Will New York’s JMZ Lines Replace the Brooklyn L Train?

Let’s talk about the L train– the brand, magnet, and conduit to all that is artisanal in Brooklyn, New York. While it is all these things, above all else, the L train is just a means of getting around. Starting in April 2019, the line’s 400,000 daily riders will have to find a new way to commute. Thanks to superstorm Sandy, which hit in 2012, the MTA is shutting down part of the line for 15 months to make repairs. As a key point of connection between Brooklyn and Manhattan, this poses a serious problem for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who depend on it daily.

What will happen when the convenience of the L train is gone? 

Although temporary, the L train’s closure will have an irrevocable impact on nearby communities. Those drawn to neighborhoods along the L because of their proximity to the city will have to reckon with a considerable loss of convenience.

According to the DOT and MTA, seventy to eighty percent of L train riders are expected to seek alternate routes while the line is out of commission. To placate displaced commuters, the MTA will work with the city’s Department of Transportation to install a series of bus-only lanes in Manhattan, impose travel restrictions on the Williamsburg Bridge, and increase subway service along lines near the L train.

The L train will be shut down for a year and a half, severing service between Bedford Avenue and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, to make Sandy-related repairs.

In this study, we are particularly interested in that last piece of the puzzle, which focuses on beefing up the the city’s JMZ trains. As the only Manhattan-bound lines in north Brooklyn that approximate the L’s path, these trains are at the heart of forthcoming mitigation plans. While it is unclear how much change will be sparked by the shutdown, this project seeks to trace the movement of people and capital in JMZ-neighborhoods during the run-up to April 2019. We are not setting out to prove anything, but rather to compile data and capture the state of development along the JMZ in months leading up to the shutdown.

Methodology and Analysis

Our goal during this transitional period is to capture the state of development in neighborhoods along the JMZ. To do so, we turned to data from the American Community Survey (ACS), which describes the demographics of people and data collected by the DOF, MTA, and DOB. To look at the relationship of these datasets to JMZ trains, we used location data on JMZ subway entrances.

With all of this data, we we were able to explore changes in housing sales, subway ridership, construction permits and, of course, neighborhood composition in a pre- and post-Sandy world from 2011 to 2015. The map below gives of sense of the project scope.

Area of Analysis

Areas included in this study are located within a half mile walking distance from JMZ trains. There are many demographic variables that we can explore, but here we will narrow our focus to sex, age, race, educational attainment for populations over 25 years, and median household incomeas defined by the ACS to get a sense of neighborhood composition within a half mile distance of the JMZ. The diagram below presents an overview of the distribution of these variables within our area of analysis for 2011.

Key Findings in 2011:

  • Majority nonwhite population
  • Median income below national and city average
  • 40% of studied population was college educated
  • 28% of studied population lived in poverty

In this study we are specifically interested in what is getting  sold and devolped within our area of analysis, as well as the quantity of which. If you are interested in the raw numbers, below are the important ones for 2011. 

  • 2,907 homes sold (primarily 1, 2, or 3 family homes)  
  • Average home sold for $330,000
  • 1,000 building permits  filed
  • 39 permits  filed for new buildings and demolitions
      Locations of Permits and Homes sold against Median Income. 2011, ACS data.

The relationship is not significant but the location of houses sold and filed permits, on average, cluster in areas of middle-income or less. To put these findings in context, we visualized the locations of houses sold and filed permits against the distribution of income with a choropleth map.

Now that we covered 2011, let’s fast forward to 2015 and see what’s changed.

While this study only covers four years' time, a number of changes occurred that give insight into the future of the JMZ corridor. The most significant shifts we discovered pertained to the pace of development. In the facts and figures below you'll notice that the value of homes located within a half mile distance of JMZ trains increased exponentially between 2011 and 2015.
The average sale price of a 1, 2 or 3 family home spiked 85 percent from $330,000 to $450,353. This change is even more drastic when you consider median income. In addition to an increases in property value, there was also a substantial increase in the number of permits filed for New Buildings and Demolition. At the same time:

  • Household income grew by 10%
  • Total population grew by 5%
  • 13% increase in young adult population (25-34 years old)

Analysis and Conclusion 

Our final maps reveal the following information:

  • Despite their proximity to JMZ stations, small clusters saw net decreases in median income. JMZ stations with the greatest gains in ridership, such as Myrtle Avenue and Lorimer Street, were situated in the areas where median income grew by more than 28%.

  • If you are wondering why certain blocks in the region analysis saw a net decrease in median income, you’re not alone. While proximity to a subway station, income levels, and development normally have a net positive correlation, as we see in the data, there are regions within our area of analysis that defy this concept.

So what sets them apart?

Public housing! To date, NYCHA has been effective in keeping development pressures away from parts of the JMZ corridor. However, this may not be the case for much longer. Many of the houses sold between 2011 and 2015 surrounded NYCHA perimeters, some properties were even located between buildings.

What’s this mean for the JMZ corridor?

With troubles ahead for the L and the MTA's plan to beef up nearby trains, the JMZ corridor is uniquely positioned to absorb fluctuation. In addition to already having the infrastructure in place to serve the impending migration of riders, neighborhoods that surround JMZ trains offer renters pockets of affordability that no longer exist along the L line. These conditions make the JMZ corridor ripe for development and shifts in population in the coming years. Increases in property value and construction and demolition permits are some of the the most of obvious signs of gentrification and now, with the impending L train shutdown scheduled for 2019, we can only expect developers to kick their efforts into a higher gear.