Home New York City Transit The 10 most popular subway stations of 2011

The 10 most popular subway stations of 2011

by Benjamin Kabak

I’ve been slowly making my way through the data dump of station information New York City Transit released this week, and later on, I’m hoping to have a post highlighting the busiest fare control areas in the city. Right now, let’s jump in with the basics. The top ten busiest subway stations of 2011 are……

Rank Station Ridership
1 Times Sq-42 St 60,604,822
2 Grand Central-42 St 42,795,505
3 34 St-Herald Square 37,731,386
4 14 St-Union Square 34,927,178
5 34 St-Penn Station (1,2,3) 26,758,623
6 34 St-Penn Station (A,C,E) 24,751,771
7 59 St-Columbus Circle 21,300,892
8 Lexington Av-59 St 20,377,141
9 86 St (4,5,6) 19,425,347
10 Flushing-Main St 18,967,751

Now, that’s not surprising because Times Square is the center of the known universe. The rest make sense too. Interestingly, Queens, which has the third subway ridership by borough, has a station in the top ten while Brooklyn, the second most popular borough, does not. In fact, the most popular station in Brooklyn — Jay St./MetroTech — was just 26nd overall last year.

At the bottom of the list are a bunch of stations in the Rockaways, East 143rd St. along the 6 and 21st on the G. The last one sees just 1,123 per weekday and around 730 per weekend. I’ve always wondered why that station, so close to Court Square, exists. More with this data later.

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va April 10, 2012 - 5:05 pm

Not really a surprise that Queens got a spot and that it was Flushing — so much of the borough is unserviced by subways and the vast bus network funnels those unhappy souls into either Flushing or Jamaica. Pretty much all of northern Queens, especially NE Queens, has to go through Main Street to get to Manhattan. Brooklyn doesn’t have an equivalent choke point — more people may pass through Atlantic Avenue in a day, but they’re not swiping in there.

Jerrold April 10, 2012 - 7:08 pm

“Pretty much all of northern Queens, especially NE Queens, has to go through Main Street………”.

Except those who use the LIRR.

In Brooklyn, those who live in what used to be called two-fare zones don’t have a railroad alternative, even those who would be willing to pay for it.
The LIRR stations that do exist in Brooklyn pretty much parallel the Fulton St. subway.

BrooklynBus April 11, 2012 - 11:38 am

Agreed. Although much of southeast Brooklyn has to use a bus to get to the subway, unlike Northeast Queens, they don’t all go to one subway station. They are divided among Utica Avenue IRT , Flatbush Avenue IRT, Church Avenue IRT, Sutter Avenue IRT, Avenue J, M, Kings Highway, Avenue U, and Sheepshead Bay on the Brighton Line and Rockaway Parkway on the Canarsie Line.

Phantom April 10, 2012 - 5:08 pm

Some of these very low performing stations that are close to other stations should be pruned. This is a no brainer.

Once the arena opens in Brooklyn, watch the ridership at Atlantic / Pacific increase very nicely. Jay Street better watch out.

Andrew April 10, 2012 - 10:35 pm

Which low performing stations did you have in mind?

Arenas are very busy on occasion but are empty at all other times. High ridership stations are generally ones in busy residential and/or commercial areas, not ones served by arenas and stadiums. Look at Willets Point for a stadium station that has low annual ridership even though, when it’s busy, it’s very busy.

Joe Steindam April 11, 2012 - 3:49 pm

Good point, especially since Baseball plays more home games than Basketball. But there’s the possibility that the arena might host a few more activities throughout the year (possibly Hockey) which might boost ridership. Plus the arena might make the area more of a desination with other amenities. Unlike Willets Point, where if you’re not going to Baseball or Tennis, you’re likely picking up your car from the auto repair guys in the Iron Triangle.

I don’t know if it’ll reach the top 10, but it’s only 500K riders behind the top 2 stations in Brooklyn now (Jay St and Borough Hall). It’s likely it might become the busiest station by exits (it’s likely already the busiest by transfers).

Henry April 11, 2012 - 7:13 pm

This is unrelated, but speaking of Willets Point, is that redevelopment plan still happening?

al April 11, 2012 - 7:52 pm

There is also the park. The northern section of Flushing Meadows Corona Park has numerous attractions besides the USTA complex. There’s the Queens Zoo, Terrace on the Park, an Aquatics Center, an ice rink, the Unisphere (water attraction during summer), the numerous playing fields, Queens Museum of Art, and the NY Hall of Science.

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:48 pm

But none of those destinations attract riders year round, five days a week, as a busy employment district would.

Henry April 12, 2012 - 12:59 pm

A lot of people would prefer to drive to the park, as it’s so inconvenient from major areas of Queens and the pedestrian environment around and in the park is poor.

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:43 pm

You’re right, I probably overstated my case. Atlantic is pretty close already.

Bolwerk April 10, 2012 - 11:07 pm

Don’t prune the stations. Get rid of the staffing. Keeping the stations open is a pretty low incremental cost over closing them.

Alon Levy April 10, 2012 - 5:43 pm

Are 51st/Lex and Fulton recovering to their pre-recession ridership levels?

Benjamin Kabak April 10, 2012 - 5:46 pm

Tough to say at Fulton St. due to the never-ending construction at the Transit Center. Both were off by around 1-1.5 million from 2007, and Fulton St. saw a decline from 2010-2011.

Hank April 11, 2012 - 9:52 am

51st/Lex certainly FEELS like it’s recovered to pre-recession levels, though on the weekends last year’s service cuts on the weekends for the Steinway tubes certainly ate out a huge portion of the ridership

Joshua April 10, 2012 - 6:18 pm

21st on the G is a transfer point to the LIRR. It would not work well walking from Court Square to the LIRR. It also had a very large growth % this year.

Jeff April 10, 2012 - 8:02 pm

The problem is that there are just too many better alternatives nearby – Hunters Point and Vernon/Jackson on the 7 are each 3 blocks away, and Court Sq complex is about 5 blocks away. There’s just no reason to take the G to that stop unless you live or work along the G. Suffice to say there aren’t that many people like that.

Eric April 10, 2012 - 8:14 pm

Well apparently there are 13.94% more of those people than there were in 2010.

Jeff April 10, 2012 - 8:34 pm

Yeah, well there were more people riding the G train in general. But it’ll take a lot more 14% increases for this stop to get out of the bottom 10 ranking its in.

Eric April 10, 2012 - 8:39 pm

I’m not really sure what the ridership ranking of a station has to do with its utility to the riders that use it.

Jeff April 10, 2012 - 10:20 pm

The fact that not enough people use this station to even warrant it to exist?

Yes, there’s like 100 more people using the station a day. Is that increase really worth all that upkeep though? Not so sure about that.

Andrew April 10, 2012 - 10:42 pm

It’s quite a long walk from the southern edge of LIC, which has been growing, to Court Square, and an even longer walk to Greenpoint. There may not be a huge market for service from southern LIC to Brooklyn G-land, but there is a market, and that market depends on this station. Closing the station while the market is growing isn’t a good idea.

Eric April 10, 2012 - 10:52 pm

The station exists. The G has to run through it. Its ridership is increasing over 10 percentage points above the systemwide average. What would be the point of closing it? On a percentage basis the increase is quite remarkable for a station you insist is basically useless.

Plus, I guarantee you that the “upkeep” on 21st St is a rounding error in the MTA operating budget.

Walter April 11, 2012 - 3:53 am

This is just facetious, but by this logic they should reopen 18th Street on the Lex. I’m sure it would be higher than 420th on the list.

Jeff April 11, 2012 - 7:57 am

Exactly. Why not City Hall station too while they’re at it? The station exist.

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:26 am

Neither one is long enough for 10-car trains. (And the stations don’t exist anymore.)

21st St. is more than long enough for 4-car trains!

Eric April 11, 2012 - 9:03 am

We’re not talking about reopening 21st Street after 50 years. We’re talking about closing it.

Jeff April 11, 2012 - 11:18 pm

The stations still exist – you can see them by peaking out the window.

And 145 Street on the 3 isn’t long enough for 10-car trains either.

Point is that just because the station’s there doesn’t mean they are necessarily needed.

JB April 11, 2012 - 9:21 am

I wouldn’t mind having 18th street reopened. I mean, the 7th ave 18th street station still exists, why not this one (yeah, i know, 14th extends northward too close). Still would be handy though.

I wouldn’t mind seeing the downtown side of Worth Street opened too. Uptown is pointless, but downtown could be useful.

Tsuyoshi April 10, 2012 - 11:01 pm

The thing about the 21st Street station is that the area around it is pretty barren, but it is the nearest station to the new condos on the East River waterfront. I imagine that ridership will rise over time, as more housing is built there. There is a lot of potential for growth because hardly anyone lives there right now, and therefore there is not much NIMBY opposition to very high density development. Eliminating this station would be a mistake.

Eliminating some Rockaway stations, on the other hand…

Kamil Choudhury April 11, 2012 - 5:55 pm

I recently had occasion to ride into the Rockaways. These stations are the only lifeline for a lot of suburban communities into the city.

You’ll have to fight very hard indeed to close them.

Jon April 10, 2012 - 10:10 pm

Many subway stations were located to connect with streetcar lines. Given that a number of streetcars were routed on Jackson Ave, it seems likely that the 21st Street station would have been a good transfer point when first built.

Tsuyoshi April 10, 2012 - 10:53 pm

For anyone who was wondering, I checked versus 2010, and the top ten stations of 2011 are exactly the same as 2010, in exactly the same order. In the top 20, the only changes in rank were:

Lexington Ave-53 St (now 11th) passed Fulton St (now 12th)

Chambers St-WTC-Park Place (now 16th) passed 14th St-6th Ave (now 17th)

72nd St (1/2/3) (now 19th) passed West 4th St-Washington Sq (now 20th)

Hank April 11, 2012 - 9:58 am

Take away message: Midtown and Downtown biz districts are slightly improving, and the UWS continues to grow

John-2 April 10, 2012 - 10:55 pm

It will be interesting a couple of years from now to see how East Side Access skewers the numbers for Grand Central and the two Penn Station stops. Combined the A/C/E and the 1/2/3 are serving 50 million, eight million more than Grand Central, which also handles the riders from the 7 and the S as well as the slightly-crowded 4/5/6 trains. Some LIRR riders headed downtown may opt for Grand Central over Penn Station, but others may decide the east side subway’s load isn’t worth the aggravation.

R. Graham April 11, 2012 - 12:15 am

Yeah there’s a good chance those riders may hold off making the switch. The platform crowding is really annoying to say the least at Grand Central. A good majority of the riders position themselves strategically on this line more than I’ve seen on any other line in order to hit the stairs as quickly as possible. Plus when all things considered, access to the subway is going to be much more difficult with East Access as opposed to Penn as the way I understand it now exit access leads to the street from the deep track level of LIRR at Grand Central and will not lead directly to the hall due to existing levels of Metro-North tracks on two levels.

Hank April 11, 2012 - 10:09 am

On the bright side, the overloading of the east side IRT lines will hopefully create the political will/pressure to begin work on Phase II & III of the SAS!

R. Graham April 11, 2012 - 10:56 am

I have my doubts because the later stages of the SAS does not solve one specific problem. The masses of people being brought into Grand Central by Metro-North and soon LIRR. And if you were to ask me even if I worked near Water Street in Lower Manhattan I’d rather just rush down to the 4/5/6 since it’s right there and walk later rather than try to walk the streets of Midtown to the far East for the SAS.

Henry April 11, 2012 - 12:38 pm

The way SAS Phases 3 & 4 are currently designed, they don’t serve a market.

Hypothetically, if there was a track connection to Queens Blvd going downtown or a track connection to the 7 at Queensboro (if I remember correctly, the tracks east of Queensboro Plaza can handle/can be converted to handle IND/BMT standard trains), then it could potentially solve some overcrowding.

The odds of the MTA getting the money to do any of these modifications, however, is highly unlikely.

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:46 pm

There will be a connection to the 63rd St. line to Queens.

But it isn’t going to be used for regular service, since that would divert one of the Queens Blvd. lines out of the core of Midtown.

J B April 12, 2012 - 9:54 am

SAS should absorb some of the passengers going uptown/ downtown within Manhattan, thereby making more room on the 4/5/6 for all those commuters arriving in Grand Central.

Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:48 am

SAS will not absorb that many until it makes it to 125th St… until then it can only absorb local passengers. If it makes it to 125th, traffic flows from the Bronx could completely rearrange themselves…

Kevin April 11, 2012 - 12:55 pm

It’s my feeling that most of the commuters that switch from Penn station to Grand Central Terminal, will likely be walking to work from there.

Nathanael April 13, 2012 - 1:49 am

That was the original justification for ESA — people working within walking distance of GCT. Apparently it’s an absurdly enormous market.

George April 11, 2012 - 2:34 am

Times Square station numbers – does that include Port Authority station at 42 St & 8 Av?

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 7:52 am

Yes, the numbers go by station complexes.

MichaelB April 11, 2012 - 10:45 am

Speaking of 21st street Van Last, does anyone know why there isn’t a connection to Vernon-Jackson? Other I guess than general poor connections from the IND. It sure looks like the south end of the g platform (which currently has no exit at all) and the east end of the 7 station must be pretty close together.

Benjamin Kabak April 11, 2012 - 10:50 am

The Neighborhood Maps show a decent amount of space between the two platforms, and the G and 7 have a connection one stop away at Court Sq. There’s really no need for a redundant transfer there.

Andrew April 11, 2012 - 8:47 pm

When Court Square on the 7 was closed, an out-of-system was in place between 21st and Hunters Point. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2012 numbers show growth at those two stations for that reason.)

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