For a crowded subway line with infrequent off-peak, the BMT Brighton Line — more commonly known as line serving the Q and the B trains — sure has been feeling the love this week.
Nicole Brydson, a freelance writer and self-proclaimed gentrifier, penned a paean to this subway line for The Observer. She is sincere, if a little naive, in her treatment of central and southern Brooklyn, and the piece reads as a warning for people fearing gentrification.
Brydson, as I am, is a 20-something Manhattan native who’s settling down in Brooklyn. Her Observer column details her life out here in the wilds of Prospect Heights. She is a gentrifier, always searching for the Next Big Neighborhood, and proud of it too.
In her piece on the Brighton Line, Brydson bases her analysis around the 7th Ave. stop. She writes about how “biggest factor in finding an apartment was its proximity to this train line and especially to the 7th Avenue station.” Southern Brooklyn, she says, “seems to be getting a makeover.”
As she praises the Q and B, she calls these trains more reliable versions of the L, that great symbol of gentrification. We don’t suffer through endless years of construction, inexplicable delays and sluggish rides into and out of Manhattan. Plus, the Q and B, as the L did years ago, are taking people into uncharted territories.
But for all this pomp and circumstance, the Q and the B just aren’t another L train. The Brighton Line travels through some of Brooklyn’s oldest neighborhoods. The train once served Ebbets Field and the countless families who grew up in central Brooklyn, children of immigrants. It stretches into some of the more Orthodox religious communities in the city and extends its tentacles into strong ethnic enclaves in Brighton Beach. It even features some of the city’s best pizza just steps away from the Ave. J stop. While Williamsburg and Bushwick were ripe for development, the neighborhoods along the Q and the B have far deeper roots and much stronger communities than did the stops along the L train.
Now, I love the Q and the B as much as the next person. I ride the B everyday, and the Brighton Line trains, when they show up, offers the fastest ride to and from Manhattan. The trip across the Manhattan Bridge certainly makes for a serene five minutes as well. But perhaps we’re taking this love of the Q and the B a little bit too far.
Outside of the quaint neighborhoods and slice-of-life glimpses the Brighton Line offers, the trains — especially around rush hour — don’t make for a very pleasant commute. Try cramming yourself onto a stuffed Q train at 8:45 a.m. or a Brooklyn-bound B at 6:15 p.m. You can’t without pushing, shoving, cursing under your breath, sucking in your gut and stepping on someone’s toes. The trains don’t score high on the Straphanger Campaign’s cleanliness metrics; and as Flatbush Vegan pointed out, the new trains make for less seating capacity than ever. (The new R160s have more standing room but 120 fewer seats per train than the old R68s.)
When it’s not rush hour and one can actually find a seat, the wait times, particularly when the B isn’t running, often seem interminable. Trains run every 8-20 minutes at nights and on the weekends. When the B is running, the 7th Ave. wait lines shouldn’t be longer than five minutes. But further down the line at the local stops and during off-peak hours, those 20 minutes just drag by.
Like every subway line in the city, the BMT Brighton Line has its special charms. It has a zoetrope in an abandoned station, an earthen embankment section that runs near the site of the worst accident in New York subway history and a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and New York skyline as it crosses the Manhattan Bridge.
But the line is not some train mecca, and its neighborhoods are more worthy than to be considered the next great frontier in the endless gentrification of New York City’s outer boroughs. Let’s love it — along with its the southern Brooklyn neighborhoods — for what it is and not what Manhattanites priced out of their home borough would like it to be.