OPINION: The R train sucks. But it’s not just a Bay Ridge problem
Complaints about the R train from Bay Ridge officials and residents is old news to regular readers of this newspaper. In July 2017, to cite just one instance, then-Councilmember Vincent Gentile said R train riders that year suffered a “summer from hell” that included excessive lateness, overcrowded trains, unkept stations, inadequate audio systems and the use of older subway cars.
“Even since they put the countdown clock on, all it does is show you that sometimes have to wait 15 minutes for a train,” said one longtime Bay Ridge resident. “At 95th Street [the line’s southern terminal] you sometimes have to wait a long time for the train to pull out, and the trains tend to be the older models. There are really no audible announcements telling you what stops are going to be made.”
At the same time, however, we must remember that Bay Ridge is not the only area that the R train passes through, and the R’s reputation for problem service affects its widely different neighborhoods in different ways.
The R train is one of the longest local routes in New York. In addition to Bay Ridge, it traverses Sunset Park, Park Slope, Downtown Brooklyn, the Financial District, Midtown Manhattan, Long Island City, Jackson Heights, Rego Park and Forest Hills.
There have been occasional complaints about R service in Queens — for example, in February, one R train, because of signal problems, was stuck in the tunnel between 63rd Drive and 67th Avenue for two hours. But an online search reveals that by and large, there have been few complaints about the R train from Queens riders.
Perhaps this is because most of the time, the R shares the Queens Boulevard line’s local service with the M during busy hours, although late at night both trains drop out here as the E runs local. On the other hand, along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, the R has the local service all to itself, except late at night when the D and N also go local on Fourth.
Sunset Park, one of the Brooklyn neighborhoods served by the R, is a growth area in both its commercial-industrial and residential sectors, which are separated by the elevated Gowanus Expressway. In the commercial area, the city-administered Brooklyn Army Terminal and the private Industry City are both increasingly attractive to businesses. Makerspace, a new workplace space at the BAT, is expected to create more than 2,000 well-paying jobs during the next 10 years.
As far as Sunset Park’s residential side is concerned, real estate analyst Stephen Vorvolakos wrote in the Brooklyn Eagle in December, “From its proximity to Manhattan and favorable zoning to its huge industrial waterfront, rapid population growth and strong retail landscape, multifamily buildings are poised to appreciate. And Sunset Park’s spectacular hillside views of Manhattan are icing on the cake.” Sunset Park would benefit from a revitalized R train.
To the north, the R train has several stations in Gowanus-Park Slope – 25th Street, Prospect Avenue, Ninth Street and Prospect Avenue. I’ve traveled to Prospect Avenue a few times (to hear a friend’s band play in a nearby bar) and didn’t experience any difficulties. However, changing from the F to the R at that station is truly a problem. The R’s platforms are far, far below those of the F. First you have to take a stairway and several banks of escalators to street level, then you have to walk down a narrow staircase –there are no elevators here. At night, the stairway and the station platform below are almost deserted, causing one to look over their shoulder frequently.
I also had an unfortunate experience with the R train late one night. I usually take the 2 or 3 train home from Court Street, near the Eagle offices. The 2 and 3 trains rarely come more than 5 or 6 minutes apart. One day, I found that the 2 and 3 had been closed at night for a “Fastrack” project. I could have walked a few blocks to the A train, but decided to take the R instead. I was very surprised when I looked at the indicator and found that the next Manhattan-bound R train was coming in 12 minutes.
There is some hope in the R train situation, however. During the late summer of 2018, as the Eagle reported, the MTA, after signal modifications, increased permissible speed for the R train through the Fourth Avenue corridor, from 95th Street to Barclays Center. As Paula Katinas wrote, “R trains departing the terminal at 95th Street in Bay Ridge now travel at 15 mph instead of 10 mph. R trains departing the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center station are running 10 mph faster than before, at 25 mph over 15 mph.”
I interviewed several members of the Eagle staff who take the R on a regular basis, and all said that they haven’t noticed any improvement in service. They all reported long waits of up to 20 minutes, especially at night. But we hope that eventually, the allowance of greater speeds will lead to more frequent and better service on the R line, benefiting riders from Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Park Slope, Lower Manhattan and Forest Hills alike.
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