Home View from Underground Thoughts on alleviating the record ridership crunch

Thoughts on alleviating the record ridership crunch

by Benjamin Kabak

While drilling down on the 2014 ridership numbers earlier this week, I couldn’t get past the sheer volume of people using the subway each day. It’s hard to conceptualize 5.6 million every day, let alone the 29 weekdays last year with over 6 million riders, and that makes it very hard to figure out a solution for the MTA’s capacity woes that doesn’t involve multi-billion-dollar, decades-long construction efforts.

The easiest thing to do is for me to reel off a bunch of numbers. Times Square saw a whopping 7000 more riders per day last year than over 2013 and over 25,000 more per day in 2014 than in 2009. Grand Central saw a bump of 4000 entrances per day; the new Fulton St. saw nearly 5000 new swipes. Court Square saw nearly 2000 more entrances, and Bedford Ave. on the L, already beyond crowded, witnessed 1300 new swipes. What the Domino Sugar Factory development will mean for L train ridership is up for debate.

But numbers tend to lose their meanings after a while. New Yorkers know the subways are crowded because we’re down there every day. We know that the time to get space on the Manhattan-bound Q from Brooklyn is even earlier or later than it used to be, and we know we can forget about that seat. We know that trying to take a train up or down Lexington Ave. at 6 p.m. is a fool’s errand. We see trains on the weekend that are packed, and we remember when late-night meant empty cars instead of crowded platforms.

While discussing these ridership numbers on Twitter on Monday, a few people were surprised to hear the subway’s popularity were going up in light of the introduction of cab-hail apps such of Uber and Lyft and the raise in popularity of Citi Bike. It’s true that these services serve a purpose and an important one, but to get back to the numbers, they don’t do much for subway ridership. The car-hailing apps have cut into the supremacy of medallioned yellow cabs, but the price point for these services places them well beyond the reach of New Yorkers who rely on the subways day in and day out.

If anything, CitiBike may be able to solve some of the MTA’s capacity problems, others have argued, but the scales don’t line up. The overall subway network has an average ridership of 5.6 million with peaks of over 6 million. On its most popular day — which aligned with a day that saw subway ridership peak as well — New Yorkers took 39,000 rides on Citi Bike. That means Citi Bike accounted for barely six-tenths of one percent of subway ridership, and on average, that figure is closer to three-tenths of one percent.

A sampling of the Citi Bike travel logs suggests, anecdotally at least, that most riders aren’t duplicating subway rides. Even though more than half say their rides are replacing a subway fare, most are crosstown or otherwise replaces buses or walking routes. Furthermore, the crowding issues, particularly on the Lexington Ave. line, begin and end well outside of the current (or any planned) Citi Bike region. The scales just don’t line up.

The truth is that CitiBike can help around the margins. If 2 people out of 1000 opt against taking the 6 train from Grand Central to Union Square, then a few people may be able to get on a train rather than letting it pass. But CitiBike is a solution for the last-mile problem, not the MTA’s current first-mile problem.

To solve the capacity problems requires cost cutting and an infusion of capital dollars. It requires faster construction timelines and a more aggressive plan to bring real bus rapid transit — and not some souped-up express bus service with pre-board fare payment — to New York City. It will require taking an actual stand on political issues that resonant with subway riders, a constituency with great numbers but less access and money than those who aren’t regular subway riders. It’s not easy but it’s necessary. Otherwise, the subways will suffer from the Yogi Berra problem: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

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Billy G April 22, 2015 - 12:40 am

The best way to destroy something you don’t like is to tax it.

If you don’t like too many riders on the train, raise the fares to break-even level, and eliminate the payroll tax while you’re at it.

BoerumBum April 22, 2015 - 9:26 am

…and Staten Island’s in the house, everyone.

Caelestor April 22, 2015 - 1:43 am

Here are ways to improve capacity:

* Articulated cars
* Offer standing-room tickets on Metro-North and LIRR for the standard subway fare
* Building new subway entrances at crowded stops (e.g. 1st Ave and Bedford Ave)
* Congestion pricing, though this may be politically infeasible and unlimited cards will lessen the impact
* Construct new subway lines

Peak crowding is unlikely to improve much without increased investment in capital construction. It may be easier to review weekend loading guidelines. Several lines have reached peak-level crowding, but the solution is more obvious (decreasing headways).

Eric April 22, 2015 - 9:40 am

“* Offer standing-room tickets on Metro-North and LIRR for the standard subway fare”

Indeed, Metro North and LIRR *just happen* to parallel the Lexington and Queens Blvd subways, which are the most crowded in the system. It couldn’t be set up better for this if you tried…

AG April 22, 2015 - 9:11 pm

Metro North is standing room only already during rush hours.

adirondacker12800 April 23, 2015 - 1:36 am

So is the LIRR. And NJTransit. And they get people to pay full fares to stand.

AG April 23, 2015 - 11:08 pm

Point is the trains can’t take many more people…. There is not another one right behind like a subway. There are no poles in the middle of the cars for people to hold onto either.

Eric April 23, 2015 - 2:52 am

So run more trains – there’s track room.

Chris C April 22, 2015 - 1:11 pm

But how would you pay for it?

Suggesting ways to boost capacity are all very well and easy but without the $$$$ they are only crayons on a map

Spendmor Wastemor April 22, 2015 - 2:03 am

Perhaps there’s 7 reasons this won’t work, but on the most crowded lines it seems the ‘express’ crawls so slowly it creates a sad cycle of sardine packaging.

e.g: 4, 5 on Lexington ave: Crawls pathetically on arrow-straight stretches, thus it takes longer to reach the next station. That platform fills, that train loiters longer on the platform. The train behind it slows, crowds get denser, people fight for the privilege of being jammed into the sweatbox, the thing then coalesces into a solid mass of ammonia-scented sweat, bad breath and bodies compressed.

Fix, somewhat, by speeding up where possible:
Brooklyn-Bowling Green, less than 2 min, the train gets help on both accel and decel because of the inclines, it’ll be moving rather fast for the mile in the middle. 14th to 42nd should take about 2.5 minutes, including the sharp turns around GC (what idiot thought of that…) 42 to 86, ~2.5 minutes (4,5 skip 59 during rush hour, the train was already full at GC). Same for 86-125. After 125, make haste up to the 4,5 diverge to reduce congestion.

Signals, tracks, rules, whatever will need to be fixed. Minimum headway time has to shrink, because a train x distance away is now closer in time. E-brakes can be reset, they’re using less than half the wheel on rail grip, etc. Bottom line, it’s a train going in a (mostly) arrow-straight line on welded rails, it should move faster than it did in the ’70s, not slower.

Now you have at least somewhat more trains arriving, reducing platform delay and, with some luck, avoiding delays due to ‘train traffic ahead’. Further, the rider no longer feels their misery is for naught: the train is moving, as if someone understands their plight and is hurrying to relieve it. Theoretical line capacity increases slightly, but delays and misery in the core, overcrowded section could be much improved.

Theorem Ox April 22, 2015 - 11:08 am

Interesting thought.

Two thoughts I wanted to add about the curves and other weird arrangement at GC:

– It looks like much of the GCT complex was built just slightly earlier than when the original IRT subway was under construction in the area. I’m sure it would’ve been fun for the original subway designers to go around them.

– I believe I read that the original IRT station were closer to where the current 42nd Street shuttle platforms are today and that the current Lex Av platforms were built later. So there might also be an issue of existing track alignments that had to be dealt with.

Come to think of it, I’m starting to understand now why the original IRT changed bearings at 42nd Street and head up the West Side.

Nathanael April 22, 2015 - 6:19 pm

You are correct on all points. GCT predates the IRT.

Peter L April 24, 2015 - 11:40 am

Grand Central *Depot* and Grand Central *Station* were there before the IRT (if we assume that’s 1904) but construction had just begun on Grand Central *Terminal* when the IRT turned left.

Peter L April 22, 2015 - 12:49 pm

> Bottom line, it’s a train going in a (mostly) arrow-straight line on welded rails, it should
> move faster than it did in the ’70s, not slower.

Sure, if there are the same number of trains of the same length now as then. Add more trains or make them longer, then trains will be slower, assuming that the infrastructure could support whatever the design speed is (doubtful then, less doubtful now). You can only push so many trains through a tunnel CBTC or not.

Spendmor Wastemor April 23, 2015 - 1:36 am

“You can only push so many trains through a tunnel CBTC or not.”

Yes, there are technical details I’m not aware of. From a simplistic perspective, I’d guess trains need to be, mmm, 3x the longest stopping distance or, ahh, a minute apart. I suspect there are reasons whey that can’t or shouldn’t be done on the subway as built. .

PCCs usta pull into a station before the train ahead had left. I wouldn’t want to do that with a subway train tho.

Alain April 22, 2015 - 3:40 am

Decreasing headways and increasing train capacity seems to be the way to go, since construction of new subway lines has become simply too expensive and time-consuming. As for the reasons why – nobody seems to know.

Another way to boost services and reliability might be to disentangle the current network: make sure that lines run along their own dedicated corridors for as long as possible. The only points where lines should meet, is where the infastructure physically branches off. That should make for easier train scheduling, less interdependency between lines, thus boosting capacity and reliability. The only downside would be that passengers would have to make more transfers to reach their destination, but the current situation seems to have gotten beyond the point of offering as many single seat rides as possible.

Ryan April 22, 2015 - 8:44 am

Disentangling the current network is impossible because of the selfishness of both general ridership and supposed “advocates” whose first reaction to streamlining suggestions such as reversing the combination of the M and V lines is anger at the idea that Middle Village might “lose” its single seat ride to Midtown for the sake of operational simplification and logical routing decisions. The M is frankly the lowest hanging fruit if your goal is disentangling the network – if we can’t manage to agree on even this small change, there’s frankly no hope for system-wide overhaul with the goal of ending interlining everywhere we possibly can.

Subutay Musluoglu April 22, 2015 - 8:50 am

It’s unclear what you mean when you say “reversing the combination of he M and V lines” – perhaps you can elaborate on what you are suggesting?

Ryan April 22, 2015 - 10:36 am

I mean exactly that.

The V formerly ran from its terminal at Second Avenue (tail tracks still exist, we can still turn trains there) up the Sixth Avenue local tracks through Midtown and then out onto the Queens Boulevard local tracks. The M formerly was a service of the Nassau Street line and terminated for the most part at Chambers/Broad Street, as the JZ trains do today.

In late 2009 the MTA was forced to start slashing service in order to close a budget gap. It was determined that combining the M and the V would help M riders because some 22,000 of the weekday boardings were determined to be transferring to other services in order to reach Midtown – versus some 17,000 of the weekday boardings that remained on to go to Lower Manhattan. (In other words, a 56/44 split.)

Since the M designation had been around longer than the V designation, the new combined service kept the letter M. V service was officially discontinued on June 25, 2010 and the M promptly began running its new (and current) routing.

Undoing this service cut is straightforward: revert M trains to running along the JZ route to the terminal at Chambers or Broad Street (as appropriate), and restore V train service between 2 Av and Queens Boulevard. This disconnects the BMT Jamaica line from the IND Sixth Avenue and the IND Queens Boulevard, permitting more consistency and perhaps marginal service increases on the recombined JMZ, while not harming service frequency on either Sixth Avenue or Queens Boulevard as the M service those lines have today would merely revert to being lettered V and otherwise would not change.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 1:32 pm

I would argue that the M/V combo isn’t the service that should be de-interlined first. Although this would allow all 30+tph of the QBL Express to run via 6 Av, there is an inconvenient transfer at Delancey St that would be inconvenient, and might be overburdened.

I would suggest starting with the IRT, namely in Brooklyn. If two switches (one in each direction) were installed, the Lexington service could entirely run to Utica / New Lots and the 7 Av trains could cover Flatbush. Passengers would simply be able to walk across the platform if they needed to transfer. I’ve done the math before and found that this would, with a slight increase in tph, actually save the average passenger time.

For immediate implementations, that do not even require the installation of a switch, I would vote for detangling CPW. It’s as simple as can be – no new construction, cross-platform transfers at both ends. The A/C would be the 8 Av expresses to 207 and 168, and the B/D would run via local to the Bronx.

If MTA ever decides to de-interline the system on a wider scale, more interesting opportunities appear, such as the Fulton Express service running via 8 Av Exp and 53 St to 71 Av. But that’s a discussion for another time.

To put it concisely, you’re absolutely right about de-interlining the services. Why MTA doesn’t do this I have no idea. They could even spin it as a year-long “study” if needed to quiet the politicians.

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 1:52 pm

I like that idea for the AC/BD disentanglement. But you still have to serve 155 and 163 streets on the A/B line. Right now if i take the C from 163 to 96th, which I do every Saturday to play softball, it’s a straight shot.

The B/D run to the Bronx so they branch off at 125th and at 145th are already a floor apart.

My suggestion: the C runs as the ONLY local from 168 to 59th, the A, B and D run express north of 59th Street.

But the real key is increasing TPH on the C line- double it (there’s definitely enough headroom 24/7) and you will soon see a lot of Upper West Side/Harlem/Washington heights residents switching from the overcrowded, narrow-guage 1, to the wider, less-crowded C.

The other tricks are welding more rail, buying new rail cars that can go faster, and generally reducing the massive featherbedding at the MTA.

Ryan April 22, 2015 - 3:17 pm

The bigger problems with disentanglement for the ABCD is that the E exists – you can’t turn trains at 50 (so there’s no way to simply have a new service between Midtown and, let’s say Inwood) and south of 50 the E has taken all of the available headroom that might have otherwise been used for more C trains.

Of course, the CE local service pattern creates a logistical nightmare at Canal Street on a routine basis, so if you’re already disentangling to keep the AC together uptown, you might as well go whole hog and keep the C on the express tracks the whole way down from 145 St. That leaves the local tracks empty for some new local service pattern between Inwood and WTC.

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 3:26 pm

My biggest beef is with the infrequency of the C – and the A late nights and weekends. How do we resolve that?

adirondacker12800 April 22, 2015 - 3:29 pm

Pay higher fares.

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 3:37 pm

How about fewer MTA supervisors and more train drivers; how about MTA construction and work rules that mirror the real world. Enough featherbedding. How about the MTA monetizing the stations and how about the City forcing landlords who benefit from the subway to pay for improvements instead of giving them billion-dollar tax breaks (hello Goldman Sachs liberty bonds)

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:19 pm

Precisely – the A and C will share the express tracks from 145 St all the way to Hoyt in Brooklyn. That way, once trains merge, they stay together through the entire CBD.

And adding a new local service on 8 Av would defeat the entire point! There’s no need to have anything more than the A/C express and the B/D or E local. New services merging and diverging all over the place just cause delays.

adirondacker12800 April 22, 2015 - 6:46 pm

It’s just awful the way the MTA runs trains so that people can get to where they want to go instead of running as many trains as possible. Just think, if they got rid of passengers altogether they would be able to run a very precise schedule. No one holding the doors. No one getting sick in the middle of rush hour. No crime!. But they would be able to run lots of trains!

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 7:21 pm

My comment below (http://bkabak.wpengine.com/201.....nt-1217164) sums up my position on this. Basically there’s a tradeoff between perfectly personalized service (aka driving) and capacity. As demand rises, MTA must make sacrifices to be able to transport all these people.

adirondacker12800 April 22, 2015 - 7:40 pm

and widen the platforms at the places where half the train gets up and transfers because they no longer have a one seat ride.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 8:19 pm

These aren’t random stops on the Brighton local. These are full-fledged cross-platform transfer stations. There’s more than enough space there to fit the people who need to transfer.

Grand Central, on the other hand, probably needs to get the Bowling Green treatment with two new side platforms. That would cost an insane amount of money, but so would basically any other remedy to the capacity crush in that part of town.

adirondacker12800 April 23, 2015 - 2:17 am

Whether not the Brighton line has island platforms at the express stations isn’t very helpful if you are on an IRT line.

Brooklynite April 23, 2015 - 3:01 pm

The IRT platforms at Franklin Avenue are 10 feet, 7 inches wide. That is more than sufficient.

adirondacker12800 April 23, 2015 - 4:01 pm

no they aren’t. The only people changing trains there now are the people from two stops on the 3 that want to change to the 4 or the 5. Everbody else got on a train that is going to where they want to go.

Brooklynite April 23, 2015 - 5:52 pm

10 feet 7 inches is more than sufficient for transfers between services that operate every two to three minutes. There are much narrower platforms over the system that work just fine.

If you’re not referring to platform width, then I misunderstood your use of pronouns.

adirondacker12800 April 23, 2015 - 6:13 pm

Not when half the people on the train get up to change trains because you screwed over the service they used to have when they could just get on the train they want at the station where they entered the system.

Brooklynite April 23, 2015 - 6:25 pm

I basically said everything I had to say about that in the post I linked previously. There’s a tradeoff between capacity and flexibility, and in this case MTA should choose capacity.

Explain to me this: why don’t some F trains run via Cranberry? Or A/C via Rutgers? Or 1s or 6s express in Manhattan? Or 2/3/4/5s local? Because there ISN’T ENOUGH CAPACITY to accommodate the constant switching this would require. Same thing in Brooklyn: Rogers Junction is over capacity and it’s only going to get worse as people pile on to the system.

What’s your solution to improving service in the area? Please don’t tell me it’s spending billions of dollars to rebuild the junction or extend the line someplace. TA already has funding issues.

adirondacker12800 April 23, 2015 - 8:43 pm

…those pesky pesky passengers.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:15 pm

The A, B, and D will not all fit on one track north of 59th Street. Hence what I suggested, with the A/C being the expresses (C stopping at 155 and 163) and the B/D locals. Anyone who needs to switch trunk lines or is desperate for the three minutes the express saves can transfer at 125 or 59th, directly across the platform.

About the C’s frequency, yes, it is obviously abysmal. Every 10 minutes during rush hour is a joke for a subway system. However, blindly increasing service will not fix the problem: if with present service patterns C service is increased it will delay the A and a bit of the E, which will have knock-on effects to Queens Blvd, among other places. That ripple effect of delays must be minimized before service is increased (in the peak hours at least).

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 6:21 pm

Thanks. How about running the E as an express south of 7th Avenue – when it joins the 8th Avenue line, the D and B have already branched off to 6th Avenue. Then the C frequency could be increased, and it could help alleviate critical rush-hour crowding on the 1.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 7:19 pm

The problem with that is that the E would need to cross over to terminate at WTC.

A while back I made a map where almost the entire system is de-interlined. Here’s the link. http://imgur.com/hPIMM7w

(TLDR Washington Hts gets an express to the East Side and local to the West Side; Jerome/GC gets the opposite.)

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 7:36 pm

Brooklynite – I love your map. But the reason for the 3 train, at least in part, is to pickup the excess Broadway express train passengers in Manhattan, and not run the train all the way up to the Bronx. Would be good to keep the 3 train in some form. Did you ever ask the MTA to comment on it?

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 8:01 pm

Yes, I’ve realized since I made that map that 149th/GC would be severely overburdened by passengers seeking Lexington, so I would still run a Dyre-Lex service. The tph sacrificed from the 7 Av service would run instead to 148.

No, I haven’t done so. I don’t have any reason to believe that they would actually seriously consider anything I have to say.

Eric April 23, 2015 - 3:07 am

Great map, I’ve wondered about this myself before.

“I’ve realized since I made that map that 149th/GC would be severely overburdened by passengers seeking Lexington” – if SAS is extended to Third Avenue in the Bronx, perhaps it could take over the Dyre Ave branch?

Brooklynite April 23, 2015 - 2:58 pm

I’ve considered the SAS running nonstop along the Bruckner to 180th and then taking over Dyre, which would allow Lex-WPR service to be eliminated entirely as SAS would be providing access to the east side. What are the chances that SAS even makes it out of Manhattan though?

Ryan April 24, 2015 - 7:14 am

Based on the current design of 2 Av that features no express tracks and a left turn at 125 St? Zero.

Phase 2 is more or less guaranteed to keep 2 Av from ever being extended into the Bronx. Either provision for adding express tracks later or move the Phase 2 terminal from Lexington back to 2 Av.

AMHess April 28, 2015 - 12:29 pm

Very interesting, thanks. This would likely necessitate improvement to some transfer stations (149 St-Grand Concourse comes to mind). The 2 Av/B’way service makes more sense than the proposals I’ve seen to have Broadway expresses run via the tunnel and locals run via the bridge, which would be a switching disaster. A problem that I do foresee with your Astoria-Bay Ridge service is that there are no yards at either end of the route, which is why the current N/R routes were implemented decades ago.

Ryan April 22, 2015 - 2:56 pm

Sure, there are other obvious places where you could implement disentanglement. There are, in fairness, also places were entanglement is always going to be required, mostly where the infrastructure is physically conjoined (see: Queens Boulevard).

But the real reason why the M/V disentanglement is the lowest hanging fruit – in addition to the fact that it’s a zero-construction change – is because its entanglement is so recent, only just now coming up on five years old, and directly tied to a reduction in service.

People still remember the Nassau Street M service pattern, and the V. This isn’t a radical new idea or a departure from a decades-old service pattern – it’s hitting the undo button on a five year old mistake. If we can’t find the political capital to manage that – worse yet, if people are so damn attached to the current M service pattern after just five years of it – what hope do we have of disentangling the decades-old service pattern of one local and one express allocated to each of 6 and 8 Avs along CPW, a service pattern that’s been around since before I was born? How are we going to build the political capital needed to support constructing new switches to create more transferring and less possible single-seat rides?

The heart of the issue is that for decades, the subway has been operated as a heavily interlined and entangled service. It took me a while to get past my own internalized preference for the over-interlining of the system in order to see the merits of disentanglement – I’ve been on the other side of this argument before. Opening up capacity by disentangling the system wherever we can is, unfortunately, a “radical” concept.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:33 pm

Obviously it would improve service for the orange M to be re-separated. However, ultimately, the subway is run for the passengers. Trains should go where the customers want them to go, unless there is a good reason otherwise. (The logical conclusion of this argument: everybody drives, but the “good reason” is that there will never be enough highway capacity. That’s why we have a subway at all.)

Sure, with the next pick (time when workers choose which jobs they will do) the MTA can bring back the M to Broad and the V. Setting aside the lack of cars for such a service, the figures you cite demonstrate that this will not best serve M line customers in northern Brooklyn. What “good reason” is there for reducing the service’s benefit to customers. The Willy B and the 6 Av line are not at capacity, nor is that anticipated any time soon.

The reason I am proposing other areas to de-interline first is because that is where the capacity crunches are. Rogers Junction in Brooklyn is the chokepoint for all four IRT expresses. Installing those two measly switches would improve throughput along the entire A Division. Yes, cancelling New Lots-7 Av and Flatbush-Lex service would be an inconvenience, but the “good reason” is that demand outstrips supply and will continue to do so.

Basically, my point is that yes, de-interlining is a necessary goal for the future of the subway. However, we should focus our attention on those places where there will actually be a measurable improvement in service.

Subutay Musluoglu April 22, 2015 - 2:10 pm

Ok, I get that, because as someone who lives just off Queens Boulevard and uses the QBL daily, I would love nothing more than getting back full length 10-car V trains, as opposed to 8-car M trains. However, I would think it’s less of an issue of “angering” Middle Village residents and more of a budgetary move, because it was saving operational costs that drove the axing of the V in the first place. I don’t see NYCT going back to the previous arrangement. NYCT is very stingy with increasing service (based mostly on loading guidelines, which is an incomplete picture), and there are plenty of places that are better candidates for increasing service before we see what you are proposing. Personally, I would love to see the G come back to Queens weeknights and weekends (as was promised by Gov Pataki as a tradeoff for the loss of the G full-time in favor of the V back in 2002). I fail to understand NYCT’s reasoning with insisting on two express services during the weekend days with headways as short as 6 – 10 minutes, while local passengers wait as much as 20 minutes for an R (and not just at night).

BruceNY April 22, 2015 - 2:33 pm

The M-train has been heralded as a huge success drawing many passengers in Williamsburg away from the overburdened L. I don’t think there’s any remote chance the MTA is going to reroute the M back to Chambers.
But I do agree that only one Local on the QBL is ridiculous–why can’t the M run on weekends too?

Speaking of the R, I’ve wondered about people in Brooklyn along 4th Avenue, with those long waits. Could the MTA restore additional service along this route by extending the J during rush hours at least (years ago the M ran to Bay Pkwy). Is there any demand for this?

Christopher April 22, 2015 - 2:47 pm

the R was so much faster and with less unexplained waits when the tubes were being fixed and fortified. I’m not sure running the train all the way through lower Manhattan improves anything for anyone.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:46 pm

This is exactly the point I was making above. When the R was split in two sections, the Brooklyn half did not share tracks with any other service. Because the trains were no longer “delayed due to train traffic ahead,” service was much smoother. Now why can’t we apply this principle to other locations on the system?

The issue with the M going to Queens on weekends, and the R’s reliability on weekends, has to do with flagging. Every time there are workers on a track, nearby trains have to crawl by at 5 miles per hour. (Putting up a barrier between tracks is impossible because… well I don’t know why. Basically union rules.) As you probably realize, this reduces capacity significantly. Scheduled headways are lengthened (from 10 to 12 minutes on the E, F, R) to allow for this to occur, and general MTA incompetence fills in the rest of the gap. That, in a nutshell, is the explanation.

About the R during rush hour, there’s no need to add another service. It is scheduled to run every ~8 minutes, and as far as I know if this ran on schedule it would be enough to transport everybody. The problem is basically that MTA is incapable of running 22 N/Q/R trains per hour through the 60th St tunnel to Queens. It’s pathetic to be honest.

Alain April 22, 2015 - 9:16 am

So…at least it’s not technologically impossible. That’s a start. If ridership continues to grow like this, more capacity will eventually become a necessity. In order to better align demand and capacity, some disentanglement will be necessary.

Brandon April 22, 2015 - 9:18 am

Cycling overall (not just Citibike) could put a dent in peak demand nearest to the CBD. However this is a moot point as the city lacks the commitment to a low-stress cycling network that would actually grow ridership to even the levels seen in Minneapolis or London much less a proper cycling city. Too bad because it would be an order of magnitude cheaper than any other option.

There is still a lot that can be done for capacity without building new lines, which we can’t afford enough of anyway. We are better off using the capital money (assuming funding comes through) to improve signalling, keep the tracks in good shape, and make ped capacity improvements to existing stations.

An example of a high return investment in this realm would be a short tunnel and tail tracks for the L train that would allow the CBTC investment already made to make a difference. As of today that’s wasted money as far as I can tell, at least in terms of improving headway.

Articulated trains are a no-brainer even to many US agencies at this point, does anyone know why NYCT is so stuck on their ridiculously old fashioned trains? Only mainline agencies stuck with FRA regs manage to do worse.

Bolwerk April 22, 2015 - 3:39 pm

Bleh. I bet you have the relationship backward. The expected result of more cycling is probably more subway users, not people giving up the subway for the chance to cycle.

Doctor Casino April 22, 2015 - 5:54 pm

I expect this would vary case-by-case. Speaking totally anecdotally and subjectively, my sense is that among people I know, what stops them from riding bikes for short-haul trips isn’t so much lack of access to bicycles or storage for them (which city bicycles can in theory address), but the intimidation factor of the streets themselves. Where NYC has implemented thoughtful and dedicated bike infrastructure, it’s excellent and well-used – again speaking IME. It might be interesting to take each overcrowded line/segment on its own and see which ones have potentially bike-friendly demographics as well as viable options on the map for a dedicated, non-terrifying ROW. The Bedford L is an interesting case, depending which direction that traffic is going… cross-river bike trips are always going to be an extreme minority, but if some of those trips represent people commuting from Bushwick or Ridgewood to work in frou-frou restaurants and retail, who’s to say how many would switch to biking if there were a really safe, appealing bike option?

Topography might also be a factor of course, and the real issues would be political fights for which the constituencies are going to be hard to assemble. If it’s a money issue though, how does implementing bike infrastructure stack up to the price of additional rolling stock or new signalling systems?

To be clear, I think Ben has the numbers right in this post, and bikes aren’t a panacea. But there’s no reason they can’t be part of the picture.

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 6:01 pm

The only viable solution begins with the MTA increasing efficiency and ending featherbedding. That frees up enormous resources to operate more trains and buses. It goes on to simple BRT fixes. Start with more bus lanes and SBS service, switch to oyster cards from swipe cards to speed entry, reconfigure buses so seats line the walls and more people can enter, and get rid of silly slow articulated buses. Then back to the subways. Enough dallying. Wire them properly and increase the number of trains per hour. Weld the rails, reconfigure service on some lines – add express trains back to to Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay, add more entrances at key crowded platform stations. But above all, stop treating every change like an impossible challenge that will take a quarter century!

Bolwerk April 22, 2015 - 6:41 pm

BRT probably isn’t even adequate to meet NYC’s surface transit woes, much less the issues facing heavy rail transit.

All that other stuff is great, but I’m still in the “we need more lines” camp. But they only need to end in Manhattan.

Alon Levy April 23, 2015 - 3:18 am

You forgot off-board fare collection. With that in place, the artics aren’t any slower than the shorter buses.

Bolwerk April 22, 2015 - 6:19 pm

I’m all for them being part of the picture, but the case is NYC, not discrete cyclists. Any one person can switch, quit the city, opt to telecommute, select a bus over a train, go back to San Diego with all the other cold weather-h8ing douchebags, or whatever else.

But to do the things you’re talking about, make cycling safer/better/more fun,* you de facto create a transit-friendly environment and, for every person you you “switch” to cycling you probably encourage some factor of additional transit users too. Cycling is a good thing, but it’s also not a solution to this transit issue.

* things I think should be done, BTW!

Doctor Casino April 22, 2015 - 7:03 pm

You’re probably right in many ways, but I’m not sure I agree that all bike infrastructure improvements simultaneously drive more transit use. Dedicated, grade-separated bike lanes make it easier to bike from A to B, but the effects on transit strike me as hazier and more speculative.

It may be that they make a neighborhood more attractive to people inclined to bike, who may also be people not inclined to drive, so yeah, they probably add some transit trips. But capacity issues are really about commuting/rush-hour, right?

Again, seeing bikes as a small piece of a much bigger picture. I can’t imagine them solving all or most of the problem on any single line… and given the climate, there’s no hope of them being a year-round solution to crowding (as has been raised in this space as one of many convincing objections to ferry schemes). But they could be among several solutions that add up to *something* meaningful.

Disclaimer: I have been an avid bicycle-commuter in other cities in which I’ve lived, but in NYC it is very hard to make it a daily habit, even for short-haul trips. In part that just speaks to how GOOD the transit system is, but it is also about how crummy, exhausting and dangerous the above-ground experience is.

Bolwerk April 23, 2015 - 12:29 pm

The other thing is: very few people are 100% dependent on one mode, least of all bikes. The people who cycle to shop likely use transit to work.

I don’t see why it should be hazy or speculative, unless you disagree that a bike-friendly environment also needs to be somewhat ped-friendly and somewhat car-limiting (not no cars, but few).

Unless you know of a way to filter out cyclists who are interested in using transit, I don’t see a way around this problem.

JJJJ April 22, 2015 - 10:26 am

Is it actually congested?

I mean, we know its more crowded than 5, 10 years ago, sure, but how about compared to other systems?

Also, you know what increases capacity? More trains. Best practice systems run trains every 90 seconds. NYC, obviously, is not a best practice system.

D in Bushwick April 22, 2015 - 11:18 am

You hit the spike on the head.
Building new subway lines (after WWII) continues to prove to be a HUGE waste of time and money.
Seriously, don’t bother building anymore new subway lines, just add more trains. People live where transit is accessible and high rent has always been a NYC problem.

Phantom April 22, 2015 - 1:43 pm

The 4 and 5 are seriously over-crowded, and sometimes the 7 and F

I don’t personally see any terrible problem elsewhere.

I will re-state the comment that they should restore straps to subway cars, which would encourage people to stand in parts of the car that they now avoid, as they are too far away from a pole.

BruceNY April 22, 2015 - 2:27 pm

Yes, bring back the strap! Also, doors on the left and right sides should not line up (like on some IRT rolling stock). People refuse to move from the areas by the doors towards areas by the seats, but off-setting the doors makes the crowds disperse a bit more.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:55 pm

That is exactly it. Systems around the world run 40tph (or more) using the same basic block signalling that we have.

What they should do is have one of the numerous VPs they have go on a tour and learn from systems abroad. For instance, the VP of “21st Century Service Delivery” they just hired could be renamed to the VP of “Competent Service Delivery.”

There’s a lot of unrealized potential. Our infrastructure is incredible, but we’re wasting it.

Chris C April 22, 2015 - 7:42 pm

Which systems operate 40 tph?

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 8:04 pm

Moscow, for one. I’m sure there are others, maybe someone can chime in here.

JJJJ April 23, 2015 - 1:19 pm

I wouldnt be surprised if here in the US, the automated airport systems do as well

paulb April 22, 2015 - 11:29 am

Is there any voting constituency for subway service? It’s never seemed so, to me. Politicians do not behave as if one existed. It’s bizarre, but I think there’s more people pulling strings for me as a bike commuter.

Tower18 April 22, 2015 - 12:01 pm

By and large, with regard to transit riders, people fall into 3 camps as politicians see them:

1: “I am a lifelong New Yorker and will be here at least until I retire. I take transit every day because I have to, but I’d really rather not. I am upwardly mobile in my career and as soon as I can, I will achieve the American Dream of owning a car, and then I will never take transit again”
2: “I am a lifelong New Yorker and will be here at least until I retire. I am low or working class, I take transit every day because I have no choice, and I likely never will”
3: “I am relatively new to this city, or transient. I may be a transit user by choice.”

#1 encompasses the vast majority of targeted voters. #2 won’t donate. #3 doesn’t vote.

Hence our policies.

Pete in the Heights April 22, 2015 - 1:56 pm

Also, the fact that the elected officials with control over the MTA are not elected by NYC voters (the NY and CT governors) makes it all nuts. Give the City back control over NYCT. Tax upstate for the economic benefit, or better yet secede and former Greater New York. or Gotham State.

Five boroughs, Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk have all the cash. Screw the rest of New York State.

Nathanael April 22, 2015 - 6:27 pm

Please don’t screw us in upstate proper; we produce a lot of your food. For what it’s worth, Albany government is typically completely horrible to most of upstate as well. We had to do a lot of work just to prevent them from poisoning our water with fracking.

Upstate used to be tied to NYC by canals, and then by railroads. These were deliberate political decisions, akin to Canada’s construction of a transcontinental railroad, done to prevent the country from breaking apart. The NYC Thruway is a very poor replacement and does not serve the political purpose of tying the state together.

I say, bring back the railroads upstate so that upstaters will visit NYC regularly and easily (which is extremely difficult to do by car, and is also a big pain by air). This will also bring visitors from NYC to upstate. And then upstate voters will understand why NYC needs money for its local city railroads…

adirondacker12800 April 22, 2015 - 7:11 pm

Real Muricans(tm) drive everywhere. If they make it easy to get from New York City those awful Noo Yawkers will start arriving. And spending money. It will be awful.

Nathanael April 22, 2015 - 6:23 pm

“Is there any voting constituency for subway service?”

There sure was in the 1900s when the IRT was built, and later when Mayor Hylan built the IND.

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 6:58 pm

The best thing I can think of would be voting for Joe Lhota two years ago, and even that’s a stretch. The problem is that the politicians’ promises and realities diverge faster than the 3 and 5 in Brooklyn. Bloomberg promised the F express in Brooklyn when he ran in 2009… has that happened?

Rob April 22, 2015 - 3:07 pm

Some perspective –

While 1.75 billion is a lot, before your day, there used to be more — such as over 2 billion in 1930. While there were more els then, there was NO IND at all. Try picturing that!

You can see where the big bucks go — such as to Fulton St. for its incremental 5000 riders.

I also wonder how much of the issue is, as others have alluded to, is that they COULD run more trains in many places, particularly off peak, if they wanted to. But the riders voted for who they did, and got who they got, who don’t want to spend any more of the city’s resources on the system, but choose to spend it elsewhere.

PS — doesn’t the city till OWN the system?

Theorem Ox April 23, 2015 - 12:08 am

Good point on the NYC transportation system serving even more people in the decades past. However, it’s not quite the same apple to apple comparison that you might think it is in many ways.

Considering the 1930 timepoint you brought up, let’s start at the public transportation viewpoint: Yes, the IND subway system was not open for service. But, there were elevated rail lines (notably in Manhattan and Brooklyn) and extensive streetcar networks (in almost every borough) in addition to bus service (which sometimes duplicated/paralleled those routes). Many of them did not survive through the decade and almost none remained intact not long after World War II.

The IND subway system and bus routes covers some of those routes, but it never was a 1:1 replacement.

The LIRR, New York Central RR (Metro-North) and other regional railroads now largely forgotten to history had more stations within city limits, offered more service and had fare structures that were not as punitive (as it is today) to city riders.

From a population and settlement perspective: The city population was much more concentrated and denser – more towards the lower half of Manhattan island in the 1930’s. Other than Staten Island, I think there were still neighborhoods in the near parts of the Bronx, near Queens and outside historic Brooklyn/Williamsburg city limits that were considered bona fide suburbs in 1930 (and most locations that we consider suburban and exurb today were outright rural then). Most people who commuted to work were probably headed to Manhattan.

Looking at today, I tend to believe that our transportation system is moving more people with less (in almost every aspect of that term) and stretched thinner than ever with the continuous dispersal of the population and commuting patterns that defies historical precedence. The City might own the subway and bus system, but they’ve leased it out to the state. The way the lease is structured, it’s not going to be easy to terminate it…

Larry Greenfield April 22, 2015 - 5:01 pm

“While drilling down on the 2014 ridership numbers earlier this week, I couldn’t get past the sheer volume of people using the subway each day. It’s hard to conceptualize 5.6 million every day, let alone the 29 weekdays last year with over 6 million riders, and that makes it very hard to figure out a solution for the MTA’s capacity woes that doesn’t involve multi-billion-dollar, decades-long construction efforts”

Yes, subway ridership is up but you are confusing it with people/riders. They are not the same.

Benjamin Kabak April 22, 2015 - 5:06 pm

No, I am not.

Nathanael April 22, 2015 - 6:22 pm

Big picture here…

…the reason the subway isn’t funded properly is that the state government, and to a lesser extent the city government, is run by people who don’t ride trains and therefore don’t perceive their importance.

Solution for the state government: better trains to Albany!

Solution for the city government: I’m not sure. It’s actually weird that *anyone* in the city government doesn’t ride trains.

Theorem Ox April 23, 2015 - 12:40 am

As much as the media likes to portray the people working or leading city government as the privileged class (true to an extent), I can tell you (from experience working in the public sector) that it’s a multi tier system. The tiers are not structured logically and is absolutely unequal when it comes to the power-responsibility ratio.

Those that I call the “working stiffs” are the most likely to use public transportation and experience the brunt of any cuts and neglect. They’re usually work on the front lines (generally not in a law enforcement capacity). You’ll probably recognize them as careless/jaded/tired people that will make you swear under your breath after you deal with them and sometimes as people who help bring up your faith in humanity. They tend to be overworked, sometimes underpaid and have the lowest say in the bureaucracy.

From there, you progressively move up the public sector tiers. The lower end such as the “praetorian guard” (think law enforcement types) and the higher end, such as the “nomenklatura” (think municipal cabinet members and unelected power mongers). The higher up you go, you can bet that public transportation use drops off precipitously. They will drive or get driven by a security detail – anything to avoid associating with the population at large. You tend to see more individuals who are drowning in their own hubris and some openly disdain the people that are supporting them. The tail wags the dog. Public transportation will not get the support it warrants unless by accident or coincidence.

Spendmor Wastemor April 23, 2015 - 1:55 am

^^^^ Well said.

Michael April 22, 2015 - 8:03 pm

It is utterly amazing that some folks here think that “re-arranging the deck chairs” will actually improve the transit situation!

a) Fiddling around with the M train (bringing back the much maligned V-train as one suggestion), or fiddling with the A/B/C/D trains, will create nothing greater than a microscopic dent in the overall transit problem.

b) The city streets have to be shared with cars, buses, trucks and other vehicles – some of the idealist designs for “true Bus Rapid Transit” are just not going to work on city streets conceived of by an 1811 Street Grid plan. When today practically every square inch of street space is found tooth and nail over – no group will ever be totally satisfied with the resulting compromises.

c) Programs like Citi-Bike might be useful for some types of local trips and riders, but Citi-Bike is not very useful for the longer distance trips that many folks have to make among and between the various boroughs of the city.

d) The “various wars” between bike riders and motor vehicles; taxi drivers and Uber drivers; the various camps for tolling or not tolling the East River bridges; the battles between those who want to eliminate every car – parking spot – parking garage & motor vehicle on the streets of Manhattan has to JUST STOP!

e) Then there are folks to bemoan the “not quite perfect solutions” because they’d rather have the perfect solutions! Don’t let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good enough!”

When there are proposals for _____________ (fill in the blank) there are rebuttals that the proposed improvement won’t serve the many, that it is better not build anything, that it is better to build expensive subways, complainants about those expensive subways, that the new thing will take up parking lanes, that they have flashing lights, that light-rail would be SO MUCH BETTER, and that any other solution yet to be named would be even better!

Not every transportation proposal will be perfect or solve every problem, it is indeed possible that a number of implemented ideas could help solve a variety of problems. There are workable ideas involving new technology, existing or “older” technology. The creation of workable ideas and their implementation is the goal!

f) Some propose congestion pricing – often implying by their rhetoric that they really just want to wall off Manhattan from everyone except rich Manhattan residents! It often seems that little attention paid to the building of the “Information Gathering Complex” – the efforts to track the movement of every car in the city. Exactly how congestion pricing benefits the majority that take public transit often is not explored! There are folks now actively trying to eliminate every parking space and parking garage in Manhattan! As if the cars just fold up into brief-cases like on the Jetson’s cartoon!

g) While Manhattan has transportation problems, so do the FOUR other boroughs of this city! There are places in NYC where it is simply difficult and definitely time consuming to get there and around by public transit. These places often requires a car for daily transit. This is the daily reality for many NYC residents that gets little attention.

h) There are the difficulties of traveling between Manhattan and New Jersey. A single century-old two-track tunnel connects NJ-Transit, Amtrak and commuter rail to Penn Station. There are capacity and other problems at the NY/NJ Port Authority bus terminals. Transportation problems and concerns do not stop at the water’s edge. Increasing the number of transportation connections between NYC and NJ, and within NYC is a good thing.

i) Soon the Staten Island Ferry will be running on at least a 30-minute schedule at all hours – a schedule not seen since the mid-1970’s under Mayor Koch! Poor transit on Staten Island made traveling about difficult – spurring those who can to get and keep a car, with related land use decisions to build upon a cycle of poor transit.

My point is that bad transit decisions and policies create their own effects and realities still seen decades later. Bad transit decisions = higher amounts of car usage creating less political support for public transit! When there’s less political support for transit – public transit gets to be seen as “in the way” of folks who need to get where they are going.

j) Are there good arguments for re-crafting the entire highway, tunnel and bridge tolls situation in the NYC-NJ region? YES! The “car lobby” is real, and so are their interests – pretending that they can just be “walled off” and disregarded creates many bad transportation decisions, suggestions and policies.

k) Too many folks seem to disparage transit improvement ideas if it does not involve the building of more subway tracks!

The idea of using long closed railroad tracks for any other kind of transit usage or other non-transit usage often gets denounced as a kind of heresy to the “transit gods”. The champions of restoring service on those long closed tracks often do not take into account that the needs and land-uses that made those services once work-able are probably not present these days. Not every long closed route is suitable for restoration as transit today, while some routes might be suitable. Transit (although often fixed in place) has to change with the times, and the needs of the people/riders/users. Not everything remains “in place” when transit lines close down and 50 or more years later when somebody proposes to “revive” that old line.

l) Can we get over it already – building transit is expensive in an expensive city like New York! Almost every discussion of any transportation or public works improvement bemoans the money spent! It almost sounds like some folks wish that there was a bargin basement discount department store like Walmart for transit or public works improvements! It does not exist!

Build & Buy Articulated Subway Cars = Its gonna cost money!
Build A Bus Rapid Transit Network = Its gonna cost money!
Build A Light Rail Line = Its gonna cost money!
Build An Air-Train to La Guardia Airport = Its gonna cost money!
Build A New Rail Tunnel to New Jersey = Its gonna cost money
Do Nothing = Its Gonna Cost Money!

m) Transportation and land use (an old planner’s term) ARE linked, and influence each other. Bad decisions and policies in one realm have consequences in the other realm. These realms effect each other both in the past, present and future.

n) Efforts should be made to extend the tax authority of the MTA to all of the counties it services to get more secure funding, becoming less dependent upon rider fares and tolls. Efforts by the MTA to spread the message that its services benefit more than just transit riders should increase. The idea that the subways only benefits the “city” (meaning Manhattan) is not a good idea to spread, it reduces support for the MTA as a whole. Reductions in political support for the MTA and transit is not good overall.

The Bottom Line:

Stop thinking that the increases in ridership on the subways is some kind of isolated phenomena, that is un-related to the larger city/region of New York City/New Jersey.

Stop thinking that there is a magic bullet perfect solution to every transportation problem. There isn’t.

Stop thinking that transportation and public works improvements cost nothing, and stop being “surprised” that big bucks are involved.

Stop thinking that making transit more difficult to use is going to solve problems. Bad policies and decisions often come back to bite hard in the future.

Stop thinking that Manhattan is the only destination for work, shopping, education and other trips in the region. Improved transportation benefits the whole region for everyone.

Start thinking that time is non-renewable resource, that wasting it in travel time an environmental issue.

Start thinking that there are a number of different, competing, over-lapping and various travel needs that people have, and that the “transportation system” as whole has to meet.

Start thinking and understanding that bad transit decisions and policies lead to higher amounts of car usage that reduce the political support for public transit! Reducing political support for transit results in reductions of resources for transit and leads to calls for service cuts, and greater crowded conditions which lead to reductions in maintenance. A catch-22 cycle gets created which becomes difficult to escape from.

Why is transit ridership increasing?

The employment, housing conditions and neighborhoods within NYC have changed over the decades. The ability and necessity to use, own, store and operate a car have changed over the decades. The subways and their fares have improved in recent decades/years – plus there are fewer timely alternatives.

Should “we define” increasing ridership on the subways as a problem?

I truly hope not. That would be a very bad decision!

Just my thoughts,

Brooklynite April 22, 2015 - 8:14 pm

I beg to differ with some of the conclusions you draw. NYC Subway has lots of space for service expansion without actually building new subway lines. Just because it is currently not used efficiently does not mean that it cannot be. This, coupled with the fact that capital construction is ten (10) times more expensive here than it is elsewhere in the world, should shift the city’s expansion priorities. Fortunately, we are far from the point where there is TRULY no capacity to spare. Let’s take advantage of that.

In one sentence you dismiss my (and other peoples’) arguments that untangling services will improve capacity. A few paragraphs later you say that there are folks to bemoan the “not quite perfect solutions” because they’d rather have the perfect solutions! Don’t let the “perfect” become the enemy of the “good enough!”. So which is it? Should we be trying to maximize what we have and reduce waste? Or should we just blindly build more lines at absurd cost?

(I’m not saying we shouldn’t be building new lines. We definitely should. That’s far from the only thing we should be doing though.)


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