Keeping an Eye on the Second Ave. Subway Traffic Effect

Numbers released yesterday showing a substantial drop in ridership on the 4, 5 and 6 lines confirm what many long-suffering commuters on the Lexington Avenue subway already realized: The new Second Avenue subway is drawing away riders from the severely overcrowded Lex. At the Lexington Ave/86th Street station, for example, there were 24% fewer weekday trips than a year ago.

By alleviating the crunch on the Lex, the 2nd Avenue line is accomplishing exactly what it was supposed to. What will be interesting to track is how much of an impact the 2nd Ave line has on bus ridership and traffic congestion.

The MTA has predicted that bus ridership on the Upper East Side will fall, especially on the southbound M15 route that traces the new subway on 2nd Avenue. While numbers might not be available for a while – the agency’s bus ridership reports tend to lag behind subway usage – we already can infer that the 2nd Ave. subway is making a dent. Initial daily ridership on the new line reached 155,000 last Friday, while the Lexington line lost some 87,000 riders. That means there was a net gain of around 68,000 trips, a jump that probably reflects New Yorkers deciding to take the subway instead of a bus, taxi or other option.

It’s also likely that the new Second Avenue line has resulted in induced demand, where people are taking trips that they otherwise wouldn’t have made at all. Going out on a cold winter night seems more appealing when you aren’t facing a long slog to the train.

It’s also good to remember that shifting people from cars onto the subway will help keep traffic flowing for everyone who stays above ground. Fewer automobile trips also means less air pollution. The MTA promised just that in projections made more than a decade ago. The Second Avenue subway will cut auto travel by more than 8,300 vehicle trips, including 1,600 taxi rides, every day, according to the MTA’s final environmental impact statement in 2004. “A commensurate improvement in air quality would also result.”


Photo Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority 


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