Home MTA Politics MTA should address future problems today

MTA should address future problems today

by Benjamin Kabak

I (along with Catherine Dent from The Shield!) entered the subway at 96th St. this evening at around 9:30 p.m. From the Upper West Side to Park Slope, I rode on two fairly crowded trains. Considering it was late-ish on Memorial Day Monday, the trains were teeming with people.

This is, as New York City Transit president Howard Roberts noted on Friday, now an everyday occurrence. New York City is more crowded than ever with residents and tourists, and these people take the subway to get around. Ridership numbers should soon surpass record highs, and subways, crowded at all hours of the day, are beginning to bear an increasingly heavy load.

Which brings us to an editorial in The Post that got lost over Memorial Day Weekend. In a rare moment of candor from New York’s favorite Murdoch-owned tabloid, The Post urged the MTA to get thinkin’ already on tomorrow’s problems. Let’s tackle them today, as the cliché goes.

The Post took its cue from Roberts’ comments on Friday that maybe the subway system could use longer (and faster) trains to carry more people throughout the city it a quicker fashion. While two commenters on SAS and I both agreed that Roberts’ proposal sounds ludicrous, his main point is on the money. Over the next five, ten, twenty years, more and more people are going to be riding the subway. If you think the F line is crowded now, wait until Kensington and Borough Park fill up with even more people.

The obvious solution to these problems revolve around running more trains. But some lines are at capacity. The IRT lines can’t handle more trains. Even the IND and BMT lines are mostly maxed out. The tunnels can only hold so many trains if the MTA wants to keep the trains moving at a steady pace. There’s nothing worse than waiting in a tunnel for the train ahead of you to clear out, and if more trains are added to most of the lines in the city, wait times would increase dramatically.

While lines like the L will see more subways in three years, many lines are already at that peak of 26-30 trains per hour during rush hour. Roberts claims that extended subway platforms would cost less than building new lines, but I don’t buy it. Stations that are already too close together would have to close, and no one would like that. Furthermore, station extension projects involve excavation and renovation beyond anything we’ve seen in the subways in a long time.

In my view, the solution to the city’s subway problem — or future problem — is to build a more comprehensive grid. We need more trains running from Brooklyn to Queens without crossing into Manhattan. We need more crosstown trains through Manhattan and more stops on the far East and West Sides.

Opponents may question the cost and infrastructure needs for such an expansion, but I point to London and, more recently, Beijing as cities that have built new subway lines in built-up areas. The need was there; the money was there; the lines were completed.

Considering the long and tortured history of the Second Ave. subway, a line that promises to be New York’s first new subway route in nearly eight decades, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for the MTA to adopt my plan. But any discussion about the efficiency and overcrowding on the subway should start and end with new lines. If those in charge of the city are serious about maintaining its sustainability, new subway lines must be a part of this plan.

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5 comments

Marsha May 29, 2007 - 8:44 am

Good celebrity spotting. And excellent column. Too bad new lines in populated areas ain’t gonna happen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the money is there. It would be interesting to explore how the money was there for London and Beijing.

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Julia May 29, 2007 - 11:18 am

I’ve been thinking about this, too. The 7 is always packed during rush hour, but the MTA already seems to be running s many trains as they can — trains are always stopping between stations because of traffic. If/when that massive new development goes up in Willets Point, I have no idea where all those people are going to fit.

I’m intrigued by the “bus rapid transit” idea — if there were a bus to Manhattan with a dedicated bus lane, stops no more frequent than subway stops, and the same fare as the subway, I’d definitely try it. It would be a zillion times cheaper than redoing the subway.

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eric the beehivehairdresser May 29, 2007 - 12:15 pm

I keep wondering the same things about the future of overcrowding. I never want to be on a rush hour/ day subway after the Atlantic Yards towers are completed, bringing with it tens of thousands of residents who will need to get around.

At present time they say that it’s great to build these buildings due to the close proximity to the Atlantic/Pacific hub nearby, but all these lines are already too crowded with passengers.

Your article has made me wonder about why NYC residents as a whole don’t come create a non profit organization of sorts that will collect money (so as to give tax breaks as an insentive for donations) that will put forth a huge amount of percentage of cash (similar to the Red Cross) collected towards building new subway lines for the MTA. I imagine that private donors could help fund lines quicker than federal funds coming in and local bonds would.

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Marc Shepherd May 29, 2007 - 1:38 pm

The reason the trains were so crowded yesterday is that the MTA runs a Sunday schedule on holidays, and the Sunday schedule is too infrequent for the volume using the subways.

No new construction is required to increase weekend service.

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wayne's world May 29, 2007 - 3:21 pm

You make many good points but there clearly is capacity to increase frequency of trains in the non-rush hours. That won’t help during rush hours but the demand is clearly there for it.

The problem you point out is another example of how we have lived off of public works projects completed by prior generations without bearing our generational responsibility to construct new ones. If the attitudes of our times prevailed when potential construction was being considered, there would be no tunnels, no George Washington Bridge and no subways.

We are living on an infrastructure that was build in the first half of the last century. We can’t get away with this forever.

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