Rush Hour in Williamsburg…at 1 AM


By Carson Qing

Last September, one of our research assistants at the NYU Rudin Center, Nolan Levenson, took an interesting picture at the Bedford Avenue subway station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (right). The subway platform was filled to capacity with straphangers, but what makes the photo interesting is that the image was captured in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, at 1:30 AM. There has been much discussion, and subsequent action, over the issue of providing more L-train service on the weekends to better serve this ridership growth, but the image of a subway platform filled to near capacity at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning, when Manhattan-bound trains run on 20 minute headways, raises some interesting questions about travel characteristics along this particular subway line.
Since 2005, ridership on the L train has soared, with every station in Brooklyn posting double digit growth rates in ridership on weekdays (with the exception of Broadway Junction). On weekends, ridership by station has grown at even faster rates: tripling or even quadrupling the ridership growth on an average weekday for a given station. The Morgan Avenue station in Bushwick had the greatest ridership growth on both weekdays (+59%) and weekends (+174%) of all L-train stops in Brooklyn from 2005 to 2010. The Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg had the greatest absolute increase in average weekday ridership (+5,867) and average Saturday ridership (+9,236) from 2005 to 2010. The two maps below compare ridership growth on an average weekday (left) and on average weekend (right) for all L-train stations in Brooklyn, from 2005 to 2010.

 

To examine these weekend ridership trends in more detail, I used the MTA’s turnstile data and took a sample of a turnstile at the Bedford Avenue station over one week in August 2012 to identify trends in peak hours of subway ridership, and what could be driving these patterns in weekend ridership. I classified both entries and exits into the Bedford Avenue station and identified “peak hours” in subway ridership, which were hourly intervals that were in the top 25% of all intervals in the sample data in total entries or exits into the station. The results are summarized in the chart below (note: data is only for a single turnstile, and is only meant to illustrate ridership trends):

What’s remarkable about this case study for Bedford Avenue is that not only are there ridership peaks for long durations on Saturday (8 am to 4 am Sunday) and Sunday (8 am to 8 pm), but entry/exit figures are actually comparable to morning and evening rush hours during the work week: thus, growth in weekend ridership at Bedford Avenue has increased so much that it may very well have resulted in an “extended rush hour” for almost the entire weekend.

Even more remarkable is that the peak entry hours on Saturday night actually extend into the wee hours of Sunday morning for the sampled data, suggesting that the crowded subway platform at 1:30 AM might in fact be quite a common occurrence. Given recent, dramatic changes in demographics and land use patterns in Williamsburg, these unusual peak hour trip patterns should be expected. Not only has there been a well-documented influx in 25-to-34 year olds in Williamsburg (25% of the population, compared to 17% in 2006, according to census data), but there has also been a significant growth in restaurants and bars that are open late on weekends and draw young New Yorkers from across the city to the neighborhood (117% increase in full service restaurants and 59% increase in bars since 2005, according to census business data). The peak entry hours from 12 am to 4 am on a Sunday morning should be expected given the context of how Williamsburg has changed dramatically in just a few short years, as many of the restaurant and bar patrons are likely contributing to this peak period of subway ridership during these late night hours.

These trends reveal that due to the growth in weekend ridership on the L-train, conventional assumptions of travel demand for this particular subway line may no longer be appropriate, and may require some adjustments in service offerings during weekend evenings, late nights, and other times of day. According to subway schedules, the MTA currently runs roughly 43 Manhattan-bound trains on the L during a weekday morning rush hour (8 am-12 pm) and 48 Manhattan-bound trains during Saturday afternoon (4 pm-8 pm), falling to roughly 32 on Saturday night (8 pm -12 am) and 13 during weekend late-night hours (12am-4 am Sunday). With only 13 trains during one of the busiest travel periods of the entire week, crowded platforms at Bedford Avenue and nearby stations during late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings will likely be commonplace going forward.

The growth in weekend ridership on the L-train in Brooklyn and peak travel demand during unconventional hours show how as cities and neighborhoods evolve, traditional assumptions of “rush hour” travel will inevitably change. Transportation providers should be flexible and adaptable to recognize these anomalies, rather than assume that travel characteristics are uniform system-wide, and respond by offering level of services that are appropriate given these unique patterns in peak travel demand.

Have you taken the L from Bedford Avenue during late night hours on the weekend? Are weekend, late night hours in Williamsburg comparable to weekday morning “rush hours?” Please share your experiences in the comments below.