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.