L Train Pre-Slowdown Survey Results
It’s been a little more than two weeks since the L Train Slowdown began. This week, the MTA released an analysis of how people are responding. So far, we know that ridership on the L has dropped 50%. Meanwhile, traffic on the J and M lines increased an average of 60%. The G Train also experienced an increase of 35%. The M14 bus also saw an increase of 35%. Keeping in mind that these figures are likely to fluctuate as the slowdown continues, how do they line up against people’s expectations going into the project?
The L’d Up Project put together a survey to determine how people felt that they would be affected and how they planned to respond to service disruptions, which ran for two weeks before construction began. Our results suggest that the behavioral changes described in the MTA’s recent official figures  roughly lines up with expectations but also highlight areas where we need to do more research to fully understand the impacts of L Train service disruptions.
Respondents indicated that they expected a wide variety of disruptions to result from the construction. Almost 80% said that they expected increased crowding and delays, both of which were reported during the first two weeks of the closure. More than 60% indicated that they were likely to use the L train less (62%) or that they would have to switch their mode of travel (67%). Similar numbers reported that they would experience more stress (63%) and spend more time planning trips (53%). Almost half thought that they would have to reschedule times of travel (48%) or would just not make the trip (47%). Fewer respondents felt that their trips would cost more (25%) or were worried about potential health impacts from the silica dust produced from demolition (35%).
For those that thought that they would have to use an alternate form of travel most (73%) said that they would likely use another subway line, which aligns with the reported increases in ridership on the J, M, and G lines . Almost 37% of respondents said that they would use a bus and, as expected the M14 bus has seen an increase in riders .
However, almost half of respondents (48%) said that they would use for hire modes of travel such as Uber, Lyft, or Via . A significant number of people also indicated that they would use their own (28%) or for hire (22%) bikes or scooters. Only 14% said that they would take a ferry and only 6% thought that they would drive or carpool in a private vehicle.
We collected 168 responses. Most respondents were young professionals  that use the L train relatively frequently (at least 70% use it more than once a week) and transfer onto the L line from Union Square or board at Bedford Avenue or Lorimer Street. While this represents a significant population of people who take the L train it is hardly a completely representative sample. Unsurprisingly, the majority of travel was for work (53%), entertainment (21%) and socializing with family and friends (9%). Off-peak and weekend travel accounted for 44% of respondent’s usual trips, suggesting that the slowdown will directly affect a significant number of people, particularly as proximity to the L line was reported as an important factor in location decisions for almost half (48.5%).
There’s still a lot to learn
While the MTA’s figures provide some good basic information about how people are responding to service changes our survey results indicate that there are still lots of things that we don’t know. For instance, we still need to dig into data on for hire vehicle use, traffic congestion, and changes in bike route usage as L Train riders seek alternatives to MTA (bus and subway) service.
It is also important to recognize that the MTA’s numbers don’t give us granular insight into who has chosen to avoid the L train and seek out alternate routes. We don’t know (yet) whether there are major differences in use patterns of specific stations or whether riders in some neighborhoods have been more affected than others. We don’t know the degree to which riders that have chosen to, or must, use the L train have been adversely affected by scheduling changes. Given that our survey respondents were overwhelmingly located in or going to Williamsburg and Manhattan our own pre-slowdown data has blind spots in this regard.
As the slowdown continues the L’d Up project will be trying to fill these and other gaps in our knowledge. We want to learn about not just the changes that people are forced to make due to service disruptions but how these affect families, businesses, and communities over the long term. We hope that insights from this project will help inform city, state, and MTA policy decisions around the future subway slowdowns and shutdowns that underpin the Fast Forward plan. We also hope to establish a process for studying infrastructure disruption in a holistic way - understanding it as part of an urban system with real and lasting impact on urban lives, structures, economies.
1. Note that the agency has not publicly released the underlying data nor are we able to determine how these patterns have fluctuated over time.
2. There were no official figures released on the 7 Train but there have been reports of increased crowding on that line as well.
3. It is not clear yet how other bus lines have been affected.
4. Note that this is a significantly higher figure than the 20% reported in the MTA's April survey. This may be due to the fact that our sample included a higher proportion of residents of the more affluent parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan and suggests that FHV use may be greater in those zones of the city.
5. Most respondents were between 25-34 years old (58.9%) and 93.45% were under 54. Almost 70% are employed in office work such as banking, government, or design occupations.