Oct
04

A plan to lessen the crowds on the popular L

By

With concerns about crowding on the L train drawing headlines this summer, the MTA has pledged to address the issue. Later this fall, they will one roundtrip train to the line between 9 and 9:30 a.m. as an interim measure. Doing so, says the authority, will drop load guidelines under 100 percent, and the authority hopes to bring full CBTC online by the end of 2012.

On the surface, one whole train between 9 and 9:30 a.m. doesn’t sound like much. Here you go, guys. Enjoy your one extra train. Plus, the L line is generally crowded throughout rush hour. For now, though, it could be the difference between trains at 101 percent of capacity and those at 90 percent of capacity. Even with the adjustments in load guidelines last year to consider trains full with a quarter of the passengers standing, that extra train could make some unpleasant rides slightly more tolerable.

The announcement of one extra train — with more to come in another year or so — stems from the summer flurry of news about subway crowds. After The Times reported that weekend ridership was on the rise, politicians took note. Armed with the news that weekend ridership at some L train stops was a shocking 80 percent of weekday ridership, Daniel Squadron called upon the MTA to review service along the L line, and this week, the agency’s internal report has hit the proverbial airwaves.

The document is a 13-pager, and it’s available here as a PDF. A lot of it, though, is extraneous as it is a report that the MTA has had at the ready for a while. They’ve spent a lot of time studying the L line and know the ridership inside and out. It’s going to be the first CBTC route in the city, and if that technology is ready in 14 months, as Transit says it will be, capacity on the L could be bumped up significantly.

First, the numbers: Since 1998, daily ridership along the L has spiked from just over 68,000 to just under 130,000. The MTA has maxed out the line at 17 trains per hour, up from 12 just 13 years ago, and is now running 444 daily L train trips, up from 292 in 1998. As ridership has gone up, the MTA has tried to use the L line — one of two that doesn’t have to share trackage with another route — as a testing ground, and thus, we’ve been hearing about CBTC since before I started this site in late 2006.

With CBTC and ATO, the MTA says it can decrease headways to allow for upwards of 24 trains per hour. The system was plagued by some bad testing results as well as a need to purchase more equipment. After being put on hold in 2006 and then resuming a few years ago, Transit anticipates rolling out a full implementation of CBTC in late 2012, and the authority aims to increase capacity to around 20 trains per hour at peak times, thus lessening the crowds. Those are of course the best laid plans, and we know how that goes.

In the meantime, though, weekend travel will remain problematic. Because of the switching limitations along the Canarsie Line, the MTA usually has to knock out large sections of the route to make sure work is completed. It can’t single-track L trains because that would hinder weekend productivity. Furthermore, with CBTC tests needed before the MTA can move forward with its plan, weekend L service may be cut now and then over the next few months. It might get worse before it gets better.

So L riders looking for space right now should walk to the back. The report details how cars in the front of Manhattan-bound trains — those that open right at the entrances at Lorimer St. and Bedford, 1st and 3rd Aves. — are far more crowded that the last car on the L trains. Loads in the front are at 130 percent while loads in the back are at 99 percent. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing. Take heart though, L train riders: Changes are coming ever so slowly.



57 Responses to “A plan to lessen the crowds on the popular L”

  1. Corey says:

    I don’t suppose this would spur them to add L train entrances to Ave A, 2nd Ave or 5th Ave. If the number of trains running is maxed out, then all we can do is find ways to distribute the passengers more evenly.

    • Andrew says:

      An Avenue A entrance would be wonderful.

      When (if) SAS Phase 3 comes along, there will presumably be a 2nd Avenue entrance. Until then, it, or a 5th Avenue entrance, wouldn’t be terribly useful.

      But build that Avenue A entrance!

      • Corey says:

        I agree that the Ave A entrance would be the only one that would extend this accessibility zone for the L, but this is more about distributing the load of passengers throughout the train, instead of crowding the western side of the train. Previous articles on SAS have said that studies were done for these extra entrances, but the projects have never been funded.

        • Andrew says:

          I agree, but entrances that aren’t very popular won’t have much of an effect on loading, while an Avenue A entrance undoubtedly would

      • Chris says:

        I’ve always kind of hoped that they would just eliminate the 3rd Ave. stop on the L entirely (connecting the SAS to the 1st Ave. L stop via passageway). There’s just not a need for stops at all of 1st, 3rd, and Union Square, and it slows down the main purpose of the L which is to get Brooklyn passengers connected to the Manhattan north-south trunk lines.

        • Andrew says:

          If SAS Phase 3 does happen, then the 3rd Av. station will become a transfer point to a north-south trunk line – there’s no need to make people walk a long east-west block when a different station directly serves the transfer! And the 1st Av. station is already very busy due to the substantial development well to its east.

  2. Andrew says:

    On the surface, one whole train between 9 and 9:30 a.m. doesn’t sound like much. Here you go, guys. Enjoy your one extra train. Plus, the L line is generally crowded throughout rush hour. For now, though, it could be the difference between trains at 101 percent of capacity and those at 90 percent of capacity. Even with the adjustments in load guidelines last year to consider trains full with a quarter of the passengers standing, that extra train could make some unpleasant rides slightly more tolerable.

    Hold on a minute! The loading guideline that was changed last year (to 125% of a seated load) was the off-peak guideline. The rush hour guideline is far tighter – 145 people per car on an R143 or R160.

    After being put on hold in 2006 and then resuming a few years ago, Transit anticipates rolling out a full implementation of CBTC in late 2012

    The document clearly states that complete cut-over is scheduled for late 2011. (Could that be what next weekend’s shutdown is for?)

    Because of the switching limitations along the Canarsie Line, the MTA usually has to knock out large sections of the route to make sure work is completed. It can’t single-track L trains because that would hinder weekend productivity.

    More to the point, it would hinder headways. When one track is out between Union Square and Bedford, the shuttle train runs on a 16-minute headway, which is not even close to adequate. When one track is out between Bedford and Myrtle, the headway on a single-track shuttle would probably be closer to 30 minutes, which would be completely infeasible except in the middle of the night.

  3. Larry Littlefield says:

    “It’s going to be the first CBTC route in the city, and if that technology is ready in 14 months, as Transit says it will be, capacity on the L could be bumped up significantly.”

    You mean it isn’t done yet? It was supposed to be done a decade ago! I though that project was done years ago! What happened?

    “With CBTC and ATO, the MTA says it can increase headways to allow for upwards of 24 trains per hour.”

    CBTC allows up to 40 trains per hour. The constraint is terminal capacity. It wasn’t high tech, but digging out some tail tracks past 8th Avenue would have been very useful.

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Well I read the document, and it implies the problem is a lack of CBTC enabled trains and not the signals. So they haven’t shut down the old signals.

      • Andrew says:

        Every train on the L is CBTC-enabled (and has been for a while), but I don’t think there are enough spares to add much service. Remember – unlike everywhere else, the L can’t borrow a train or two from another line, since it can only used CBTC-equipped cars. (Presumably, as CBTC gradually spreads throughout the system, this probably will slowly go away.)

  4. Al D says:

    “…Transit anticipates rolling out a full implementation of CBTC in late 2012, and the authority aims to increase capacity to around 20 trains per hour at peak times, thus lessening the crowds. Those are of course the best laid plans, and we know how that goes.”

    Well said because it sounds like NYCT put their head right back in the sand after coming up for air, briefly. It seems as if they are only planning for or playing catch up with current demand. As the pace of development continues, slowed by the economy, but unabated nonetheless, demand for L service is only going to increase. This is happening from Bedford out to Montrose. From Morgan to Myrtle-Wyckoff, the hipsters are moving in in droves and this means increased L ridership, too. So 24 tph may be needed sooner, rather than later.

    My only question though is how can they turn trains so quickly at the termini?

  5. Jason says:

    They should extend the L to where the 7 train is being extended to at the Javits and make a 4-track, 2-island terminal for both train lines

    • Phil says:

      Or at least to 10th Avenue and create a pocket-tracked terminal that would serve the Meatpacking District and West Chelsea (more riders!).

      • Alex C says:

        Connecting Hipsterville with Chelsea and the Meatpacking district would bring crowds that would require the L to be 12-car trains running every 90 seconds.

      • pea-jay says:

        Think bigger. I’d love to see the L turn north and run under 10th avenue al the way to 59th and then return east to 59/CC. Terminate it there under the ABCD1 lines or connect it to the 60th st N/R tunnel to queens. You’d get way better access to manhattans west side and additional places to short turn some trains.

        We’ll get to that sometime after all four phases of the second ave subway are complete right?

        • Alex C says:

          Yeah, sure. But considering there’s almost no chance phases 3 and 4 ever get done, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

          • Kai B says:

            We said the same thing about Phase I ten years ago. I certainly hope we won’t remain in a recession / creep out of recession forever!

            • Alex C says:

              Problem isn’t just the recession, it’s convincing the general public that funding mass transit is a good idea; a better one than just handing out tax breaks to everyone. When you do that in the 21st century US, you will have performed alchemy.

  6. ajedrez says:

    Technically, even though the 7 doesn’t share tracks with any other line, it does share trackage with itself: The local and express do merge at Queensborogh Plaza.

    Just a technicality.

  7. Lawrence Velázquez says:

    Wait, the Canarsie Line maxes out at 17 tph? Is there a bottleneck somewhere, or is it just inadequate terminal capacity?

  8. Russell says:

    Does anyone have any idea how difficult logistically it would be to extend the platforms on the L train to 10 cars? When you read about the history of the subway, it seems like platform extension projects were happening all of the time. Now of course there haven’t been any in the last 50+ years, but if there’s any line where that would be helpful, it would be the L.

    • al says:

      There is the issue of yard capacity. The tracks on the western side of the Canarsie Yards can handle 10 cars. The rest of the yard can’t handle 600′ trains without reconfiguring the tracks and switches and acquiring property to expand the yard by extending the eastern tracks to the south and east. Extension to stations also require relocating switches.

      I think another plan should be considered as well. Add 2 terminals to the L. Reconfigure the tracks between 6th and 8th Ave so that westbound trains (at 10-15 tph) can terminate at 6th ave, switch onto the middle track to the west, and head back eastbound. Add the second terminal at Atlantic Ave as another 10-15 tph terminal. Reconfiguring the tracks near Atlantic Ave could yield space mid day layup for another 2-6 600′ trains. That should, along with the existing terminal capacity bump up the tph to line signal capacity (whatever that might be 27-40 tph?).

  9. Hank says:

    I think the real solution is to finally enforce the “Skinny jeans only” rule on the L train. If EVERYONE had to dress in uncomfortable hipster wear (women’s jeans for men / tights for women) and started sucking down a pack of Parliaments a day, then people would all be losing weight, allowing each tran to run at 150% of capacity.

    Just sayin…

  10. Alon Levy says:

    What Larry said. The problem with the L is terminal capacity at 8th Avenue; therefore, in addition to CBTC (electronics), the MTA should be thinking about either reconfiguring the terminal or extending the L one stop west to Chelsea Piers and doing the new terminal right (concrete, but not a lot of it).

    • Larry Littlefield says:

      Doing it right requires tail tracks, so the train doesn’t have to crawl into the terminal (because there is a wall at the end of it).

      With tail tracks, the signals can allow the train to enter the station at speed, because if it over-runs it trips and automatic stop at the end of the platform and stops on the tail tracks before hitting the wall.

      • Alon Levy says:

        Yes, exactly. And based on best industry practices (both the 7 at Times Square and the Chuo Line at Tokyo) about fifty meters should be enough.

        Unfortunately, at such a short tunnel length, cost per kilometer is an irrelevant metric, so we can’t just say that those fifty meters should cost $75 million at NYC costs or $10 million at rest-of-world costs. The reason I’m seriously proposing extending the L one station west is that because of the high fixed costs, an extra station may have a low marginal cost.

        Or maybe not – it could be that on the contrary, fifty meters could be done manually with relative ease and the cost really would be in the tens of millions. But I doubt it.

        • Andrew says:

          No such thing as “best industry practices” when it comes to what works best for a specific signal system. You need what will accomplish the desired goal for the specific signal system in question. (And the one on the L differs from the ones elsewhere in NYC.)

          • Alon Levy says:

            There is a best industry practice when it comes to trains with the same braking capability.

            • Andrew says:

              For brand new systems, one could claim that CBTC is best industry practice.

              For existing systems that aren’t already on the cusp of replacing their signal systems, there’s no point in adding tail tracks that are too short to do any good given the signal system already in place, nor is there any point in adding tail tracks longer than necessary for the signal system already in place.

              The necessary length of tail tracks in order to produce a desired capacity is an engineering question, not a policy question. The answer to the engineering question depends on the inputs.

      • Andrew says:

        Generally speaking I’d agree with you, but this line doesn’t have conventional signals anymore, and what you’re saying doesn’t apply to CBTC. Have you seen L trains approach either terminal in recent years? They’re not going to break any speed records, but they’re still a lot faster than anything else in the system approaching a bumper block. So I’m not sure tail tracks would help as much here as they would elsewhere.

        • Kai B says:

          At least the crossover is very quick and optimized. It could be as bad as the G-Train approaching Court Square with the awkward storage track silent creep!

        • Larry Littlefield says:

          So what, then, is the capacity?

          I had heard it would be just 20 tph, compared with 30 for the Flushing Line without CBTC and with tail tracks, and 40 for CBTC without a terminal constraint.

  11. ferryboi says:

    Don’t like crowded trains? Move to Staten Island! No crowded subways here (actually, there are no subways here PERIOD)!

    Seriously, I lived in Greenpoint 20 years ago and remember when the “L” train was practically empty most times, even at Bedford Ave. Way too many people relying on 90 year old infrastructure is a recipe for frustration.

    • Bolwerk says:

      But why trade 10 minutes in a crowded train from Lorimer or Bedford for possibly hours on a clogged highway?

      The crowding problems on the L seem a bit exaggerated to me, mainly because the crowding usually is manageable and the rides tend to be short. (Okay, it’s probably not short from beyond Myrtle or so, and the Manhattan-bound crowding can be bad by Myrtle during the morning rush.) It’s not like riding a packed R to Bensonhurst though.

      • Andrew says:

        The L is much more crowded than the R. The two are not even comparable.

        • Bolwerk says:

          I know, I was just talking about the distance. IIRC, the R isn’t even particularly crowded.

          Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what relatively long trips are especially crowded. 7 from Flushing? E from Jamaica? I would have mentioned those for distances’ sake, but they’re at least express services. Sitting in a packed R all the way to Bensonhurst would really be a special hell.

          Either way, the point remains: L trips tend to be on the short side. Eighth Ave. to Myrtle is about 25 minutes, and that’s probably about as long as they get with SRO conditions, except maybe at rush hour.

      • ferryboi says:

        I rarely drive into the city Bolwerk, only if I’m in town very late at night. The ferry gets me home in 30 mins, and it’s another 15-20 mins to midtown via subway. Many times it took me almost as long to get from midtown to Greenpoint via L or G trains, especially at night. And my rent is way cheaper than anything in Greenpoint/W’burg.

        • ajedrez says:

          I think he was referring to express buses being stuck in traffic.

          • Bolwerk says:

            I was referring to being stuck in traffic period – and forget highways. Plenty of routes on Staten Island aren’t exactly delightful to get around some days, even if you aren’t going to Manhattan, either. And having to own a car probably kills any savings you get in lower rent.

  12. Andy says:

    What I wonder is why that section of Brooklyn has to rely on Daniel Squadron to get attention drawn to this problem, when Sen. Martin Dilan is the ranking member of the transportation committee. He certainly serves more riders of that line than Squadron.

  13. Larry Littlefield says:

    “Off the top of my head, I’m not sure what relatively long trips are especially crowded. 7 from Flushing? E from Jamaica? I would have mentioned those for distances’ sake, but they’re at least express services. Sitting in a packed R all the way to Bensonhurst would really be a special hell.”

    Interesting criteria for subway hell: the level of crowding, multiplied by the length of the trip, multiplied by number of stops in local service.

    I nominate the Culver Line (F) as the worst of all.

    • The 6 train from the Bronx is pretty bad too.

    • Bolwerk says:

      Yeah, the F should have occurred to me.

      However, throw in when they’re crowded: all times, part of the time, both rush hours? I get a seat on almost all Manhattan-bound L Trains. I probably get a seat Brooklyn-bound far less often because there is SRO only in that direction once you hit Union Square most of the day. The upside is that the SRO conditions end relatively quickly, depending on the time of day.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m not sure why you multiply by the number of stops – isn’t the time all that really matters?

      The F in Brooklyn isn’t especially crowded, and the stations south of Church are very lightly used, so what crowding there is is also for relatively short duration.

      In my experience, the 7 express, Queens E/F, A at either end, B/Q in Brooklyn (especially the B, now that it’s express again), and all of the Bronx IRT lines are pretty crowded fairly early in the trip.

  14. UESider says:

    Load guidelines are that a train is full with 25% of passengers standing… did I read that correctly?? If so, someone (anyone) from the MTA should get on a 4/5 train at 86th St any weekday around 8am (or anytime during rush hour)…

    I get on the 2/3 at Times Sq during rush hour and can’t believe how spacious it is compared to the lovely 4/5 commute!

    • ajedrez says:

      That’s for off-peak (though even then, I’ve still been on crowded 4/5 trains, though there was most likely some sort of delay)

    • Andrew says:

      The rush hour guideline calls for all seats filled and 3 square feet per standing rider.

      Assuming you’re talking about southbound 2/3 trains in the morning, they’re a lot more crowded entering Times Square than leaving – not much better than the 4/5 (especially the 2).

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