The Bowery subway station on the Lower East Side, once one of the city's leading havens for the homeless and considered unsafe for subway passengers, has seen its ridership more than quadruple over the past decade. As condominiums sprout along East Houston Street, and residential and commercial activity spreads through the nearby neighborhood of South Williamsburg, the Bowery station has become the fastest growing station in the subway system in terms of ridership.
At that station, ridership has soared to 1,771 people a weekday entering the turnstiles to access trains on the J, M, and Z lines, compared to just 308 passengers who passed through the station during a weekday in 1995.
The subway station ridership statistics are one way to get a glimpse of New York City's dynamism. The changes in the city's neighborhoods are mirrored by increases in the numbers of people passing through the turnstiles.
"There's literally development going up on every single block on the Bowery between Houston and Sixth Street," the chair of the Coalition to Save the East Village, Anna Sawaryn, said. "The parking lots are disappearing one by one as hotels and condos go up."
A 260-foot-tall boutique hotel is being constructed on the Bowery between Fifth and Sixth streets, and the city's largest Whole Foods is slated to open in the Avalon Christie Place building on East Houston Street this spring. Ms. Sawaryn said that subway ridership is likely increasing as more residents and fewer parking lots make driving in the neighborhood more trouble than it's worth.
Miles east of the Lower East Side, near the end of the A line in the Rockaways, the subway station at Beach 98th Street has experienced a 40% increase in weekday ridership since 2001, making it the second-fastest growing station in New York.
The open-air station, which offers from its platform a view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance, is packed during morning and evening rush hours, but becomes the abandoned domain of seagulls during the day, according to the station agent, Steven Lewis.
While 978 riders swiping into the station on the average weekday may seem like comically small business for a subway station, compared to a mega-station like Times Square, where 169,000 passengers enter the station daily, the increase in ridership is significant for a neighborhood that has historically been considered an undesirable residential location.
"There is an incredible population shift underway," said Council Member James Sanders, who represents the Rockaways. "This is the only place on the East Coast with 300 acres of continuous city-owned vacant land that the city is now using for mega-developments." Two large development projects that will add 4,000 new housing units near the station are currently under construction. A growing Russian community has established itself by the waterfront, and Rockaway homes are selling for upward of $500,000, with beachfront properties going for as much as $1.2 million, Mr. Sanders said. The subway stations along the Rockaway line are scheduled for a major rehabilitation in 2008.
"You can feel the vitality here," a New York City Transit employee, Henry Jefferson, who lives one block from the Beach 98th Street station, said. "People are building and buying new houses out here, and there's all ethnicities coming in."
At Bronx Park East station, accessible by the 2 and the 5 lines, average weekday ridership has climbed to 2,277, up by 21% since 2001.
Council Member James Vacca, who represents Pelham Parkway, said the growth in ridership at the station is not the by-product of new development, so much as it is an indicator of a population that is growing younger. "Immigrants are now replacing elderly people who have passed on," Mr. Vacca said. "Now there are more working adults taking the train to work in Manhattan."
Each weekday, 4.7 million passengers move through the subway system's 422 stations. Just 15 stations, many of which are hub stations that serve as connections between train lines, account for 25% of total ridership. The remaining 3.15 million riders are split among smaller stations, where passengers come to recognize each other during their morning and evening commutes. "These days, there is no cold community," Mr. Sanders said. "Every place is hot."