Southern Brooklyn

Bring On The Express – Daytime

The F train rumbles into the Smith-9th Street station. Source: Emily Kay Bachman / Flickr
The F train rumbles into the Smith-9th Street station. Source: Emily Kay Bachman / Flickr

Allan Rosen is on vacation this week. Filling in for him is John Rozankowski, Ph.D., a long-time community activist with a keen interest in mass transit issues, who has contributed to Sheepshead Bites in the past.

THE COMMUTE: Once again I have the pleasure of filling-in for Allan Rosen, who is on vacation again. Isn’t he the lucky one? I’m John Rozankowski, author of “Bring On the Express – Nighttime.”

In his State of the MTA speech on March 3, 2008, MTA CEO Lee Sander said:

“The MTA network’s 55 miles of underused middle track on elevated subway lines also represent a tremendous opportunity that we must exploit. These lines, primarily in Brooklyn and the Bronx, might enable additional express services to be operated, shortening travel times between these boroughs and the Manhattan core.”

Ridership has been surging to heights unknown since the early 1950s and spreading throughout the daytime hours. On many lines, rush hour is really all-day and most of the evening. Most lines are running at capacity and trains are crushingly overcrowded.

More express service is the only feature that can make subway travel more bearable and more attractive. It’s more than saving time. It’s more than reducing the tedious boredom of too many stops as it is at night. Express service redistributes passenger loads more efficiently with benefits both to riders and the operators.

As riders head toward Manhattan, the train quickly fills up to a point that people can hardly move. Each station stop brings in more people, not only resulting in more jostling, shoving, pushing, and doors opening and closing several times, but also delays in the train “dwell time.” Repeating this at every station creates a miserable ride. On an express train, this phenomenon occurs at far fewer stations and, simultaneously, results in emptier locals, providing more comfort for riders at local-only stations.

Unlike Sander, the MTA doesn’t seem to place much value on express service. There are a number of lines where the express service span can be extended and others where express service can be initiated. The MTA’s principle objection and excuse is that wait times at local stations would increase to unacceptable levels. This could be true if alternate trains ran express but with the publication of schedules and countdown clocks, that is no longer necessary.

Today, only the #6 train has excellent all-day express service in the direction of heavy travel. It reverses direction at 12:30 p.m. Other lines could use significant improvement:

Express Service Too Short In Duration

  • #5 Bronx Express (6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.). This express should run mid-days and until 9:00 p.m. Some Dyre Avenue #5 trains should run express and some local during middays and late evenings. In addition, the 238th Street #5 should be given its own number and all of these #5’s should run as an all-day express in the direction of peak travel to New Lots Avenue.
  • #7 Flushing Express (6:21 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 2:50 p.m. to 9:38 p.m.). This should be all-day with a reversal time around 12:30 p.m. Many riders from the subway-less areas of eastern Queens switch from buses to continue their ride.
  • D Bronx Express (6:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). The p.m. run should be extended until 9:00 p.m.

Express Service Non-Existent

  • #1 Broadway. There are 16 stops between 242nd Street and 96th Street, creating an extremely long ride on a very heavily used line. The MTA recognized the problem and tried to deal with it, with the #1/#9 skip-stop service, north of 137th Street (1989-2005). The time saved was minimal with trains having to slow down almost to a stop at bypassed stations for safety reasons. The far bigger problem was that the skip/stop destroyed the connectivity between stations. For example, no one could travel from West 225th Street (#9) to Dyckman Street station (#1) without first diverting to West 242nd Street to switch trains.

What residents did want and the MTA ignored was a Thru Express between 96th Street and 145th Street. Five stations downtown and six stations uptown can be skipped thanks to a middle track, while 157th Street and 145th Street (downtown) can be bypassed on the local track to establish an express from 96th Street to the heavily used 168th Street Station. The #1 doesn’t merge with any other line, there are no capacity problems and during peak hours the service would involve re-scheduling some trains.

  • #4 Jerome. This line is jammed at all hours and cries for all-day express service in the direction of peak travel. The express should run from Burnside Avenue to East 149th Street. Since the #4 is at capacity during peak hours, headways at the bypassed stations can be increased by one minute from four to five minutes. Three express trains would be created at twenty minute intervals. The number of expresses could increase after the peak.
  • F Culver. There are 21 stops between Coney Island and East Broadway. Ten stations can be skipped during rush hours. The F express has a large and vocal constituency including Brooklyn borough presidents, state senators and other elected officials, backed by the Downtown Brooklyn Access Study and many riders.

An F express could also relieve the overcrowded B train. On the Brighton line, capacity is cut in half since B and Q trains have to merge at Prospect Park. There was even a proposal to connect the B to the F some years ago. An F express could redistribute the loads in a more comfortable fashion.

Yet, the MTA has adamantly refused. Why? As noted above, there is no need to run alternate trains express. As with the #4, increasing wait times by only one minute would create three F express trains. Why is the MTA so obsessively concerned about local riders? Is it because Carroll Gardens, Kensington and Park Slope are wealthy areas? Does the MTA oppose the #1 Thru Express because it would bypass the wealthy Upper West Side (both the #1 and #9 skip stop trains stopped in this section)? How about the middle class? Aren’t they New York City residents too?

In addition, the MTA points to high ridership statistics for the stations between Bergen Street and 7th Avenue. What is not clear is that a significant minority of these riders are G train riders. After all, those who campaigned for a G extension to Church Avenue want the G train and not the F train. Using these riders to inflate ridership statistics to deny an F express is disingenuous.

How Should It Be Done?

It’s so easy to do nothing. No one can correctly predict what benefits express service may yield without trying it out. The best way to introduce a new express service or even expand a current one is through pilot programs. A pilot program is not a final service change, which requires investment in new printed maps, new schedules and new permanent signs. (Up to date information can be provided on-line at a very low cost.) The pilot should run for a reasonable time to determine if it’s a success or failure. Riders must be well-informed before it takes place with special announcements by conductors on the line, on the MTA website, as well as the traditional posters.

The first step should be a consultation with the people who know most about the line — the train operators and conductors. They can provide more accurate information than any analysts unfamiliar with the line. The MTA traditionally has not taken full advantage of this resource. The chain of command, which every employee must follow, is often a hindrance in getting employee suggestions heard. This is why it is necessary for the MTA to solicit more input from its operating employees.

The next step should be a consultation with the affected community, i.e. community boards, precinct councils, major organizations and locally elected officials. Make operating personnel and subway riders part of the solution. And then the pilot can be launched.

After the pilot runs its course, review it with personnel and the riding public.

It’s time for the MTA to follow the lead of Sander and to reduce riding misery for the public.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.