On the L and its weekend-long rush hour


For many New Yorkers, the L train has come to symbolize the best and worst of the city in 2013. Derided as the train for hipsters and trustafarians who have overrun Williamsburg, it has also become a test line for the MTA’s technological ventures. Thirty years ago, the MTA nearly considered axing the line, and now it’s often one of the most crowded. Perhaps though it’s time for the MTA to yet again assess service patterns on the L line.

The L, as riders have come to know and hate, is generally never not crowded. During the weekday rush hours, it’s often impossible to find space, let alone a seat, and the weekends are much the same. In fact, according to one study, the weekends may actually be worse because of the MTA’s service patterns. In a piece for the Rudin Center’s website, Carson Qing examined L train ridership at Bedford Ave. and discovered that weekend usage in August essentially mirrored normal weekday loads.

Here’s Carson’s take on the data:

What’s remarkable about this case study for Bedford Avenue is that not only are there ridership peaks for long durations on Saturday (8 am to 4 am Sunday) and Sunday (8 am to 8 pm), but entry/exit figures are actually comparable to morning and evening rush hours during the work week: thus, growth in weekend ridership at Bedford Avenue has increased so much that it may very well have resulted in an “extended rush hour” for almost the entire weekend.

Even more remarkable is that the peak entry hours on Saturday night actually extend into the wee hours of Sunday morning for the sampled data, suggesting that the crowded subway platform at 1:30 AM might in fact be quite a common occurrence. Given recent, dramatic changes in demographics and land use patterns in Williamsburg, these unusual peak hour trip patterns should be expected. Not only has there been a well-documented influx in 25-to-34 year olds in Williamsburg (25% of the population, compared to 17% in 2006, according to census data), but there has also been a significant growth in restaurants and bars that are open late on weekends and draw young New Yorkers from across the city to the neighborhood (117% increase in full service restaurants and 59% increase in bars since 2005, according to census business data). The peak entry hours from 12 am to 4 am on a Sunday morning should be expected given the context of how Williamsburg has changed dramatically in just a few short years, as many of the restaurant and bar patrons are likely contributing to this peak period of subway ridership during these late night hours.

These trends reveal that due to the growth in weekend ridership on the L-train, conventional assumptions of travel demand for this particular subway line may no longer be appropriate, and may require some adjustments in service offerings during weekend evenings, late nights, and other times of day. According to subway schedules, the MTA currently runs roughly 43 Manhattan-bound trains on the L during a weekday morning rush hour (8 am-12 pm) and 48 Manhattan-bound trains during Saturday afternoon (4 pm-8 pm), falling to roughly 32 on Saturday night (8 pm -12 am) and 13 during weekend late-night hours (12am-4 am Sunday). With only 13 trains during one of the busiest travel periods of the entire week, crowded platforms at Bedford Avenue and nearby stations during late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings will likely be commonplace going forward.

This is but a snapshot of one weekend in Williamsburg, but it should lead to further studies. Ultimately, transit planners have to assess if the L train’s weekend rush hour requires extra service? It’s long been the rule that transit ridership is highest during peak hours surrounding the work week, but the L train — which runs past some popular nightlife areas — has bucked that trend recently. Thirteen trains over a four-hour period may not be enough to meet demand.

Categories : Brooklyn

54 Responses to “On the L and its weekend-long rush hour”

  1. Someone says:

    During Sunday late night hours, the L should get even fewer trains (about 10 trains from 12 am-4 am) to control traffic (to encourage people to drive home). Also, the number of trains on the L during Saturday from 8 pm to 12 am should be reduced to 24. Unless the MTA begins to implement CBTC on the L 24/7, there is no reason to prevent the elimination of weekend trips.

  2. Someone says:

    Alternatively, more R160As could be taken from the J late-night service to better serve the L…

  3. Perhaps added service at these times that terminate at Myrtle-Wyckoff would help with the ridership pressing those areas without adding too many empty trains down towards the eastern end of the line.

    Really though, that actually doesn’t seem very fair to me. More service for all!

  4. Jumper says:

    Maybe they should run an extra train from 8th Av to Myrtle-Wyckoff during peak hipster hours. It would not only help Williamsburg/Bushwick, but also people needing to go crosstown along 14th Street at nights and on weekends. This would cut the headway in half in this area.

    • Pat L says:

      Myrtle-Wyckoff is probably about the right cutoff point for now, though it’s worth noting that the hipster center of gravity is moving west pretty rapidly. The current terminus of gentrification is around Wilson, and rents there are going up.

    • Someone says:

      You’d need to get 3 extra trains to short turn to “cut the headway in half”.

      Makes me wonder why the hipsters get more trains, but other New Yorkers don’t.

      • al says:

        Increased ridership result in more service. The line was also resignaled, so the MTA doesn’t want a story stewing too long about overcrowded trains on new high tech signaled line.

  5. capt subway says:

    I’m not sure why they never went to 9 cars trains on the “L”. The stations were built for 8 car trains of 67′ long BMT AB cars, making them about 536 ft long. a 9 car train of 60′ cars is 540′ long. I imagine they didn’t trust the new breed of amateur train operators to make that exacting a station stop every single time. But with CBTC the stopping is out of the operator’s hands. One 5 car train set + one 4 car train set and you’ve got it. And platform extensions to hold 10 cars really should be in the long term capital plan for the entire BMT Eastern Div: 14 St-Canarsie, Myrtle & Bway-Jamaica.

    • Someone says:

      Honestly, I think the Eastern Div got shorter platforms because the original BMT trains weren;t that long (or, for that matter, crowded) in the first place.

      • capt subway says:

        The platforms are in fact long enough. I checked out an old set of signal prints I have. They are from 530+’ to 550+’ in length (the exact lengths are not given – the lengths are in increments of 5′), which seems that 9 cars would be doable. A test run with a “light” 9 car train – they often will do this in such cases – I know because I operated and/or supervised such tests – would be the way to go to make sure beyond the shadow of a doubt.

    • This sounds like the cheapest service upgrade the MTA could possibly make, especially given how crowded the L gets in the traditional rush hour. A 9th car is an instant 12.5% capacity upgrade, far more than CBTC can accomplish in train throughput alone. There is also precedent for knocking out small corners at the ends of platforms to squeeze a few extra feet of platform space: it was done at local stations on the original IRT, when the local trains went from 4 cars to 5, in lieu of the full extension to 10 cars that happened a few years later.

      Is there serious crowding on the BMT Jamaica that would call for platform extensions? Granted, it would be cheaper to extend the elevated stations in Brooklyn than the L’s underground platforms, and the M riders on Queens Blvd. and 6th Ave could certainly use the space, but I usually don’t hear the J/Z listed in with the Subway’s Greatest Crowding Hits (4,6,7,E,L).

      • al says:

        You forgot F and 2,3,5. They get very crowded on certain sections.

        There is the issue with yard track lengths at ENY and Canarsie yards. Several tacks can handle 9 and 10 car (540′ and 600′) trains. However, most can handle 480′ or shorter consists. How long is the relay track east of Myrtle-Wyckoff. It is supposed to be able to handle 2 480′ trains, but can it hold 2 540′ trains? Can a 540′ train fit in that layup track between 6th and 8th Ave? How well can the terminals handle quickly turning around 540′ trains? Finally, the video monitors and other hardware are in locations suitable for 480′ trains. Longer trains will require new equipment. Can you squeeze a usable video monitor in the space between the railcar envelope and the tunnel wall with all the conduits and columns around?

  6. John-2 says:

    The MTA could also look at weekend M service as a possible part of the answer, if South Williamsburg riders who normally use the M on weekdays are shifting over to the L on Saturdays and Sundays because it has better Midtown connection options than the J does.

    • Joseph Steindam says:

      To that end, adding the free out of transfer between the G at Broadway and the Hewes (or Lorimer) station on the JM might relieve some of the pressure on the L. This way some of the G crowd heading to Manhattan can be siphoned off from the L.

      I wonder if the MTA could study Metrocard swipes at the stations to see how many people are making a subway to subway transfer there. The turnstiles know when a card is being used to make a transfer between a bus and a subway, maybe a similar system can reveal how many people are paying extra to make the transfer (or using unlimited cards). That data might then be useful justification for a free out of system transfer.

      • Someone says:

        No one’s tracking who’s leaving the Hewes Street Station and entering into the Broadway station, or vice versa.

        • Joseph Steindam says:

          I know that the MTA isn’t tracking that information now, I was proposing a study to see if people are already making an out of system transfer there that would warrant the free transfer.

          This technology must exist in some form right now. In order to allow the subway to bus transfer, Metrocards must hold some information on when and where they were last used. Plus, in order to allow the out of system transfer between Lexington Ave/63rd Street F and 59th Street 456/NQR, the MTA must have reprogrammed the turnstiles there to allow for the subway to subway transfer. That information can probably be recorded for analysis. Gathering current demand information if it exists now, even with the penalty of an extra fare (or if people using unlimited cards are making this transfer), will better inform any future feasibility studies.

          • Someone says:

            No, what I’m saying is that no one’s tracking where the passenger is exiting the station.

            • Joseph Steindam says:

              Out of curiosity, do you know how the MTA allows the free transfer between 59th Street and Lexington Ave/63rd Street? Like you said, there is no advanced tracking of where passengers leave the system anywhere. But somehow, the MTA is able to judiciously offer this out of system transfer with no additional card or pass. Any idea how that works?

              My best guess is that Metrocards must carry some information on when and where it was last used, and within certain parameters (bus to subway within 2 hours, for example) turnstiles take that information and grant a free transfer. And if my guess is correct, you could probably program turnstiles at Broadway and Hewes to note instances when the last swipe was on another subway line. If that information also contains the station it was last used at and was gathered by the MTA, you could make a pretty accurate model of how many people are transferring between these two stations.

  7. Larry Littlefield says:

    Here is the thing. The demand may justify added service on weekends at Bedford Avenue, but not all the way to Canarsie.

    Of course there is a technical solution. Turn the extra trains at Myrtle Avenue, using the third pocket track there. The BMT used to run locals and expresses on the line, using that trace.

    But one could imagine the usual state legislature creatures making hay out of it. They’re providing more service to the hipsters but not the real New Yorkers! Or something.

    • I would think that short-turns would be more likely to happen at Broadway Junction. Unfortunately, while the proper track connections exist to through-run Canarsie-Williamsburg Bridge via Broadway Junction, the corresponding connections to through-run Jamaica-14th St do not. A missed opportunity for Archer Ave riders.

      • Someone says:

        No, you can’t short turn Canarsie-bound trains at Broadway Junction. The pocket tracks for that movement don’t exist anymore. The next place you could turn trains after Myrtle Avenue is at Canarsie itself.

        The reason why the tracks for a 14th Street-Jamaica line don’t exist is because the Canarsie Line south of Broadway Junction predate the line north of Broadway Junction (or, for that matter, the Jamaica Line east of Broadway Junction). Hence, the elevated trains from the west part of the Jamaica line would turn down the Canarsie line at Broadway Junction.

        • Duke says:

          The el structure, however, does still exist, so those tracks could be put back without much to-do.

          That area is full of vestigial infrastructure from the days of the Fulton El. I love how they bothered to put modern signs on the abandoned platform at Atlantic Ave, despite the fact that it hasn’t been used in 60 years and probably never will be used ever again.

    • LLQBTT says:

      Currently some rush hour service is short-turned at Myrtlle-Wyckoff. Depending on far the ahead the short-turned’s leader is (when there are no delays), the train is full by anywhere from Graham to 1 Ave.

  8. Jason says:

    When you say they were thinking of completely abandoning the line back in the day, were the considering the entire thing? I can’t imagine, even with abysmal ridership that the Manhattan crosstown portion would of been left to rot. I find transit history fascinating and I think this is the only line that I’ve ever heard that was considered to be abandoned.

    • Andrew says:

      There was no plan to abandon the line.

      The MTA’s 1968 Program for Action would have shifted the southern end of the Canarsie line (south of Bushwick-Aberdeen or so) onto the adjacent LIRR alignment, but between Manhattan and Bushwick-Aberdeen the line would have remained as is.

      • Matthias says:

        Actually, there was a plan to abandon the part of the line north of Broadway Junction at one time. That would have been a huge mistake.

        • Someone says:

          I seem to remember another proposal to eliminate the J and M, not the L. The L train was never “hardly used”.

        • Andrew says:

          Scroll down to Mayer Horn’s comment:

          Mayer Horn says:
          February 25, 2012 at 8:34 pm

          I asked a friend about “Was the L train considered for elimination?” and got the following response:


          25 years ago (1987) I was in charge of Operations Planning and there was no talk of shuttering 14th St/Canarsie, or of the G (there was of the Franklin shuttle, which I vociferously objected to.)

          There was talk, serious talk, of converting the line to K/L skip stop. That would have done away with the L as we know it, and the K/L story could have morphed into the Post story.

          And you can quote me this time.

  9. TP says:

    Doesn’t the MTA already do this kind of analysis every year and adjust schedules accordingly? I find the 1/2/3 and 4/5/6 in Manhattan to be often very crowded on weekends as well–I’ve had to wait for a train to go by because I couldn’t get on, and trains are usually standing room even after midnight going uptown. I can believe that Bedford’s platform is crowded from midnight to 4am on Fridays and Saturdays as people head home from the bars in the neighborhood, but once they get on the train there’s probably very little other ridership getting on further into Brooklyn (or getting on in Manhattan on the way to 8th Ave).

    The hours during which the trains adopt that 20 minute late night headway vary by service, leading me to believe that the MTA planners actually are looking at when ridership truly does drop off on a line-by-line basis. And actually I just looked at the schedule for the L and noticed that it does have even bigger gaps in service (22 and 23 minutes in the BK-bound direction between 4 and 5 AM on Sat night/Sun morning), which is interesting because I had assumed 20 was the maximum.

  10. LLQBTT says:

    I would say willful neglect would best describe L (then LL of course) back in the day. MTA went out of its way not to provide service, sort of like the G up until recently. The LL was another system stepchild.

    Longer trains/platforms, and exits at 9th Ave and especially Ave A would greatly improve L service.

  11. smartone says:

    One way to help distribution of riders on the L is to have an entrance to the L Train on Avenue A in Manhattan.

    Right now the two biggest stops 1st Avenue has entrance only in the front

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