes the most efficient way to do things.”
Other Astoria residents complain of spending money on taxis; passing otherwise pleasant evenings dreading the commute home; getting waylaid by late-night service disruptions; or waiting on subway platforms for two, three or four trains in one trip.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the library or something,” said Mark Lebetkin, 27, a graduate student at New York University, “and the next thing I know it’s midnight. … And I know immediately that I should have just packed up an hour earlier because it would have been a million times earlier that I’d have gotten home.”
Heather Pierre, a 27-year-old nanny, often wonders whether it is worth going out at all if it entails such complicated strategizing. Once she had to transfer six times to get to the IKEA in Red Hook. Another time, she said, “I woke up and there was just two guys passed out on my couch. And I understood it because, who wants to do that commute at two or three in the morning?”
Although residents of Astoria are quick to praise the area’s inexpensive rent, sense of community, and variety of late-night dining options, few can convince their Brooklyn friends to make the trek to the neighborhood. Mr. Del Senno enjoys catching a film in Manhattan, or playing board games with friends in Brooklyn. But unless they’re going to the famed Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden, his friends rarely return the favor.
“Everyone I know who moves to the city, they want to move to Brooklyn,” he explained. “And why is that? It’s well-connected, it’s hip, it’s up-and-coming. That makes it really expensive. Rentals in Brooklyn are retardedly expensive sometimes. People live, in my opinion, in neighborhoods that are way beyond their means. And I don’t blame them for that, but I think that’s part of it: if other neighborhoods in the city were more accessible, of course, people would live there. But they don’t because it’s not.”
Despite Astoria’s inaccessibility, no one seems to think local hipsters or young professionals will protest the planned cuts. They’re too “jaded,” “transient,” or “apathetic.”
“Whenever I hear reports of 20-somethings advocating in New York for anything,” said Mr. Del Senno, “they’re just dismissed as a bunch of hipster, whining cry babies. It’s never, ever, ever taken seriously.”