Home Bronx Transit extends Bronx 4 express pilot

Transit extends Bronx 4 express pilot

by Benjamin Kabak

4Bullets For three weeks in June, New York City Transit ran 4 express service in the Bronx as part of a pilot program. With a new signal system in place along the Jerome Ave. line, Transit ran express trains along the little-used middle track from June 8-June 26 in an effort to ease overcrowding on the popular 4 train and speed up the commutes of residents from the Bronx.

Today, Transit announced a new seven-week extension of this pilot program with an eye toward making it a permanent part of 4 train service in the Bronx. The new pilot will kick off on Monday, Oct. 26 and run through Friday, Dec. 11. As they did over the summer, Transit plans to run five Manhattan-bound express trains starting at 7 a.m. and continuing every 20 minutes until 8:20 a.m. The trains will skip eight stops along the way, one fewer than over the summer.

After receiving feedback from riders, Transit has decided to include Bedford Park Boulevard as an express stop. The trains, then, will start at Woodlawn and stop at Mosholu Parkway, Bedford Park Blvd.-Lehman College, Burnside Avenue and 149th Street-Grand Concourse. The route designation will indeed be a diamond 4.

For Transit, this pilot extension is a sign of the success of the line general manager program. David Knights, the IRT East general manager, has seen this project through from inception to its second pilot, and he would love to see it become a permanent part of Bronx 4 service. “Customers who use the Bronx Express 4 will skip eight stations, which should reduce their travel times by about four minutes from the 21-minute scheduled running time between Woodlawn and 149th Street-Grand Concourse during the height of the a.m. peak. This time savings is significant when heading to work in the morning,” Knights said.

Transit head Howard Roberts praised the time-saving nature of the program and the general manager’s initiative. “In New York City, every second counts and if we can give a few extra minutes to our customers, we will certainly strive to do so,” NYC Transit President Howard H. Roberts, Jr., said. “Thanks to the innovative thinking of David Knights, Group General Manager of IRT East and 4 Line General Manager Stepfone Montgomery, more service improvements like this should be expected by our customers.”

When all is said and done in December, Transit will evaluate the second of this program and determine its future. Hopefully, it will stick around, and hopefully, Transit will continue to explore how to utilize underserved express tracks — such as those along the F line — in order to ease congestion and reduce commute times while fully exploiting existing infrastructure.

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Andrew Kalloch October 22, 2009 - 5:19 pm

While we’re on the point of express service in the outer boroughs (where existing infrastructure allows it), the MTA should take a second look at whether skip-stop service on the 1/9 would be cost-effective and/or worth it for the denizens of Upper Manhattan. Having lived in Manhattan Valley, I think there would be a real demand for such service and the time savings further uptown may actually divert traffic from the 2/3 express trains from passengers leaving from Midtown, irrational as that may seem.

Marc Shepherd October 22, 2009 - 5:34 pm

Skip-stop service on the 1/9 was discontinued not that long ago, and I don’t think there have been any demographic changes that would justify re-introducing it.

The trade-off is that if you live at an unskipped station, your commute is slightly shorter. But if you live at a skipped station, you need to wait (on average) twice as long for a train, since half of the trains don’t visit your stop. Over time, as commuting patterns changed, skip-stop on the 1/9 was hurting more people than it helped.

Andrew Kalloch October 22, 2009 - 5:53 pm

Marc, while you may be correct, my understanding is that the real reason for slashing the 9 was financial(largely due to exploding costs from the capital campaign). The MTA “said” that it would not affect travel times, but common sense would appear to dictate otherwise. Indeed, you could continue running #1 trains at all stops, and offer a #9 train intermittently during rush hours, as proposed for the 4.

Benjamin Kabak October 22, 2009 - 6:07 pm

The real real reason was ridership demands as Marc said and not any sort of financial cost. Transit is, I believe, running the same number of trains per hour, just with more stops, so the actual costs are either identical or not significant enough to impact the budget. Furthermore, operations costs to run trains are not funded from the same pot as the capital campaign.

As for the travel times argument, the 4 express uses a different set of tracks than the 4 local. The 1/9 ran on the same tracks, and so time savings with on the magnitude of about a minute or two. I can vouch to that from personal experience. I used to ride the 1 or 9 up from 96th St. to 242nd St. every day during high school, and trains that made all stops were not noticeably slower than the skip stop service.

Woody October 23, 2009 - 9:59 am

Mark isn’t proposing the same “skip stop” that was 1/9. Didn’t those trains run through the stations on the local track but simply not stop? For me standing on the platform that would have been ever so annoying.

But Mark is saying, there’s another unused track from 96th up to 137 iirc. It was used for Express service from 137th to 96th when I first came to NYC. I’m an old-timer now, as this memory will reveal. ha ha ha ha.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 2:30 pm

Yes, there’s another unused track, which strategically skips one of the busiest stations on the north-of-96th 1, 116th.

Not every track has to be used.

Andrew October 24, 2009 - 9:34 pm

It skips a number of busy stations. According to this spreadsheet, all of the stations between 103rd St. and 137th St., with one exception, had over 12,000 weekday riders in 2005. Aside from 168th St., the only station north of that point to even come close is 181st St., with 10,425 riders.

Andrew October 22, 2009 - 9:19 pm

Nobody said that it wouldn’t affect travel times. What was said was that, on average, the longer travel times would be more than offset by the shorter wait times.

Alon Levy October 22, 2009 - 11:28 pm

Andrew, your common sense is wrong. I’ve timed the trains, and I’ve looked at local and express schedules. On average, skipping a stop saves 40 seconds. This means that skipping 3 stops saves 2 minutes for people boarding at Van Cortlandt, while increasing wait times by 2.5 minutes on average and 5 minutes at worst for people boarding at the skipped stops.

Andrew October 24, 2009 - 9:25 pm

On average systemwide, I agree. On average for this line in particular (which is what counts when evaluating a service pattern on this line), absolutely not. Trains bypassing platforms are required to slow down to 15(?) mph to maintain the integrity of the signal system. Total running time savings due to skip-stop, from top to bottom, was on the order of 2 minutes at best. Of course, most people riding the train don’t ride from top to bottom, so they see less than 2 minutes of savings.

Unless the all-stop stations are MUCH busier than the skip-stop stations, my point stands.

(Of course, it’s not my point – it’s presumably NYCT’s point. I’m not the one who did away with skip-stop service.)

Duke87 October 22, 2009 - 5:27 pm

According to Pete Dougherty’s track maps, a northbound train on the center track can’t switch to the local northbound track between Kingsbridge Rd and Bedford Park Blvd without doing so in reverse, and Google Earth seems to confirm this. So, unless the switch arrangement there has been modified (or is going to be modified), a similar service in the evening wouldn’t work.

Skipping Bedford Park Blvd and stopping at Mosholu Pkwy would, however.

John October 22, 2009 - 5:35 pm

I rode the 4 all the way to the end of the line northbound a couple weeks ago, and they were doing some track work and we actually skipped several stops and used the middle track. I don’t know for sure, but it’s possible they were doing switch work to fix this issue?

Duke87 October 23, 2009 - 10:40 am

If the switch configuration was going to be modified, the MTA would have to do the free shuttle bus thing while doing so. Bypassing uptown trains onto the center track wouldn’t be sufficient because the switch involves both of those tracks. So no, that wasn’t happening right then.

Replacing the current single |\| switch with a double |X| switch (and modifying the signals in the area accordingly) would be a solution, though.

Andrew October 22, 2009 - 9:31 pm

You say that this will ease overcrowding. How will it accomplish that? There are no additional trains being added (since there’s no room for any more trains on the Manhattan trunk). If the same number of trains is carrying the same volume of passengers, then average crowding levels won’t change at all.

Some trains (the expresses, perhaps?) may end up carrying light loads, but then the others will be even more crowded than they are now. So people at the eight local stops will have longer waits and more crowded trains than they do now.

Then those crowded trains are going to hit Manhattan, where even more people are going to try to cram on.

It’s not as clear to me as it is to you that this is a good thing or that it should be made permanent. There’s a reason that middle track hasn’t been used for regular service until now.

Marc Shepherd October 23, 2009 - 9:43 am

There’s a reason that middle track hasn’t been used for regular service until now.

By that argument, no service change would ever be introduced, on the grounds that “there’s a reason” for it to stay the way it was.

Commuting patterns and ridership levels change over time, which means that settled assumptions need to be re-examined periodically. Subway service had gone through a long period of decline, and until recently the middle track wasn’t even usable in revenue service. The track was renovated recently, and coupled with demographic changes in the area, it made sense to put it back in use.

You are correct that express service on this line is a trade-off between speeding up some people’s commutes at the expense of others. If you help enough people, then the trade-off is worthwhile. The same trade-off is made on many other lines.

Alon Levy October 23, 2009 - 4:38 pm

Have commuting patterns changed over time?

Andrew October 24, 2009 - 9:44 pm

I have no problem with reexamining things. I just object to the assumption, before the pilot even begins, that it will be beneficial. It very well may not be.

As far as I know, the track has always been usable. Until recently, I don’t think it was signaled for frequent service (by design, not by neglect) – but it certainly could have accommodated the 20-minute headway being piloted now.

Remember, this is a corridor that can’t be served by more than 14 tph or so – local and express combined. Are there any other lines that split 14 tph (or less) between local and express? I can’t think of any off the top of my head. (Does the Concourse line a few blocks over qualify? The B and D are fairly infrequent. Of course, the trains are larger and the express stops are arguably better located.)

Don’t forget that there’s a major employment center near 161st St. (I’m referring to the courts, not the stadium). So even some people who live near express stops will have to wait for the local.

Andrew October 26, 2009 - 8:17 pm

Well? Anybody ride it? How was it?


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