Well, I can’t take this train. Credit to Curtis R on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztSXGDEw1TI

Why doesn’t the 7 Express stop at 74th St?

74th St — Broadway, or Jackson Heights — Roosevelt Av, is a very busy transit hub. It’s the 14th busiest station in the city and the second busiest in Queens behind Flushing-Main St. Many buses and trains stop there, including the E, F, M, R. However, one does not: express 7 trains run past platforms full of waiting passengers at this stop. It seems like a foolish oversight; however, it is a intentional choice on the part of the MTA to do so.

What if the 7 Express did stop at 74th St?

On the 7, express and local trains run at about the same frequency. Since the waiting time is going to be the same for either a local or an express train, you’d just want to take the fastest train out of your station heading to your destination. The only time a local train would be faster than an express train would be if you were heading to or from a local stop.

In 2016, the express stations (Queensboro Plaza, Woodside, Junction Blvd, Mets-Willets-Point and Flushing-Main St) saw 112,482 passengers every weekday. Local-only stations east of Queensboro Plaza — excluding 74th St — saw 89,959 passengers every weekday. The four express stations stations are much busier than the rest of the ones on the line, and on top of that Queensboro Plaza’s ridership statistics do not count transfers to and from the N/W. (There are quite a lot of them; the “peak load point” where trains are most crowded on the 7 is Queensboro Plaza because the 7 is much slower going into Manhattan than the N/W.)

Because express trains would serve the busiest stations much faster than local trains, and because they have roughly similar wait times, expresses would enter and leave 74th St severely overcrowded, and locals would be relatively empty. This would be unpleasant for everybody; for commuters, express trains would be delayed as lots of people tried to get on and off packed trains. For the MTA, operations would be inefficient; some trains would be packed and have to leave passengers behind, while others would leave the station with plenty of room to spare.

You can actually see this in effect downstairs at Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Av; the platforms during peak hours are overflowing with people being passed up by express E/F trains, while local M/R trains pass through with seats available.

To Ease Overcrowding, Filter Passengers

By having express trains skip 74th St, passengers are now forced to make a choice. They can either have a very fast ride to an Manhattan from an express station, or they can get to 74th St, but not both.

This “filtering” has several positive effects. For the MTA, operations are now easier as passengers are more distributed between trains and express trains are not held up by additional overcrowding. For passengers, express trains are faster and more reliable, and local trains are generally less full and more comfortable than a packed express train.

The only downside is that passengers to and from 74th St have slightly longer trips. This side effect is not that terrible; express trains are only faster by four minutes going from Woodside to Main St, and faster by only two minutes going from Woodside to Queensboro Plaza. Getting passed up by full express trains, on the other hand, would result in much longer trip times for 74th St passengers.

Other Examples of Filtering

There are other examples of filtering throughout the system used to distribute passengers.

  • At Yankee Stadium, you can choose express service to Manhattan or a transfer to the 4, but not both.
  • At 14th St-6th Av, you can choose express service on 6th Av or a transfer to the L, but not both.
  • At 4th Av-9th St, you can choose express service to Manhattan or a transfer to the F/G, but not both.
  • At Bleecker St, you can choose express service heading to Midtown or a transfer to the B/D/F/M, but not both.
  • At 51st St/Lexington Av, you can choose express service and an Astoria transfer, or a transfer to the E/M to Queens Blvd, but not both.*

*This one has a bit of a complicated history; Astoria service used to be local-only as well, but having all Queens services available from only local trains caused overcrowding at the nearest express stations, and the MTA’s predecessor was forced to convert 59th St to an express stop. So at least in some cases, filtering works a little bit too well.

As a passenger, it sucks to have trains fly by you at a crowded station, and it may not make much sense. But by forcing people to make a decision to have a fast ride or transfer, it improves reliability and ride quality for everybody.