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L train facts and figures: Ridership, wait times and unique aspects of the NYC subway line

Do you ride the L train each day? if so, you're not alone -- the subway line, which travels between Manhattan and Brooklyn, serves 300,000 people daily, the MTA says.

But how much do L train straphangers know about its daily ridership and platform waits, or the unique elements that distinguish it from other train lines?

Read on to learn some L train facts and figures.


The fastest growing stops in terms of ridership
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

The fastest growing stops in terms of ridership on the L train on weekdays are in Bushwick. The biggest jumps were at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street on the border between East New York and Bushwick (up 11.5% between 2014 and 2013), Wilson Avenue in Bushwick (up 9.9%), Jefferson Street in Bushwick (up 9.3%), and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg and Myrtle-Wyckoff (both up 5.7%) in Bushwick.

But the biggest gains have been on the weekends. The Jefferson Street station's ridership grew almost 30% between 2013 and 2014, and the Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street station jumped 27.4%. Wilson Avenue in Bushwick grew 19.9%, and Atlantic Avenue in East New York almost 19%. Dekalb Avenue in Bushwick saw a 17.2% ridership spike.

In Manhattan, the busiest subway stations used by the L on weekdays are Union Square and 14th Street-Sixth Avenue. In stops just used by the L, the First Avenue station sees the most ridership foot traffic on weekdays, at more than 24,000. In Brooklyn, the L train with the highest weekday ridership is Bedford Avenue, at more than 27,000, and Myrtle-Wyckoff (which shares the stop with the M), at more than 19,000. Lorimer Street is the third busiest, used by more than 14,000 riders.

You really may be riding in a sardine can. Ridership has more than doubled at L train stations since 1990, and quadrupled at the Bedford Avenue stop since then, according to the MTA.

Unique aspects of the L train

In the entire subway system, only the L
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

In the entire subway system, only the L and No. 7 lines have their own tracks that are not shared with other lines. The L is also one of the few crosstown Manhattan subway lines -- there are only three.

The L train uses computer-based technology called communication-based train control, which is a signal system that is more modern than other train lines. It's being installed on the No. 7 train. It lets the MTA run more trains by knowing precisely where they are. "Service frequencies were boosted and this gave rise to an economic revival in Williamsburg, Bushwick, and other Brooklyn communities," said MTA board member Andrew Albert, who chairs the Transit Riders Council.

But the signaling has its own issues. "It has technology on it that not a lot of other train lines have," said one L train motorman. "When all things work together, it's supposed to put more trains on the line, closer together." However, sometimes the combination of the old infrastructure and the new signaling makes the computers overcautious and too sensitive. This can throw the train brakes into emergency, and cause delays in train service. "Sometimes the computer system goes haywire," a motorman said. "It takes about twenty minutes to walk around the train to make sure there's nothing under it. Nine times out of 10, it's nothing."

What's another source of delays on the L line? Even though the L comes often during rush hour, it's common for riders to hold the doors for their friends or someone racing for the train. "Pretty soon we'll be one to two minutes late," said a train operator. "It's a domino effect."

Why do some trains stop at Myrtle-Wyckoff, rather than reaching the end of the line? To get more trains from Brooklyn to Manhattan in the morning, the MTA has some trains turn around at the Myrtle-Wyckoff station, where there is enough track space to do so. There is low ridership to Canarsie during the morning rush, but trains are packed coming into Manhattan.

Some of the L line stations are known for some of the most ornate tile work in the subway system, such as the Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street and Morgan Avenue stations. "They all have gorgeous tile work," said Albert.

Platform waits

The L train meets the MTA's standards for
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Don Emmert

The L train meets the MTA's standards for weekday waits 78.9% of the time, the second-best of any subway line, following the G and excluding shuttles, according to transit data. A train meets the MTA's wait standards if it is within 5 minutes of its scheduled arrival time.

On weekends, the L train meets the MTA's wait standards 82.5% of the time -- worse than three numbered lines and eight lettered lines, such as the C, F, and G. However, even if its wait performance scored lower, the L comes more frequently overall than all those lines.

Superstorm Sandy and a possible L train shutdown

Is the MTA really going to shut down
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Is the MTA really going to shut down the L train between Manhattan and Brooklyn in 2017? The MTA is considering fully closing one half of the L train's Canarsie tube at a time to make repairs. It is one of the eight subway tunnels that was flooded during superstorm Sandy. A full tunnel shutdown would take 18 months, while one tube at a time would take a total of three years, according to the MTA. "The Canarsie tubes were heavily damaged during superstorm Sandy when they were flooded with 7 million gallons of saltwater, which has eaten away at the metal and concrete materials that make up the tubes' infrastructure," said chairman Thomas Prendergast.

How many people depend on the L? About 225,000 weekday riders go between Brooklyn and Manhattan on the L train. The line's total daily ridership is 300,000, according to the MTA.

Is there any dialogue between the MTA and Brooklyn communities on the L train tunnel repairs? After an intense community meeting at the Brooklyn Bowl late last month, the MTA chairman and head of New York City Transit recently met with five elected officials and the Brooklyn borough president to create a plan for community consultations on the repairs.

The MTA said it will meet regularly with residents, businesses, and others affected before making decisions on the construction process and what the alternatives will be. No timeline has been created yet.

"Nothing is parallel to the L line," added Albert. "It would really economically hurt several Brooklyn communities to completely shut it down. You can't add enough G and M service to make up for it. It's a special case that has to be treated that way."


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