Home Brooklyn Can you tell me how to get, how to get from Brooklyn to Queens?

Can you tell me how to get, how to get from Brooklyn to Queens?

by Benjamin Kabak

A sighting of the rare G train. (Photo via flickr user Bitch Cakes)

The geography of New York City makes for some strange transportation bedfellows. Manhattan — a long, narrow island — contains a lot of key job centers and is the house of city government while Brooklyn and Queens, as close neighbors, are home to a combined 4.7 million people. Yet, it’s relatively easy to take a train into Manhattan and relatively painful to travel between the counties of Kings and Queens. That’s a problem.

Every now and then, this transit imbalance takes center stage for a few days. On and off for the past few years, the Pratt Center has tried to fight for better interborough travel options, and the G train remains an object of scorn and derision. Yet, true Select Bus Routes between Queens and Brooklyn remain elusive, and plans to build subway connections died along with the rest of the Second System in the 1930s.

For many New Yorkers, they why of it all is elusive. In 2013, it’s viewed as a great failing that there is no quick way to get from Forest Hills or Astoria to Downtown Brooklyn or Park Slope, that the best transit route from Coney Island to Flushing involves hours of travel through three boroughs. Yet, these patterns have their roots in the history of the city’s economic development and transit policy, and yesterday, at The Atlantic Cities, Richard Greenwald, a history professor at St. Joseph’s College, offered up a brief history of the tortured connections. Here’s his take:

In the beginning, the New York City subway system, as historian Clifton Hood details in his masterful book, 722 Miles, was a commuter line. As such, it was designed to bring people to where the jobs were, and that meant Manhattan. So all subway routes lead there…While the subway got people from the outer boroughs into Manhattan, the once-vast trolley system of New York connected the residents of Queens to Brooklyn…

The demise of the trolleys in the late 1930s and ’40s seems to be largely responsible for disconnecting the two sister boroughs. Yes, they were replaced by buses, but buses have never — for a number of reasons — been able to cement the connection the way trolleys seemed to.

Starting in the 1920s, a company called National City Lines started buying up street car lines, then mostly privately owned. In 1936, the company became a holding company owned equally by General Motors, Firestone Tire, Standard Oil of California, and Phillips Petroleum. Perhaps you can guess where this is going. NCL bought up trolley systems in over 40 cities and 15 states, converting them almost overnight into bus lines. In 1947, they were indicted in federal court, in what became known as the “Great American Streetcar Scandal.” Two years later, the four original companies who owned NCL, along with MAC Truck, were found guilty of conspiracy to monopolize mass transit. But by then the damage was done. Most of the nation’s streetcar system was in junkyards, replaced by buses.

Outside of the streetcar conspiracies, Greenwald points his fingers at the social stigma attached to buses as a reason why the trolley connections were cut. “In the outer boroughs of New York, trolleys had acted as a primary mode of transportation,” he said. “Buses, on the other-hand, were tertiary, connecting commuters first-and-foremost to subway lines.” That’s not quite accurate though as the current Brooklyn bus map and the old trolley map look awfully similar. At ground level, at least, it’s no harder or easier to travel between Brooklyn and Queens than it was 80 years ago.

What happened were social shifts. Up until the last decade or so, few people noticed the poor quality of transit connections between Brooklyn and Queens because no one wanted to travel between these two boroughs. As gentrification took hold though, suddenly, middle/upper class neighborhoods were disconnected. It’s easy to travel from East New York to Jamaica or the Rockaways via the IND Fulton Line. It’s not easy to get from South Slope to Forest Hills without a arduous slow ride through Manhattan on the F train. Neighborhoods eight miles apart may as well be in different cities.

Fixes for this problem are not easy to identify. Even the long lost Second System wouldn’t have materially improved connections between Brooklyn and Queens. We instead need something as creative and fanciful as Vanshookenraggen’s Franklin Ave. Shuttle extension (or the entirety of his Second System plans). Such plans, though, require money to be no obstacle, and for the foreseeable future, money is an obstacle.

In the meantime, a better Select Bus Service would do the trick with a focus on interborough connections between neighborhoods that are current disconnected. Of course, SBS takes literally years of planning and is fraught with its own problems. Meanwhile, as jobs migrate from Manhattan to centers in Brooklyn and Queens, the Outer Boroughs remain frustratingly disconnected, a victim of the history of the economic growth and centralization of Manhattan and a lack of foresight by politicians over the past 100 years. It’s a rather familiar story after all.

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John-2 May 31, 2013 - 12:51 am

The cross-borough transit problems does make the argument that the IND’s original plan for a Rockaway connection via the (built but not used) upper terminal at Roosevelt Avenue should have been built, both as a way to get to southeast Queens and a way for people to get from one borough to the other without going into Manhattan (you can also use it to make the case for the revival of the LIRR Rockaway branch as a spur off the IND Queens Boulevard line, but that has the Queensway supporters and the smorgasbord NIMBYs to deal with).

While the G has found greater use in recent years with the Williamsburgh revival and residential development in Long Island City, the problem is even back in it’s days of going to Forest Hills, the line ran to the west of 90 percent of Brooklyn and about 70 percent of Queens (that number’s more like 95 percent today). As a cross-borough connection for people living further out in the two boroughs, it’s not all that much better than just going all the way into Manhattan on the F, N or R and just coming back out again (even the original north Brooklyn route of the G, which was designed in large part to undercut the BMT’s Myrtle Avenue el, works against it in getting people quickly to downtown Brooklyn from LIC or other parts of western Queens). Other than the LIRR Rockway option for the M or the R train, there’s no relatively easy non-bus way to solve that problem, because there are so many other transit needs in the city fighting for the same limited amount of funds.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 8:57 am

You don’t need immediate through service on something like Rockaway. It can start as a G-like service, ferrying people between Queens Boulevard and the IND Fulton Line. A way to accommodate it to Manhattan can always come later, when funds are more available and the need is more pressing.

Henry raises a good point too: extending the M along the RX route is a good start for RX.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 1:11 am

It would be relatively inexpensive to extend the M along the Triboro RX route to either Roosevelt, or turn off at Elliot and head north to Woodhaven (for a future LIE route).

The main problem is that in between Queens and Brooklyn, there isn’t much (lots of parks, graveyards, and industrial blight), so you’re not going to get consistent, heavy demand throughout the week.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 9:02 am

You could probably easily make a case for a station around Elliot Avenue, and maybe one before. Actually, check out the route on Google Maps. RX cuts through (and cuts off) many residential areas.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:31 pm

The point about Elliot was for a turnoff under Elliot Avenue to the Woodhaven Blvd station on QBL, since it’s less of a hook turn west.

It’s also not the *perfect* solution, since you’d probably need to build a transfer to the G near Hewes St (because the Myrtle Av Line no longer goes to Downtown Brooklyn)

Gorski May 31, 2013 - 10:38 am

It’s a little bit crazy, but sometimes I wonder whether it would be worth rebuilding the Myrtle Av line back to downtown Brooklyn, too.

Justin Samuels May 31, 2013 - 10:58 am

All they need to do is build a transfer between the J, M, and and Lorimer and the G at Broadway. The G is hardly used at full capacity. So riders could transfer from the M to the G and go to downtown Brooklyn that way.

Before you can get federal funding for new lines, you have to make sure existing lines are at peak capacity. The Second Avenue Subway got federal funding because it will have a lot of riders.

Lines going back and forth between Brooklyn and Queens like the G and the Fulton Street land are nowhere near operating at peak capacity. The Fulton Street line could host two additional train services besides the A and the C. The G train is still 4 cars, so it could at least become an 8 car train.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 12:49 pm

You could just tell them to bike or jog too, since you don’t seem to give a shit about people’s time.

Before you can get federal funding for new lines, you have to make sure existing lines are at peak capacity.

You’re saying Bed-Stuy couldn’t get funding for proper transit because the Rockaway Branch isn’t at capacity? This might be one of the most flabbergastingly stupid comments I ever read here.

Regardless, we should be moving forward without federal funding. It’s too expensive.

Lines going back and forth between Brooklyn and Queens like the G

Let’s be clear that the G is a well-run service that does probably what it can and should do. What people are unhappy with is the most cost-effective use of the service. A more extensive or frequent service would be nicer, but also less cost-effective.

A new Myrtle Avenue service may or may not be a good idea, but whether it is or isn’t has little or nothing to do with a line that more or less goes to completely different places.

JMB May 31, 2013 - 6:44 pm

Was the Myrtle El torn down simply because it was an El, or because of declining usage due to commuting patterns? Just curious because looking at the map, it seems that there isn’t a real alternative like there was in other places (8th ave, 6th ave in the city to name a few)

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:28 pm

It was torn down because the Crosstown Line sort of paralleled it coming out of Downtown Brooklyn.

Bolwerk June 1, 2013 - 10:12 am

I’m sure both were factors. I guess they figured the bus was good enough.

I think I read the structure west of Broadway couldn’t accommodate the heavier cars the TA was using by then, too. I believe it used its early 20th century wooden cars until the end. There was a fire around the time they tore it down too, that did enough damage that the TA maybe didn’t feel like addressing it.

al June 3, 2013 - 3:17 pm

A connection between JMZ and G at Hewes/Lorimer and Broadway would increase G ridership. That would induce an increase in G train length and frequency to meet demand. Thus, reducing G train wait times and trip times.

John t May 31, 2013 - 8:18 am

Anyone who brings up a “streetcar conspiracy” is not a good source to follow. Streetcars were replaced for lots of reasons, and NCL was one f them, but there was no NCL that eliminated trolleys in London or Paris or Toronto, or NYC either. NYC started on this path in the 1930s and it was public policy, not corporate intrige.

The “Triboro RX” plan is the best hope to improve cross-boros transtit, but the MTA seems to be unwilling to pursue that. Why???

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 8:48 am

I don’t really know how much I like calling it as conspiracy, as if it’s in the same league as chemtrails or whatever other untrue things Alex Jones talks about, but it’s hardly inaccurate either. It could be described as one of those things the enemies of sane policy love today: a public-private partnership. You’ll note that most of those cities have at least tried to reverse course on destroying their surface transit systems, though Toronto’s batshit mayor seems intent on tearing up what’s left. New York is behind all of them.

Triboro RX is great, but it is hardly a substitute for a proper surface transit system. Medium-density areas like Ridgewood, Greenpoint, LIC, and Bushwick should have trolleys or LRT between them.

John-2 May 31, 2013 - 11:13 am

There was a general mindset back in the 30s and 40s that rubber-tired vehicles free to roam anywhere were better than trollies locked into the existing street rail system (and that pretty much continued in to the 1960s, using the same fallacy Moses and other planners had that if you built just one more high speed limited access highway, you’d finally solve all the region’s road congestion problems). In transportation, whether on the street or underground, the mindset from 1900 to 1940 or so was that something improved was always going to come along, and in the middle part of the 20th Century it was buses over trollies, and subways over els — that’s why it was ‘safe’ to tear down the Second and Third Avenue els, because all those subway lines had been built in the past 40 years, so the Second Avenue Subway is just around the corner.

That doesn’t mean GM, Firestone and others weren’t part of the problem. But they were just taking advantage of the general mindset of the time that thought new things would always be on the horizon, and anything that can get around outside the urban city centers was better than something locked into routes based on where the rails were.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 8:57 am

The whole problem is the 63rd Connection, as finally built, essentially condemned the “G” line to permanent 2nd rate status. The terminal at 71-Continental cannot process more than about 20 train an hour. Thus the “G” had to be cut back to Court Sq and its slots on the local track given over to the “V”, now the “M”.

In addition Court Sq is a very crappy terminal, not designed as such with a very poor track layout. The middle track was meant as a siding or for emergency turning, not for a regular terminal operation. Then you have the very long underground walking transfer with everyone eventually squeezing onto a, mostly, already overcrowded “E”.

An additional terminal facility somewhere in Queens would permit the “G” to be once again run on out Queens Blvd. A connection to the defunct LIRR Rockaway Line east of 63rd Dr would be one solution. Another would be to build the Horace Harding Exp subway (proposed in the MTA’s master plan back around 1967) east to Queens College.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 9:01 am

As regards the Triboro RX subway utilizing the NY Connecting RR, which, BTW, is still a very much active freight railroad (where does all that freight go, into trucks and onto the city streets?): it really misses all the population centers, as Henry points out, above. Most of the line runs through, mostly defunct, industrial areas.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 9:06 am

It connects between lines, and perhaps there is space for dedicated transit tracks along the ROW. They may not be population centers, but transit works in medium densities too.

Hell, maybe upcoming PTC regulations would even allow the subway and freight to share – which would make the most sense, since there really is room for both.

Alon Levy May 31, 2013 - 5:31 pm

“Very much active” = a couple freight trains per day, I believe 1-2.

And most of the ROW is wide enough for both the subway and freight, anyway. The FRA will shit brick if anyone proposes putting the subway in a freight ROW with little track separation, but it’s technically feasible and safe. Track-sharing is out of the question due to different loading gauges though.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:43 pm

New York has pitifully low freight rail usage compared to the rest of the nation.

BoerumHillScott May 31, 2013 - 9:35 am

I never understood the fascination with traditional trolleys.
They have the same capacity and speed as a bus, with much less flexibility and higher infrastructure cost.

I do not see how any rational planner would advocate for them based on their merits as a transit system. They are most useful for historical coolness, or for attracting gentrifies who are scared of or too good to take a bus.

About the only benefit other than the “coolness” factor of being on rail is the use of electricity rather than fossil fuels, but once again that means higher maintenance cost, ugly overhead wires, and increased chance of service disruptions.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 9:54 am

This is pretty much all untrue. Trolleys probably can manage slightly better reliability and average speeds than a bus, and certainly are higher-capacity enough to bring operating costs down below that of a bus with heavy enough use. The maintenance thing is pretty questionable too, since buses definitely don’t last as long (~10-15 years, rather than decades), probably require more frequent maintenance, and do a lot of damage to the streets. And do you really think overhead wires are more ugly than the seas of pothole-ridden asphalt demanded by cars and buses?

Now, trolleys may not be the right way to go, but they would definitely be an improvement over New York’s cripplingly slow bus system. Modern low-floor LRVs just make more sense, since we’d be starting from scratch. This is especially so given accessibility mandates and the higher capacity, probably at little additional incremental expense.

BoerumHillScott May 31, 2013 - 10:27 am

How can trolleys be faster when they travel in the same lanes, have the same loading process, and make the same stops as busses? Traditional trolleys almost always ran as single units, with similar or lower capacity than a modern bus, and less than an articulated. Adding additional cars requires additional fare collection.

Trolleys are horrible at dealing with disruptions, from double parked cars to re-routes (routine or emergency) to post storm damage.

I have not seen any good data on the additional wear and tear that busses put on streets, but I do not see how it can be higher than the maintenance required for tracks and overhead wires.

The vehicle age issue is a potential advantage, although I wonder how much of that is it is cheaper to repair than overhaul a bus.

Can you show a single system in the world where capital or maintenance costs for a trolley system are lower than a comparable capacity bus system on a per passenger mile basis? Portland seems to have done the best in the US with a new trolley system, but it is still more expensive than bus. It do not think it is because of an ongoing conspiracy that so few cities are investing in trolleys.

I am in favor of modern light rail system when you can have level platforms, fare pre-payment, all door boarding, multiple cars, dedicated right of way, and signal priority. However, for low to mid capacity systems, much of this can be obtained cheaper with true Bus Rapid Transit (such as the Los Angeles Orange Line)

MetroDerp May 31, 2013 - 11:56 am

But once again, we come back to the fact that BRT – whether “true” BRT with proper rights-of-way, etc. or just a fancy bus system – doesn’t match the capacity of rail of any kind.

So yes, it’s cheaper, but you get what you pay for (i.e., less).

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 12:25 pm

To be clear, they can achieve faster trip times because they accelerate faster, load/unload faster, and (this is probably more NYC practice* than anything) actually don’t suffer as much interference from other traffic as buses.

* Perhaps owing to practice borrowed from a somewhat robust trolley network, Philadelphia buses seem to perform better because they stop in the middle of the street and the traffic behind them waits. Then, the downside to this is accessibility there seems awful.

Trolleys are horrible at dealing with disruptions, from double parked cars to re-routes (routine or emergency) to post storm damage.

If you have disruptions often enough for this to matter, you’re doing it wrong no matter what the mode is. The crappy conditions that make people think buses are more flexible don’t result in buses being more flexible. They just result in shittier transit service.

Certainly, it’s ridiculous to condemn people to routinely worse service just because a bus might occasionally be able to go around an obstacle that shouldn’t be there anyway.

Meanwhile, nothing stops you from bustituting a trolley or LRT system for routine maintenance.

I have not seen any good data on the additional wear and tear that busses put on streets, but I do not see how it can be higher than the maintenance required for tracks and overhead wires.

AFAIK, there isn’t any good data, unfortunately. I believe wear and tear on roads/streets generally increases exponentially with vehicle weight, but I’m not aware of anyone breaking this out for buses to see how much of, say, the NYC road budget is attributable to damage caused by buses.

Maybe Alon Levy would know, but I think the capital costs in things like NTD data exclusively apply to the vehicle in the case of buses.

I don’t really want to go on gut feeling commenting about ROW maintenance. Is there data showing asphalt streets are cheaper to maintain and that this overwhelms all the major disadvantages of buses? Not for nothing, but this isn’t a small part of the municipal budget.

The vehicle age issue is a potential advantage, although I wonder how much of that is it is cheaper to repair than overhaul a bus.

What the turnover tells you is, it’s cheaper to throw away a bus and buy a new one after 10-20 years than to keep repairing it or to overhaul it. That doesn’t sound like a good thing to me, especially since it seems vehicle expense is roughly in proportion to capacity.

A 20-year-old rail car is maybe middle-aged, and stuff we still call new on NYCTA rail is old for a bus.

Can you show a single system in the world where capital or maintenance…

These are pretty different things, BTW. Routine stuff like checking tracks, changing signal bulbs, changing a wheel/tire, and filling potholes, would be operating maintenance, while a capital expense is typically a huge upfront investment amortized over time – like buying or completely overhauling a vehicle.

I’d be really careful about drawing comparisons without separating out the two, and looking at each on a per-passenger or per-mile or per-vehcile basis.

…costs for a trolley system are lower than a comparable capacity bus system on a per passenger mile basis?

Then, would it be relevant if I could? The higher operating cost of the bus mode isn’t necessarily offset by lower infrastructure maintenance costs. The best measure I can think of is probably the farebox recovery ratio, and they certainly seem to show rail can be very competitive, if not vastly better. And, farebox recovery might be a metric that weighs a little more in buses’ favor than it should.

It do not think it is because of an ongoing conspiracy that so few cities are investing in trolleys.

I don’t think trolleys make much sense where they don’t already exist, but the lack of surface rail investment is probably because of incompetence, more than anything. Even slow-growth first world countries are achieving construction of new rail systems at good clip. New York is lucky to get a bit of SBS, even though surface rail fits better here than almost anywhere, at least going by first world urban densities.

Where trolleys already exist, it does make sense to expand systems because they do have advantages.

The only “conspiracy theory” I can come up with is: maybe unions and TAs prefer buses because they are a more expensive in general. For unions, the result is larger payrolls. It does mean more work for them. It certainly isn’t a literal conspiracy, but it could just be a bias they have without putting much thought into it.

…much of this can be obtained cheaper with true Bus Rapid Transit (such as the Los Angeles Orange Line)

If by “true Bus Rapid Transit,” you mean bus rapid transit with a dedicated, grade-separated ROW, this comment is nothing short of insanely wrong. If you are building dedicated ROWs, generally, stick to rail.

If you mean things like SBS then, yeah, sure, sometimes that’s likely the better option (at least in New York).

Alon Levy June 1, 2013 - 1:38 am

First, maintenance costs are included in operations.

Second, I hear that in Munich (which is supposedly a very pro-rail city) they railstitute any bus line that grows more frequent than every ten minutes, on the grounds that the operating savings and additional ridership justify the capital expense. Prepayment and all-door boarding are present on all buses and streetcars there anyway and can and should be present on all surface transit in the US too.

Bolwerk June 1, 2013 - 10:15 am

What about street maintenance costs? Buses have an attributable level of wear and tear they do to roadways. I was never clear if that was accounted for in NTD statistics.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:47 pm

Arguments about technology when it comes to speed are irrelevant – the primary concern is right-of-way, which neither the old trolleys or most local buses had. (SBS buses have striped red lanes, but that’s only for limited segments and limited hours.)

Median boarding can be unsafe if drivers suck (and these are the same drivers who bypass school buses illegally on a regular basis), and is almost definitely unworkable with the one-way system employed on a lot of streets these days.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:48 pm

Dedicated right of way is of particular importance with rail-based transit, since it cannot swerve out of traffic into a free lane (and not even in the heyday were all road lanes given a trolley track)

Bolwerk June 1, 2013 - 7:39 pm

This is one of those masturbatory things Everyone Knows Is True. Dedicated lanes may be ideal, but rail transit the world over works fine in mixed traffic, including within 100 miles of the NYC metro area (if not inside it). Maybe it requires some traffic control, and maybe it even requires some cultural changes, but it’s certainly doable with splendid results.

aestrivex June 1, 2013 - 12:00 pm

Precisely. The argument for trolleys is somewhat of a lame duck if trolleys don’t have augmented right of way.

BrianVan May 31, 2013 - 11:09 am

It’s not about the vehicle, it’s about what you do with it.

Trolley, bus, whatever: there’s not much use for a public transit vehicle that makes a stop every 800 feet, takes 2-3 minutes to exchange passengers, and then has to wait for a red light following every stop. Effectively, such vehicles travel 3 miles per hour, which means that it would take you longer to get from Coney Island to Flushing than it would take for a modern jetliner to arrive in Los Angeles.

Local buses are great for when you have to get from one side of a neighborhood to another. But they are inadequate at connecting distant neighborhoods.

You can bring in SBS, express buses, limited lines, anything along that spectrum, but in any case, you need a bus system that makes that trip in an hour at most, or else people won’t use it. This is the problem that East Side Manhattan buses had for a while, and it’s why ridership shot up when SBS was rolled out. Cut 15 minutes from a 60 minute trip using the flimsiest of BRT methodologies, and suddenly you have a lot more buy-in. MTA needs to apply that lesson to a lot of other places, there’s too much commerce at stake for them not to.

stairbob May 31, 2013 - 10:04 am

It’s not always so bad going through Manhattan. My family went from Prospect Heights to Long Island City last weekend switching from to 2 to the 7 at Times Square. It’s not any harder to get there than, say, Columbus Circle.

(Yes, I get that there are other trips that are more onerous.)

tacony palmyra May 31, 2013 - 10:04 am

Most people at the time thought trolleys were old, rickety, and outdated (which they basically were) and buses were new, modern, and air-conditioned. Some people cried when they “bustituted” trolley lines, but most people thought it was a good thing. The trolleys weren’t fast. They stopped every other block just like the buses do today. They couldn’t go around double parked cars like buses can. They broke down frequently. But they had a lot of ridership just ’cause people didn’t own cars.

I think people overemphasize the technological change from streetcars to buses when explaining the decline of transit in this country. What really happened is that mass car ownership made slow transit (which the trolleys were and the local buses are today) less attractive. If you live in a low density residential neighborhood with lots of parking and not a lot of traffic, it no longer makes sense to hop on a slow vehicle–be it trolley or bus– when you have a car that can take you straight to your destination without stopping. The early Queens streetcar suburb neighborhoods that were connected to Brooklyn via transit became less connected once the residents started buying more and more cars that could take them places faster. The subways could compete with cars to take people into congested Manhattan where parking is scarce, but the trolleys and buses to take people to the next neighborhood over couldn’t compete with the ease of just driving and parking.

Don’t get me wrong, I like light rail. But it’s not about the technology of the transit vehicle. They could put together some Brooklyn-Queens Select Bus route if there’s demand for it. I suspect that much like the G, it’s a chicken and egg scenario where there doesn’t currently appear to be demand because current options are so painful.

At ground level, at least, it’s no harder or easier to travel between Brooklyn and Queens than it was 80 years ago.

On the other hand I’m not sure this is true. When I look at old transit timetables in major cities I’m always shocked by how great the frequencies were. The travel times and headways printed from the opening days of the early 20th century transit systems are usually better than they are today. Was this not also true for the trolleys in Queens and Brooklyn, which served neighborhoods where at the time you had about 1 car for every 10 households, whereas today probably average almost 1 car per household? Now you’re going to stand on a street corner waiting for the bus for 45 minutes outside of rush hour.


3rd Avenue el frequency in 1906: “Daily trains at intervals of 1 to 3 minutes between 5:34a.m. and midnight, and at intervals of 10 minutes between midnight and 5:34a.m.”! No transit service in NYC runs that frequently today.


3 minute headways for trolleys over the Brooklyn Bridge!

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 10:23 am

Re frequency, those el trains were much shorter, in that you could probably platform a train few trains on a modern platform. Maybe they did that?

Throughput does seem down though. I haven’t been able to find this again, though I did read that the BMT had lines pushing 50,000 people/track per hour. It doesn’t appear that anything does that nowadays.

Yes, it’s probably harder to travel between Brooklyn and Queens (wasn’t there a trolley from Ridgewood to Flushing?) now, but demand for that probably is way down too.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 12:45 pm

The Flushing-Ridgewood streetcar line was bustituted, I believe, in 1949 as the B58 bus, now the Q58, and follows almost the exact same route as the streetcar line. It is still a very heavy line. I believe – and I may be mistaken here – it’s one of the bus lines that actually makes a small profit.

And 50,000 passengers per track sounds a bit high. Even before key-by was rescinded around ’70-’71 the best you could do on any track in the system was about 34 trains per hour. Depending on whether it’s IRT or IND-BMT I guess you could get up to around 40,000+.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 12:57 pm

Well, 2,000 people per IND train (per-train capacity on A/C coming in from Brooklyn: ~2100) times 34 trains would be 68,000. Certainly technologically doable, though I doubt it happens in NYC these days.

In practice, I think the Cranberry Street Tunnel carries about half that load, and I don’t think those services ever get much busier.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 3:43 pm

As I’d said 34 TPH was the max prior to around 1970. Today the max TPH anywhere in the system, on paper, is 30 TPH on the Queens Blvd Exp tracks. Lex express is, on paper, 27-28 TPH but in reality, on any given day, is about 25. At DeKalb approx 50 trains pass through the interlocking, approx 20 on each of the 3 tracks S/B & each of the 3 tracks N/B. Prior to rerouting the M up 6 Ave it was around 60 TPH. The #7 is about 27-28 peak TPH.

BTW crush loading (and this is theoretical in human crush loading) is 175 on A div cars and 220 on 60 ft B div cars.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 3:50 pm

Sorry about my math. That is, today, around approx 17 peak TPH per track at DeKalb today, for approx 50 TPH. Previously it had been approx 20 TPH per track for 60.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:50 pm

Two things happened – the slowdown of the system due to various accidents over the years, and increased crowding at platforms, which increases dwell time and reduces headways.

capt subway May 31, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Quite right. And in that regard the NYCTA is pursuing the path of diminishing returns on issue of system safety. With each new safety measure – like the disastrous new flagging rules of a few years back, initiated during the administration of virtuoso a–hole Harold Roberts – the system is further slowed down, TPH is reduced, trains get more crowded with no meaningful improvement in system safety.

al June 3, 2013 - 3:32 pm

Part of the answer is all round of you when you ride older subway cars. Take a look at the seats. People were smaller and slimmer back in the day. There were far fewer overweight and obese people during the 1910’s-1970’s. People were also shorter and smaller.

The maligned 18″ seats on the R44, R46, R62 and R68 were good for the average person’s posterior circa 1950, but not 1980 and definitely not today. People also tolerated crush loaded cars due to a lack of alternatives.

normative May 31, 2013 - 10:05 am

The Center For an an Urban Future did a report on this. I would agree with the recommendations that the only way to fill the gaps currently would be SBS. However, given the current state of things,Community Boards and local politicians don’t want to make any changes. Just look most recently at 125st SBS in Harlem.

Check out the report Here.

A May 31, 2013 - 11:59 am

What I’d love to see is the G connect with Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn. I realise it would probably be incredibly expensive to do so, but it already travels within a block or so of the station, and one of the real problems I have with the G is that it’s so disconnected from the rest of the system. Connecting from the G to the 2/3/4/5/N/Q/R/B/D would make it a real possibility for people heading to lower Manhattan.

Phil May 31, 2013 - 12:20 pm

I think extending the franklin shuttle is actually a pretty good idea.

I live a block away from Franklin ave and if the shuttle was able to connect to the G id probably consider riding it much more often.

I wonder if that center track at Classon ave can be used for something else as well.

Bolwerk May 31, 2013 - 1:01 pm

The third track is at Bedford-Nostrard, though I guess there is an accommodation for it at Classon (no actual track, IIRC).

If you can believe Wikipeida, this is pretty interesting.

vanshnookenraggen May 31, 2013 - 2:58 pm

That’s what is so interesting: why is there even space at Classon Ave? What would the purpose be if not for some other connection. Bedford-Nostrand was obviously designed for service under Lafayette Ave but the space for a third track EAST of the station is strange.

JSalsa May 31, 2013 - 4:44 pm

Heading west from Bedford, the extra space at Classon allows for the center track to theoretically descend and turn (right or left) without crossing the G tracks at grade.

vanshnookenraggen May 31, 2013 - 5:01 pm


Kai B May 31, 2013 - 6:28 pm

Or, let’s say the continuation under Lafayette had been built. You would have lost the storage space that is currently to the east of Bedord-Nostrand. By laying a track through the center of Classon you could have replaced the storage capacity lost.

Henry May 31, 2013 - 7:55 pm

I’m guessing that since the lower half of the Myrtle Av Line was demolished due to the Crosstown duplication, there was probably a plan somewhere down the road to substitute the Myrtle Av Line as well, and possibly the Jamaica Line west of Broadway Junction using the giant six-track line out of South 4th St. This seems like the most plausible explanation for it, and IIRC a couple of Second System plans had things extending north of Ridgewood as well.

Bolwerk June 1, 2013 - 10:19 am

I’m not aware of a very perfect duplication. Some Second System plans seemed to involve Myrtle.

I don’t think they planned to tear the Myrtle El down in the 1940s. It was torn down in the ’60s, and I don’t think Crosstown duplication could have provided much more than a convenient excuse for dispensing with it. They were several blocks apart, and IIRC only intersected at one stop.

John Doe May 31, 2013 - 1:11 pm

I’m sure we’ll be discussing the same thing in 100 years! oh the ineptitude!!

vanshnookenraggen May 31, 2013 - 2:54 pm

This isn’t something the MTA is going to spearhead. This is something that a politician is going to have to push (like Bloomberg’s 7 line extension). If the city will pay for it the MTA won’t say no.

William M. June 1, 2013 - 2:12 am

A better idea would be to take an idea from the 1950’s. The IND Queens Boulevard Super Express concept. The best idea would be to reroute F trains to run on the super express tracks, move the M to the express tracks, and have the G run local on the IND Queens Boulevard Line. Afterwards you can extend the M line a bit more to join the F at Jamaica 179th Street since it has more room to go there, and then maybe you can extend the G to the Rockaway Park Beach 116th Street station to replace the Rockaway Park Shuttle.

paulb June 1, 2013 - 6:24 am

Sometimes in looking at the subways I think there must have been an element of spite in the layout. Why else separate the G line from the Atlantic Ave complex of stations? The G would pick up a lot more riders if they could easily make that transfer.

paulb June 1, 2013 - 6:28 am

Is there a good route for SBS? Riding a bike from Prospect Pk South, Park Slope, or Prospect Heights, up into Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and LIC is really a challenge.

JD June 3, 2013 - 11:22 am

A friend and I did pizza tour of all 5 boroughs on Saturday. Because most of the G Train was shut down, getting from Park Slope to Long Island City was easily the most difficult part of the trip — even harder than getting a cab from Staten Island to Brooklyn!

Benjamin Kabak June 3, 2013 - 11:23 am

What was your tour itinerary? Curious as to choices of pizzerias.

j June 5, 2013 - 12:08 pm

A connection between the G and J/M at Broadway is a no brainer, considering the unbuilt connection to the unbuilt South 4th street subway.

As for the G’s northern terminus, I’d like to see the G extended to Queens Plaza in a new station, connecting with Queensboro Plaza. Maybe even hook the tracks up to the 63rd st line so it can go into Manhattan.


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