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.