Every year the MTA releases ridership data for its subway and bus lines. It’s one thing to sift through the data and pull out obvious changes like how every single L train station has seen ridership increases but making a map of the whole data set lets you see how everything station relates to one another. Google updated its Maps engine a while back and at first I wasn’t a fan. But digging around more I realized that the new engine offered an ability to make much more interesting and interactive maps than before. The new Maps engine has data tables built in and allows you to display data based on the tables rather than changing everything by hand. It’s a very basic form of GIS but one that is much, much easier to understand and use than programs like ArcGIS. I would like to see a way to display the data differently in future Google Maps engine updates; for example I’d like to be able to show the station icon size for ridership and the color for percentage increase/decrease. The interface below is small so click on the full screen expand button on the top right to get a better view.
The station colors are a range of white>yellow>black where white has the lightest ridership and black the heaviest. Clicking on each station brings up a box with the data for 2014 annual ridership levels, percentage of ridership increases or decreases from the year before (due to station closures for construction sometimes the percent increase is much higher than what is actually happening and where this is the case I’ve left a note), and which trains serve the station.
The map brings up a lot of questions about service, existing or new, and with recent talk about restoring the W train once the first phase of the Second Ave Subway opens it is worth looking at the numbers to understand the real needs of the system. Taking the W train as an example, the original route from Astoria-Ditmars Blvd to Whitehall may be restored as there is clearly the highest demand along that route but there is also the technical possibility of extending it into Brooklyn along the 4th Ave Subway. The highest ridership levels are in Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach so extending the W either along the D or even as an express train to Bay Ridge would give the train a more balanced load along the entire line.
Rerouting the M train along 6th Ave has resulted in a double digit increase in ridership through Bushwick but still leaves many of the stations along the M with low ridership relative the the rest of the system. Reading the data can lead to opposing conclusions: ridership on the 4 train in the Bronx has reduced on almost ever station while ridership on the B and D trains has increased yet each line has similar overall ridership levels. Does this mean there should be less 4 train service in the Bronx or more service?
The Rockaway Branch in central Queens has been looked at for a rails-to-trails conversion like the High Line but many people are also calling for the line to be reactivated for subway service. Looking at the map it’s clear that the subways in north and central Queens are very busy but subways in southern Queens, Ozone Park through which the Rockaway Branch runs, are lighter in use. Those that support building a park or those who oppose any change point to this as proof that a new subway would not be worth the cost. Another way to look at it is that these areas have such low ridership because the subways that currently serve them are too long of a commute. But looking at current ridership growth in Woodhaven and Ozone Park I’m of the opinion that restoring the Rockaway Branch would eventually see an increase in ridership as it could offer a faster trip to midtown from Ozone Park… but possibly at the cost of service on the Queen Blvd Subway which (as this map clearly shows) already has very high ridership levels.
The map ultimately leave more questions than answers but I think it leaves us asking the right questions.