UPDATE (09.17.2022): I am changing the plan for
v1.0.0 v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway due to recent ridership trends – see the edit toward the end of this post.
Welcome to my NYTIP series! As part of NYTIP, I outlined a three-point plan for fixing the NYC Subway:
- Enhance (minimize merging conflicts)
- Extend (extend existing lines)
- Expand (build new lines)
I’ll begin my series on point 1 – enhance – with the Central Park West (CPW) trunk line, which serves the A, B, C, and D trains.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
[Fig. 1] Snippet of the NYC Subway map featuring the CPW trunk line.
The CPW trunk line, as its name implies, runs along the west side of Central Park for most of its length. It serves the west side of Manhattan from 145th Street to 59th Street – Columbus Circle. Two 8th Avenue services from Inwood and Washington Heights (A express and C local) and two 6th Avenue services from The Bronx (B local and D express) serve the trunk. Under the current setup, the A and D run express, and the B and C run local. This setup induces merging conflicts for both local and express services at two points – south of 145th Street and south of 59th Street. Making matters worse, the A, B, C, and D each have differing frequencies, increasing the likelihood of delays.
[Figs. 2, 3] Existing merging conflicts on the CPW trunk line. The original track map belongs to vanshnookenraggen (PDF).
Now, removing these conflicts isn’t a novel idea. For example, Alon Levy’s de-interlining plan suggests an A/C express and B/D local, while a similar plan reverses this paradigm – A/C local, B/D express. The Regional Plan Association, in their Save our Subways publication, goes even further – RPA’s plan truncates the C to a Brooklyn shuttle to double A express service, while the B and D run via CPW local. There are pros and cons to each of these proposals, though NYTIP does not prescribe anything as drastic as RPA’s plan for CPW.
When I first published this post in early 2019, I recommended swapping the C and D lines as the cheapest way to de-interline (or, to use less wonky language, redesign) CPW. However, I gave more thought to other options. I recall the M-V combo controversy from last decade – MTA originally called this route the V, but riders preferred the historic M designation, and so the latter stuck. If a C/D swap generates a similar controversy, then another alternative would be better.
Thankfully, it’s possible to redesign CPW in a way that allows both Upper Manhattan and The Bronx to retain full-time express service while minimizing potential rider confusion. I will explore two options that achieve this, along with a third option that enhances the existing service pattern.
Option 1: 8th Avenue service express, 6th Avenue service local
[Figs. 4, 5] Overview of Option 1. Created using Brand New Subway, with modifications by me.
[Figs. 6, 7] Merging conflicts removed through Option 1.
Option 1 implements a modified version of the original operating pattern. Under Option 1, service is as follows:
- A: CPW/8th Avenue express from Inwood – 207th Street
- B: CPW local/6th Avenue express from Washington Heights – 168th Street
- C: CPW/8th Avenue express from Norwood – 205th Street
- D: CPW local/6th Avenue express from Bedford Park Boulevard
Let’s look at some implications.
C/D Service in The Bronx
Under Option 1, both C and D trains serve The Bronx all day, every day, to encourage ridership. The C runs with a mix of 480-foot and 600-foot trains due to available rolling stock, but it would run much more frequently than at present. The D would replace the C during overnight hours. There are still some merging conflicts between C and D trains since the Concourse line only has three tracks. However, when the C runs express in The Bronx, it does not merge with the D.
In previous versions of this post, I floated the idea of converting 161st Street – Yankee Stadium station to an express stop since it’s the busiest station in The Bronx:
[Fig. 8] Overview of the optional 161st Street – Yankee Stadium lower level conversion.
While such a conversion would make the C express service more attractive, especially given that 161st Street is a major transfer point between lines serving opposite sides of Manhattan, it would be an expensive, disruptive undertaking. Therefore, v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway would not include this conversion.
A 4-Track Concourse Line?
Original plans for the Concourse line called for 4 tracks, but funding shortfalls resulted in only three tracks. While 4 tracks are nice to have to fully eliminate merging conflicts and encourage ridership, NYTIP does not contemplate this conversion – yet. (Honestly, I love the idea.)
A/C Service in Brooklyn
Option 1 does not affect A/C service in Brooklyn – the A remains express and the C remains local.
8th Avenue Local Service
Under Option 1, the E is the sole 8th Avenue local service. Consequently, one must transfer at 7th Avenue – 53rd Street to the B/D to travel between the 8th Avenue local stops (50th Street, 23rd Street, and Spring Street) and points north of 59th Street. However, this is a cross-platform transfer regardless of direction. 50th Street is an interesting case since the E serves the lower level platforms. What happens to the upper level platforms?
Alternative 1: 50th Street served by E trains only
While this is the simplest option, it results in a de facto closure of the upper level platforms, or conversion to a split mezzanine. Over 6.9 million passengers used this station in 2019, making it the 2nd-busiest local stop on the 8th Avenue/CPW corridor. One possible mitigation strategy for the loss of the C local is increasing 8th Avenue local service from Queens as part of a Queens Boulevard subway redesign.
Alternative 2: Convert 50th Street to an express stop
There is no easy way to do this since there are no provisions for switches north of the station. Therefore, any such conversion would involve column demolition and replacement – either for new switches or platform extensions. Due to the disruptions this would cause, Alternative 1 is a better fit for Option 1.
Option 2: 8th Avenue service local, 6th Avenue service express
[Figs. 9, 10] Overview of Option 2.
[Figs. 11, 12] Merging conflicts removed through Option 2.
Under Option 2, service is as follows:
- A: CPW/8th Avenue local from Washington Heights – 168th Street
- B: CPW/6th Avenue express from Inwood – 207th Street
- C: CPW/8th Avenue local from Bedford Park Boulevard
- D: CPW/6th Avenue express from Norwood – 205th Street
Let’s look at some implications.
C/D Service in The Bronx
Option 2 prescribes the same improvement to C trains as Option 1 – namely, more frequent service. The C replaces the B as the Concourse local, while there is no change to D service other than service increases. As with Option 1, C and D trains serve The Bronx all day under Option 2.
8th Avenue Service
Under Option 2, the A and C run local and the E runs express. This prevents congestion and merging delays, while preserving service levels at both local and express stations. The C terminates at World Trade Center station, while the E would continue to Brooklyn with the A. Owing to the existing track layout, select E trains can turn at 34th Street – Penn Station or Canal Street in Manhattan to preserve regularity in Queens.
A/E Service in Brooklyn
Under Option 2, the A runs express and the E runs local. Since the E is generally more frequent than the C, additional rolling stock would be required to facilitate the E train extension without cutting service elsewhere.
EDIT (09.17.2022): Recent ridership trends – particularly in The Bronx – have given me pause concerning my service plan for CPW. Specifically, COVID ridership recovery on the Concourse line has been very weak compared to the rest of The Bronx.
Twitter user UrbaneUrban created a map showing COVID ridership recovery as of August 2022. Green represents at least 49% ridership recovery, while the gradients approaching red indicate lower ridership recovery. As the map shows, ridership recovery is much lower on Concourse (31% as of August 2022) than on the other Bronx subways. Infrequent service, frequent delays, and recent construction work all contribute to this shortfall. (As a sanity check, I checked the recovery numbers as of 09.16.2022. Ridership recovery on the Concourse line has improved, but it is still lagging behind the other Bronx subways.) Since ridership recovery on the nearby 4 line is much higher than that of the Concourse line and 4 service is generally more frequent than D service, this suggests that Bronx ridership recovery is highly sensitive to service frequency.
Therefore, I will now consider a third option that mitigates conflicts and increases service substantially while preserving the current pattern.
Option 3: Interlined service enhancement
[Figs. 13, 14, 15] Overview of Option 3.
There are two main elements to Option 3. The first is a B/C swap north of 145th Street. The purpose of this swap is to mitigate conflicts between B and D trains at 59th Street – Columbus Circle southbound and 145th Street northbound. The key to these mitigations is scheduling. Since the B, C, and D trains would operate at the same frequency at all times (every 6 minutes each), the B and D would be scheduled to meet somewhere in Harlem in both directions. This ensures even spacing on the B and D lines. (This would be more challenging during peak hours since the A would be more frequent than the D.)
The second element is a C/E swap south of 50th Street station. The C would run local to the World Trade Center (WTC), while the E would run express in Manhattan and local in Brooklyn. Due to rolling stock availability, some peak-hour E trains would turn at WTC; however, the Fulton Street local stations would see E service every 6 minutes all day – a significant service increase.
As you can see, the de-interlining options significantly reduce merging conflicts through the CPW corridor while preserving direct local and express service from both Upper Manhattan and The Bronx. Both de-interlining options have their pros and cons. A particular advantage of Option 2 over Option 1 is preserved service levels at all stations. However, Option 2 does not remove as many merging conflicts as Option 1 does.
I’ve gone back-and-forth on these options in the various beta versions of the enhanced NYC subway. For v1.0.0, after careful consideration,
I have chosen Option 1. I have decided to scrap the CPW de-interlining in favor of all-day service increases. These service increases should accelerate COVID ridership recovery, especially on the Concourse line in The Bronx; both C and D trains would serve The Bronx all day, including on weekends. Thus, v0.8.0 of the enhanced NYC subway would now incorporate Option 3.
The Bottom Line
The CPW redesign would affect A, B, C, D, and E service. The table below shows current frequencies and proposed frequencies under NYTIP (in minutes) for each of these lines. Of the E’s 15 peak trains per hour (TPH), 10 TPH would run to Brooklyn and 5 TPH (all Jamaica – 179th Street departures plus two Jamaica Center departures per hour) would turn at WTC.
(Weekday Peak/Weekday Off-Peak/Weekend)
|Proposed NYTIP Service|
|A||4.3 / 7-10 / 10||4 / 6|
|B||6 / 10 / –||6 / 6|
|C||8.6 / 10 / 12||6 / 6|
|D||6 / 10 / 12||6 / 6|
|E||4 / 8 / 12||4 / 6|