Right now, with no service on weeknights or weekends, the L train is running only 55% of the time… you need at least 65% on a test to get a D. But it’s not how little the train is running that concerns me. It’ll come back. It’ll come back more crowded than ever… ridiculously, absurdly, painfully crowded.
In 2013, annual ridership of the NYC Subway was 1.7 billion, the highest since 1949. According to the MTA more people are riding the subway today than ever before with an average weekday ridership of 5.5 million people.
And it feels like every single one of those 5.5 million commuters are going to Manhattan on the L train from Brooklyn. But it just feels that way, right? Right?!
Last year, 20,329 residential building permits were filed for Kings County, Brooklyn, New York. That’s up 12% from 2013, and nearly double 2012’s numbers. But you don’t need me to tell you more people are living in Brooklyn now than ever before. It’s pretty damn obvious if you live here and it’s not exactly rocket science to see how the L train has gone from crowded to completely, utterly fucked in the last couple of years. That said, this isn’t a new problem by any means. But isn’t it time we starting thinking on some real solutions? It’s only going to get worse!
In October of 2013, city council and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz greenlit a ridiculously out-of-scale condo development in Greenpoint without assurances that there would be any infrastructure improvement budget to alleviate the impending transit bottleneck. The Greenpoint Landing project, which will include 10 towers and up to 5,500 apartments on 22 acres near the Newtown Creek, and the 77 Commercial Street project, which will include two 30-story towers housing 720 apartments between Box and Clay streets, are, Mary says, “good to go as long as bus service to and from the area is increased…”
BUS SERVICE?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME? 6,000 new apartments and you wanna add a couple bus routes?
I’m no transit expert, but if you ask me this means all North Brooklyn residents are pretty much completely fucked.
But maybe there’s hope? In an effort to be just a little bit optimistic about our situation, I’ve put together five ways we could start thinking about improving our L train commute, and our lives overall. Honestly, riding the L train in the morning is the absolute worst part of my day. Let’s change that! Maybe one of these five ideas could work?
Express L Trains
I get on the L train at Bedford Avenue, but the madness doesn’t start there… have you ever poured water into an already full glass? That’s the L train at Bedford.
It’s not really the crowds of people who get on the train at Bedford Avenue who clog the system. It’s the army of people who get on at the five stops east of Bedford Ave… Lorimer, Graham, Grand, Montrose, Morgan, Jefferson… these neighborhoods have seen just as much influx as around Bedford.
What if during rush hour, the MTA operated express trains from Jefferson Ave straight to Union Square. Maybe Grand Street too, why not? I don’t know what that would mean for the current system, maybe every third train is express? Or maybe build an express track?
Last I checked there weren’t a lot of people taking the train from Morgan to Graham during rush hour. They’re all going to Union Square. Union Square is a beast of a subway station, hosting 35.5 million riders every year, it ranks as the fourth busiest station, after, respectively, Herald Square, Grand Central, and Times Square, but you could’ve guessed that.
So as far as express L trains are concerned it seems like a no-brainer for me: if everyone’s going to Union Square on the L train, let’s get them there as fast as possible and then run that train back to Bushwick for the next group. Hell, maybe we could have express trains from Bedford Avenue too?
Seatless Subway Cars
That’s right, just completely gut them. Take out all the seats.
According to a 2008 MTA experimental program, in which they did take out the seats in some cars of trains during rush hour, they found they averaged 18% more riders per car. What’s the math on that? A newer subway car can hold about 240 passengers, sitting and standing. So without the seats we could fit around 285 people per car.
Have you ever been waiting for the L train, only to have it arrive so that only three or four people push their way on and you’re left standing, staring at the open train door to a car of squished morning commuters: heads with earbuds, limbs outstretched to poles. The whole scene looks like some sort of commuter mass grave.
If we took out the seats, you’d be able to get on that train. It’s that simple. And everyone would be a little more comfortable and probably more punctual.
Oh, but what about that 2008 experimental program, you ask? The MTA decided not to eliminate the seats because they didn’t want to “upset the straphangers.” Seems suspect if you ask me. I’m not suggesting we take out all the seats on all the trains, but let’s try a few! Try a few cars, a few trains at rush hour, why not? You’re on the L train for what, 10 minutes? You can stand, dude. And you’ll have more room.
Subsidized Alternative Transportation
That whole East River Ferry operation hasn’t worked out that well so far… the Greenpoint dock fell into the river a couple years ago and was out of commission for months and months. What was to be a pilot program has now been confirmed to run through 2018 and maybe longer. But in my opinion, they’re not really doing much to help commuters, mostly because of the price.
A 30-Day Metrocard is $116.50
A 30-Day East River Ferry pass is $160, 17% more.
A 30-Day East River Ferry pass including a bicycle is $190, and the East River Ferry to Manhattan isn’t very helpful for commuters outside of Wall Street. From the 34th Street Ferry Station, it’s 1.2 miles to Bryant Park, a 25-minute walk or 8 minutes on a bicycle. So you’d need to bring your bike. And that would make the monthly fare 38% higher than a Metrocard.
Hey, East River Ferry! Why your prices so high? I’d bet that if your 30-day pass cost the same as a Metrocard you’d have more riders and ultimately more revenue. And really, you’re going to charge $1/ride for my bicycle? C’mon now.
Or if not by tunnel or water, what about the bridge? If the L train can’t support the commuters who rely on it, shouldn’t the MTA supplement somehow? Maybe they could offer shuttle buses from Williamsburg to Manhattan? Via the Williamsburg Bridge, it’s only 3 three miles from the Bedford Avenue L train stop to Broadway and Houston. The MTA could still charge for this, of course, but maybe just a little less? Give the straphangers a motivation to take the shuttle instead of the tunnel.
Maybe the MTA should just offer to pay the price difference for the East River Ferry to any Brooklyn commuters willing to switch from the train? Or better yet, maybe the MTA could subsidize some CitiBike memberships? $150/mo. gives you unlimited 45-minute rides, plenty for most commuters.
My point is that there are plenty of modes of transportation to get us from North Brooklyn to Manhattan, but the only one that makes sense for nearly all commuters, both logistically and financially, is the overwhelmed, half-broken L train. And I think the MTA should do something about that.
What if instead of everyone pushing, fighting, and cramming themselves into an already over-crowded train car, we implemented an occupancy cap on the train? We could build out a fence system on the platform – imagine the rides at DisneyLand – where folks could line up and wait for their turn to ride. I think this could not only eliminate an over-crowded train car but also help out with some of the other issues that plague straphangers, namely train delays from folks keeping the doors open or congestion and even confrontations that result when riders are trying to exit the train and crowds of people are pushing to get on the train. This may be a rather drastic approach but I don’t think I’m the only one who would prefer to que up for 10 or 15 minutes rather than fight and cram into an already overfull train car.
Alternatively, what if we instituted timed rides? Maybe the MTA could charge more for rush hour rides? That’s what other train systems do. As a commuter you could perhaps petition your employer to cover the cost of peak hour rides, or establish a new work day, say 10am to 6pm or even 7am to 3pm. Let’s face it, the 9 to 5 work day is well outdated… which may be the true malaise that plagues our commute.
But that’s another problem entirely. These days I’m just trying to get across the river without having a panic attack.
Anyone else have some ideas???