Were I an excitable tabloid headline writer, I would have put something shocking atop this post — perhaps along the lines of “MTA report recommends against running trains underneath Second Avenue.” You see, as part of the presentation to the MTA Board today regarding the revival of the W train, New York City Transit’s subway ops team has prepared a list of alternatives should the Board, for some reason, vote against the W train, and one of those options is the so-called “no-build” analysis. When MTA Capital Construction hands over control of the Second Ave. Subway to New York City Transit, New York City Transit could “do nothing,” the report notes, continuing somewhat tongue-in-cheek:
Not implementing service on Second Avenue would not allow riders to benefit from the significant capital investments made to construct the Second Avenue Subway line.
Of course, the MTA isn’t going to not implement subway service on Second Avenue when Phase 1 opens over the next few months, but the inclusion of the “do nothing” option certainly highlights the absurdity of alternatives analysis. While one of the other alternatives — simply increase N train capacity to Astoria (and, by extension, along the Sea Beach and 4th Ave. lines in Brooklyn) — had its proponents during the April public hearings on the W train, the MTA noted this option isn’t feasible due to the availability of rolling stock on hand and track capacity concerns. Some N train service would have to terminate at Whitehall St. anyway, and having the same route designation for two different services would create passenger confusion.
So ultimately, as the MTA Board’s Transit Committee voted this morning, New York City Transit will bring back the W train in November, the next pick for its workers prior to the expected revenue start date for the Second Ave. Subway. The W will run local from Whitehall St. to Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard as a weekday-only service operating from around 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., thus maintaining current service between Queens and Manhattan. The Q will no longer stop at 49th St., eliminating an unnecessary choke-point between 34th St.-Herald Square and 57th St., and when the Second Ave. Subway opens, the Q will run from 57th St. to 63rd St./Lexington, 72nd St., and 86th St. before terminating at 96th St. and 2nd Ave. The Upper East Side won’t know what hit them.
But there’s a rub, and in a way, I’ve buried the lede again. The Upper East Side may be thrilled with the subway, but they’ll be less thrilled with the headways on the Second Ave. Subway which threaten to be the longest in the city for peak-hour service. During the public hearings on the W train proposal, one person asked the MTA to disclose headways on the Second Ave. Subway, and the answer is in these tables:
As you can see, the MTA isn’t really revising the Q train schedule to respond to shifting demand. Currently, Q trains are relatively empty crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Brooklyn in the morning and vice versa in the evening. When the Second Ave. Subway opens, while the Manhattan Bridge ridership likely won’t change, Q train demand south from 96th St. to parts south in Manhattan will spike, but the MTA is planning to run trains at eight-minute headways. Only weekend, midday and evening Q service will see improvements when the Second Ave. Subway opens, and Upper East Siders are going to be shocked at the long waits, especially when compared with the peak-hour frequencies on the 4, 5 and 6.
Immediately, you may be wondering if 7.5 trains per hour for the Upper East Side is sufficient to meet projected ridership, and it’s not entirely clearly it will be. Based on ridership expectations and current travel patterns, the MTA may expect around 60,000 riders during the morning commute on the Second Ave. stops, but the eight-minute headways allow for service that can carry a bit under 45,000 over three hours. Trains will be very crowded and waits far longer than many expect. That’s due in part to available rolling stock and in part due to capacity concerns over the Manhattan Bridge and through the DeKalb Interlocking. As the Second Ave. Subway gears up for its grand unveiling, crowds and service frequency is a story worth watching.