Measuring a growing subway ridership

When you think of crowded and busy city subway stations, Times Square and Grand Central may be the first ones that come to mind. And it’s true that those stations generally register the biggest average ridership in a given year. But when it comes to stations with the highest ridership increases over the past several years, it is other spots on the subway map that catch the eye.

From 2007 to 2013, Times Square’s average weekday ridership grew by 8.6 percent; Grand Central’s went up by 3.1 percent. But downtown in Lower Manhattan, the No. 1 Rector Street station had more than five times as much growth as Times Square, at 53.3 percent.

Those were among the findings of a New York World review of Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) ridership data covering the six-year period of 2007 to 2013.

Other interesting changes in ridership include:

• Two stops in the Bronx, 183rd Street and Kingsbridge, on the No. 4 express line each had increases of more than 88 percent.

• In Queens, two stations in Long Island City, the No. 7 Vernon/Jackson station and the 39th Avenue station on the N and Q line, each had an increase of more than 50 percent.

• In Brooklyn, several stops along the L line—Bedford Avenue, Morgan Avenue, New Lots Avenue—each had around 50 percent growth.

The system as a whole reported an increase in ridership of more than 9 percent between 2007 and 2013.

Unsurprisingly, many of the stations with the biggest increase in ridership also experienced sizable increases in the population of the surrounding neighborhoods. For example, the areas in Brooklyn around L station stops had rapid population growth between 2000 and 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We have seen new developments along the L train which has really seen a surge in ridership over the past decade,” said Mitchell Moss, director of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

In December, the MTA sought federal funding for infrastructure improvements along the L line that would allow the transport of over 2,000 additional passengers.

The New York World obtained the data on ridership through the MTA, which posts a version of the data on its website. The data do not include riders who transferred from one train to another without swiping their MetroCards.

Readers can view the station-by-station changes in ridership through this interactive map.

EDITOR’S NOTE (4/30/15): The interactive map has been updated to include newly available 2014 ridership data.

The continued rise in subway ridership will require more capital improvements like those planned for the L line, if the funding is there. That was among the recommendations of the MTA Transportation Reinvention Commission, a panel of urban and transit policy experts appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In its November 2014 report, the panel said that the MTA “must aggressively expand the capacity of the existing system both to alleviate constraints and to meet the needs of growing ridership.”

“Approximately one million new residents are projected in New York City by 2040. Already crowded subway lines will be further strained by emerging residential neighborhoods, such as Greenpoint in Brooklyn, Highbridge in the South Bronx, and Long Island City in Queens,” the report states.

“The key challenge,” Moss said, “is to recognize that you have to make the existing system more efficient, you have to eliminate some of the chokepoints. The MTA can barely finance current capital projects. …The era of new subway construction is over.”

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