Home New York City Transit Chrystie St. Connection M service proving popular

Chrystie St. Connection M service proving popular

by Benjamin Kabak

Once upon a time, long ago in the days of early 2010, the brown-bulleted M train was for many New Yorkers an enigma. It would sneak from Middle Village in Queens through parts of Brooklyn into Manhattan for a quick jaunt along Nassau St. before a peak-only trip down 4th Ave. in the County of Kings. For a part of the night, the train runs only as a shuttle along the BMT Myrtle Ave. line. “What is this thing called M?” many subway riders wondered.

At the time, the M was useful mostly for Wall St. workers and civil servants. It offered a direct line to One Centre Street and the courthouses at Foley Square, and it provided for a stop right near Wall Street. It had its core riders but never gained much traction even as the areas it serviced in Queens and Brooklyn grew. It’s usefulness was limited by the need to transfer. To get to Midtown required a transfer to a crowded F train at Essex/Delancey, and most straphangers were content to take the L, a generally more direct and reliable train.

In mid-2010, amidst a budget crisis, that all changed. To save dollars, the MTA axed the rush hour extension of the M train to Bay Parkway, killed the V train, gave the bullet an orange make-over and re-routed the M to snake through midtown and to Forest Hills via the Chrystie St. Cut. A few vocal groups were unhappy with the cut. They feared less frequent service at Second Ave., once the V’s southern terminal but now only an F stop,. Too, the commuters from Middle Village to Lower Manhattan bemoaned the need for a transfer.

Yet, the possibilities for the new M train seemed promising. It would deliver a one-seat ride from rapidly growing residential neighborhoods to the core job centers in Manhattan. It would alleviate some pressure on the L train and would make use of existing and underutilized infrastructure. It seems to be a hit.

Late last week on Subchat, a well-connected poster unveiled the 2011 station-by-station ridership figures. Transit has yet to publish this information on its website, but the numbers are available. As ridership climbed over 2 percent in 2011 to over 1.6 billion, the stations along the Myrtle Ave. Line showed the most growth. Take a look:

Branch Station 2011 Ridership % Change from 2010
Myrtle Ave. Middle Village-Metropolitan Av (M) 1,220,377 +8.50%
Myrtle Ave. Fresh Pond Rd (M) 1,617,252 +11.26%
Myrtle Ave. Forest Av (M) 1,172,881 +12.19%
Myrtle Ave. Seneca Av (M) 758,144 +13.02%
Myrtle Ave. Knickerbocker Av (M) 1,136,213 +12.82%
Myrtle Ave. Central Av (M) 890,194 +17.03%

Across the board, those numbers are astounding. If the system showed such growth, it would quickly become far too crowded for the service levels. By and large, Subchatters noted that the growth likely came from people who are switching from the L train to the M due to the promise of a one-seat ride. In fact, the L train stations closet to the M — Halsey and DeKalb — showed less growth than other nearby L stops. Some of the increase too comes from new riders.

This news is, in no small sense, a vindication for many transit activists who had urged the MTA to make use of the Chrystie St. Cut for years. The service change, which just made sense even absent the need to preserve money, has become quite popular, and it’s one that should have been made years ago. Because of the fixed nature of rail tracks and the glacial pace of system expansion, the MTA is limited in ways it can meet shifting demographics and commuting patterns. Using the Cut is one of those ways, and it’s been a success. Now if only the authority would restore rush-hour along 4th Ave. in Brooklyn. Perhaps the J or Z could be put to such use.

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50 comments

IanM April 9, 2012 - 1:04 am

“At the time, the M was useful mostly for Wall St. workers and civil servants. It offered a direct line to One Centre Street and the courthouses at Foley Square, and it provided for a stop right near Wall Street.”

Hm.. It was also pretty darn useful for anyone commuting to/from Midtown from the 4th Ave. corridor in Brooklyn, who now have to wait twice as long for a twice-as-crowded R train when transferring from the Q/B at DeKalb or D/N/2/3/4/5 at Atlantic. No, the M didn’t take most commuters directly to their ultimate destinations, but its extra frequency made commutes that much faster. If the rearrangement has made some trips easier, shouldn’t the trips that it’s made harder also be factored into an analysis?

Anyway, yeah. Still bitter.

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Bolwerk April 9, 2012 - 1:26 am

I hear mixed stories about the R. Some say empty Ms used to disrupt full Rs, some say what you’re saying.

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Al D April 9, 2012 - 10:20 am

I can attest to this from visual obeservation over the course of a few years at Union. Plus, I think many people did’t even know where the M went.

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Phantom April 11, 2012 - 11:59 am

I took the near-empty M trains all the time from lower Manhattan – and can attest that they frequently caused delays at 36th St and Fourth Avenue.

They always seemed to arrive at 36th St at the same time as the D / B ( West End Express ). There would be a pause. The express would depart first. Then the near empty M would follow it all the way to Bay Parkway.

The R train would always have to wait in the tunnel until the M would leave.

Happened every day or close to it.

The service certainly was not a coordinated one.

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Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:37 pm

Given that the M ran every 10 minutes and the D runs every 6 (during rush hours), what you describe can’t possibly have happened all the time – and there’s also no possible way to avoid having it happen sometimes.

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AK April 9, 2012 - 9:28 am

I live on 4th Ave near 45th Street, and while I would love to have more frequent service on my line in the rush hours, nary an R-train runs at peak load, even in the morning.

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John-2 April 9, 2012 - 1:39 am

It would have been an interesting hypothetical back in the late 1960s and early 70s if, when the MTA parceled out handfuls of new R-42 cars to yards across the system in order to give each area a few air-conditioned railcars, they had opted to put all the R-42s sent to East New York on the new KK line that was using the Christie Street connection. Or if they had just made the KK a 16-to-19 hour line like the EE was, instead of just rush-hours only. Either might have made the route a success to being with.

A few R-42s made it onto the KK (and its later single-lettered successor). But while north Brooklyn of 40-plus years ago was seen on the decline instead of the upswing, the Christie connection was basically seen as the line that might, or might not, be running along Sixth Avenue depending in the time of day, and the one on which you were most likely to get stuck with the oldest, least reliable equipment in the deferred maintenance era (the R 1-9s were still occasionally on the B, D and F routes during the same period, but were rapidly being replaced by the R-32 through R-42s).

The MTA basically gave up on the Christie connector, ironically, in part due to the city’s 1975-76 budget crisis, and the 1977 blackout, with the fires, looting and other damage that followed pretty much pushed the idea of a Sixth Avenue-Williamsburg Bridge route off the radar for a generation. Based on the new numbers, and the fact that the M now runs to Sixth Avenue during most of the weekday hours when people actually are using the subway (so they think of it as a ‘regular’ line), the money the TA sank into building the connector 50 years ago may finally pay off.

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Vinny From Brooklyn April 9, 2012 - 2:10 am

I feel bad for the people on 4th ave that now have to transfer and take the R. I find it hard to believe that you can never get to Brooklyn from the Nassau street line even in rush hours.

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John April 9, 2012 - 9:32 am

Yeah, god forbid you have to walk a whole block to the 2/3 or the 4/5 or the A/C! What about the people who live in Middle Village who have no alternative whatsoever? Someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose in any case. In fact, that’s the point Ben is making. The net positive results here outweigh this extremely minor inconvenience if you’re commuting from Manhattan on that line.

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Bolwerk April 9, 2012 - 1:19 pm

To be fair, the R is a somewhat crappy transfer. Also, if you come from North Brooklyn your one-seat ride becomes a two-seat ride. And if you come from from anywhere along the M stub, make that a three-seat ride potentially.

OTOH, anyone who came from south of Myrtle on the Jamaica Line had to transfer anyway.

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Benjamin Kabak April 9, 2012 - 9:35 am

The Nassau St. line from Broad St. to Canal St. is never more than 2-3 blocks away from the R. And how many people are going from the 4th Ave. line to the Bowery station? The bigger issue concerns frequency along 4th Ave., not access to the Nassau St. line.

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Al D April 9, 2012 - 10:24 am

After not riding that section of the M (Chambers- DeKalb) for about a decade, it was a shame to see how the ridership in 2004 was maybe a third of what it was in the early 90s. That train used to be packed…

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Phantom April 9, 2012 - 8:16 am

I miss the old M – I used to take it from lower Manhattan as far as 36th St and Fourth Avenue, on my way to Bay Ridge.

The reason that I liked this train was that no one took it. It was the one and only line where you could always get a seat in rush hour. But the route didn’t make much sense. The re-routed M train makes way more sense. It is a screaming no brainer. You see many people using it.

I’ve been thinking about a possible restoration of Fourth Avenue / Chambers St service. I think that a limited ” Chambers St Special ” running from 95th St / Fourth Avenue to Chambers St during the morning and evening rush only, would make a lot of sense. This was a popular service back in the days of the ” RR ” train. It would serve all of the Fourth Avenue line ( which the old M did not ), attracting more passengers from the R and N lines on the stops before 36th Stm and taking some of the pressure off the overcrowded R line.

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Alon Levy April 10, 2012 - 5:12 am

It’s possible that if the MTA increases service in the future, it will run a train running local on Fourth Avenue serving Lower Manhattan. However, my guess is that it should be a W rather than an M. In other words, it should run the route of the old W, extended to Brooklyn as if it was an R, and then the N should become express in Manhattan again, as the Q will be diverted to Second Avenue.

The reason is that SAS plus demand on Broadway should lead to a restored W, which could easily hook into extra 4th Avenue service. It doesn’t matter too much which route trains take in Lower Manhattan, since everything is close. Nassau/Centre is a more central location than Church/Broadway, but they’re so close it doesn’t matter all that much.

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Andrew April 10, 2012 - 9:42 pm

The R is not overcrowded. The R is not close to being overcrowded.

It’s more crowded than it used to be. It’s probably more crowded than you’d like it to be. But it’s a lot less crowded than most other lines.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines April 9, 2012 - 8:49 am

[…] Midtown-Bound M Train Sees Huge Ridership Gains (Kabak) […]

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Alek April 9, 2012 - 9:21 am

I was thinking of using the J extending to 4th Avenue. Then using the Z as normal Nassau St Express. I remembered a article saying people needed the Z for their faster communte.

The J to 4th ave can be limited period timing only.

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Dan April 9, 2012 - 11:14 pm

Consensus over nycsubwayforums was that extending the J or Z to Montague and beyond would pretty much render the skip-stop useless. The R maybe could run more often but basically they felt it could handle the local station and Wall Street ridership well enough (and anyone seeking Midtown would probably transfer to the D or N at the first opportunity).

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Eric April 9, 2012 - 10:14 am

I’m more interested in the numbers for the G. They’re insane. Maybe the MTA can start taking the G more seriously?

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Jeff April 9, 2012 - 11:34 am

Yeah, where’s the analysis for that? Except for the Culver Viaduct closed stations every other stop on the line has seen 5+ percentage increases, and half of the stations have seen 10+ % increases. Time for MTA to start thinking about drastically improving the line?

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Eric April 9, 2012 - 1:57 pm

The G is the next L. If the MTA isn’t having internal conversations on those lines, they’re being short-sighted. At the very least they should figure out the feasibility of running six-car trains at rush hour.

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al April 9, 2012 - 6:57 pm

The G has a problem where passengers transfer onto crowded lines to/from Manhattan. Ridership increase in G may warrant 10 car C as G riders will transfer at Hoyt-Schermerhorn. The L is already crammed at Metropolitan-Lorimer during peak hrs. The increase in the Flushing Line with CBTC is needed with the new transfer at Court St and crush loads on 7 local along Queens Blvd. The possible transfer between JMZ and G can be limited to a 500′ connector or demolition of 2 stations (Hewes and Lorimer) for 1 new station @ Union Ave.

As for ridership demand, if the city can get its act together and get lots of housing built on the vacant lots near Flushing Ave (G) there will be ridership. Google Broadway Triangle and look at the blocks of vacant land that can become high density housing. It can drive ridership at Lorimer St on the J,M too.

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Eric April 9, 2012 - 7:30 pm

Excellent point. While increased G ridership will strain the current G setup, it will kill the Manhattan-bound transfer points. This is a big problem for the MTA. I hope they’re taking it seriously.

Kai B April 10, 2012 - 8:25 am

The Flushing (G) station even has a closed entrance at the south tip of the Broadway Triangle. If you look on Google Streetview you can see one rusty entrance on the field right next to the sidewalk (SE corner of Union & Walton).

Alek April 9, 2012 - 10:37 am

What about the C? Think of those people living on the C line in Brooklyn. The C is unreliable line ever. I feel bad for those who have to wait for the C for a while.

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Benjamin Kabak April 9, 2012 - 10:38 am

Can you clarify the difference between “unreliable” and “doesn’t arrive often enough for my tastes”? I don’t mean to be snarky, but there’s a huge different there.

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Alek April 9, 2012 - 10:56 am

Sorry Ben,

I mean the C doesn’t come very often. The MTA should start increasing the C service.

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John April 9, 2012 - 4:57 pm

The C comes every ten minutes at all times, and in my opinion is one of the most reliable trains in the system, no matter what number grade it gets every year.

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al April 9, 2012 - 5:51 pm

Cranberry St tunnel limits the combined frequency of A and C. That is unless you want to change the Transit Museum back to revenue service as the Fulton St Local terminal in Bklyn. In that case, you’d need to run another local between WTC and 168th st or Grand Concourse terminals. There is also the far off signal modernization (CBTC) that will result in 40+tph frequency.

In the meantime, if the ridership merits a service increase in the C, it will likely be in the form of 9 or 10 car trains.

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Alon Levy April 10, 2012 - 5:13 am

The A runs every 4 or 5 minutes. The C doesn’t need to run every 10 minutes; it can run every 5, if there’s enough demand for an IND local.

al April 10, 2012 - 2:59 pm

The A runs 20tph max in 2 or 5 min intervals (to allow space for D and C trains) during Bklyn peak direction service. Its necessary due to the ridership and travel distance for Rockaways and Lefferts Ave (A).

Alon Levy April 10, 2012 - 5:58 pm

I double-checked and it looks right in the middle, 17 tph northbound arriving at 42nd between 8 and 9 am.

Andrew April 10, 2012 - 9:52 pm

Now try counting between 8:08 and 9:07.

Seth Rosenblum April 9, 2012 - 1:07 pm

Oh man, hint to the MTA: If you want to reduce crowding on the L, all you have to do is extend late-night and weekend service on the M. During the L-train shutdowns in the last few months, the weekend M service has been super-busy and very popular.

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Benjamin April 9, 2012 - 4:41 pm

Agreed. It also makes living off the M stub an option for people who like to be able to travel on the weekends.

Hell, turn it at Chambers Street, even, rather than using the Chrystie Connection. But M->J->NQR456 isn’t a great way to travel on rush hour headways, much less nights or weekends — and that’s if you dont want to get to the West Side.

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Benjamin April 9, 2012 - 4:43 pm

*turn it at Chambers Street if you have to. Chrystie would be preferred.

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Bolwerk April 9, 2012 - 5:36 pm

M to the L isn’t that bad. The only time you can’t expect a seat on the L when you start from that far out is maybe the morning rush hour.

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al April 9, 2012 - 6:39 pm

There needs to be ridership for service increase. Get DCP to change the zoning along the Broadway Line for high density TOD. Its probably one of the few underutilized mass transit assets that can handle population growth. Another is the area the B and D along Grand Concourse-St Nicholas Ave-Central Park West, and to a lesser degree in Bklyn.

If NYC is to grow to 9 million, then this should be a priority. Lengthening elevated platforms is less of a challenge than subterranean stations.

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Andrew April 10, 2012 - 10:15 pm

How would that reduce rush hour crowding on the L?

An extended M would be very nice, but it would be costly, and I don’t think the J is overloaded between Myrtle and Manhattan. It’s also not clear where it would terminate – it couldn’t run on Queens Blvd. for the same reason the G rarely ran there on weekends and its usual terminal when it does run on weekends, 57th St., disrupts F service. I suppose it could run up Central Park West, but that’s a long run, and it would also probably be knocked out frequently for GO’s.

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Tower18 April 9, 2012 - 1:58 pm

As I understood it, the R is not the problem, except that wait times for the R as the only local service on 4th Ave are pretty bad. But the R is not at all overcrowded. I thought the problem was losing supplemental M service from the D line.

It seems that they could send the J out 4th Ave, running all the way out the West End Line, or maybe short-turning at 9th Ave and going back up 4th Ave if it’s not feasible to run it all the way to Coney because of funding or lack of trains.

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Phantom April 9, 2012 - 8:02 pm

I take the R every day. The wait times are OK most of the time.

Some people like to exaggerate and complain

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Dan April 9, 2012 - 11:20 pm

Coney Island can’t really turn more trains than it does, or else some of the F trains would not have to short-turn at Kings Highway during rush hour.

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Andrew S April 9, 2012 - 4:31 pm

Frequency on fourth ave is certainly the most important issue, but the M to Chambers st. for an uptown IRT was a great route, especially during the morning rush.

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Seth R. April 9, 2012 - 7:33 pm

Well, soon enough you can do M to the 6, so that will definitely help.

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ajedrez April 13, 2012 - 2:15 pm

He meant coming from Brooklyn, but you could still do that at Atlantic Avenue.

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Jorell April 9, 2012 - 8:58 pm

Im a big fan of the M line. I usually catch it in Astoria and take it into Manhattan when I’m going into work. The subway cars are less crowded than the R, and the ride is a few minutes faster too. It’s a bit of a luxury that I’m lucky to enjoy.

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Phantom April 9, 2012 - 10:51 pm

Jorell

Funny you say that. When the M ran fown to Fourth Avenue, a few of us referred to it as a ” private train ” , it was that lightly used. God I miss it.

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What future the G train :: Second Ave. Sagas April 10, 2012 - 1:11 am

[…] make to reach the center of the platform as the short train zooms by. The two concerns, then, as noted yesterday in this space, focus around transfers and train length. The MTA, if it won’t increase the frequency of the […]

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Juan Castillo April 11, 2012 - 12:07 pm

For once in your life, Benjamin, I agree. The MTA definitely should improve service along the Chrystie St cut sometime this year. I was thinking that they should reroute the (M) back to the Nassau St Line where it belongs, thus resurrecting the (V) Train All Weekday Only Service between Forest Hills-71st Av, Queens and Lower East Side-2nd Av, Manhattan. Next step is to to resurrect the old 8th Avenue (K) Line and restructure its service into a newly-developed 8th Avenue-Canarsie Line. Here’s how the subway line should follow: It will operate its service between Jamaica-179th St, Queens and Canarsie-Rockaway Parkway, Brooklyn running express in Queens via the Weekday Limited Rush Hour (E) Train (all weekday long. Weekday evenings, late nights, and all weekend long: (K) Trains in Queens run local), local in Manhattan and Brooklyn via the (E), orange (M), (J), and (L) Lines (all times). More info on that coming up on next comment.

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Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:40 pm

Alas, operating dollars and track capacity are not unlimited, so I’m afraid your plan won’t work.

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