The value of a property is determined by a lot of things. As any real estate agent will tell you, the most important variable is “location, location, location.” Location strongly influences property values because while some aspects of the property — such as its physical structure or features — can be changed, location is something that is permanent.
But what does it mean for a property to have a “good” location? Is it in a high-demand neighborhood or city? Is it close to shops, parks, good schools, and other desirable amenities? Does the property itself offer its inhabitants breathtaking views?
As you’d probably expect, having each of these desirable features can cause a property to increase in value. But one component of location that is often overlooked is access to infrastructure. And in New York City, there are few components of the city’s vast infrastructure that are more vital than the subway.
According to a study conducted by Urban Studies, the leading international journal for urban scholarship, “empirical results indicate that the direct savings in commuting costs have been capitalized into housing values.” Even without looking into this study, this makes sense: when people can easily get to other parts of the city and when people can eliminate transportation costs (such as owning a car), the property will be intrinsically more valuable.
Recent data indicates that less than half of New York City households own cars. In fact, less than 1.4 million households have a car, out of a total population of 3.1 million households. The car-free lifestyle is especially common in Manhattan and South Bronx, where car ownership in some neighborhoods is as low as twenty percent. Unsurprisingly, these are also the neighborhoods where the use of the subway and other types of public transportation are highest.
When you compare a map of New York City property values to a map of the subway system, the correlation between access to transportation and property is clear. Keeping this in mind, many real estate investors will look for properties near the busiest subway stations. Below, we will take a look at the ten busiest subway stations in New York, using data gathered by the Metro Transit Authority (MTA).
Times Square and 42nd Street
Times Square has been dubbed “the heart of civilization” and, though the highly visited neighborhood is often avoided by some locals, there is no denying that the neighborhood plays a critical role in New York City’s cultural scene. In 2020, this station experienced a ridership volume of 20,341,240, which was far more than any other station. In addition to the stop’s centralized location, its popularity is also driven by the fact it features many different lines, including the N, Q, R, W, S, 1, 2, 3, 7, and A, C, E trains. By boarding the subway here, you can reach almost any part of New York City with ease.
Grand Central and 42nd Street
Grand Central Station isn’t just a beautiful work of architecture—it also plays a very significant role in the city’s transportation infrastructure. Located near the Chrysler Building and just South of Midtown, the station plays a vital role in connecting Manhattan to the other boroughs. Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx can all be directly reached via this station, making it particularly common among daily commuters. The station allows access to the S, 4, 5, 6, and 7 lines. In 2020, its ridership was 13,162,826. Grand Central also provides relatively easy access to LaGuardia airport.
34th Street and Herald Square
The 34th and Herald Square station—located south and a bit more central than the stations mentioned above—enjoyed a ridership volume of 12,826,841 over the course of 2020. The station is not only located near the very middle of South Manhattan, but it also connects to some of the most popular Brooklyn-bound routes. As the western neighborhoods of Brooklyn continue their ambitious development—with Downtown Brooklyn currently booming—having a reliable connection between the city’s two economically active boroughs has proven to be vital.
14th Street and Union Square
In 2020, the subway station located at 14th Street and Union Square experienced a ridership volume of over 10.8 million. Located further south in Manhattan than any of the busier stations, the station is situated at the intersection of two of the city’s busiest subway lines: the green line and the yellow line. From a single location, riders can access the L, N, Q, R, W, 4, 5, and 6 lines, making it easy to access almost anywhere on the east side of Manhattan, as well as nearby Brooklyn. Additionally, property values in the neighborhood are kept high due to the stop’s proximity to Greenwich Village and other desirable locations.
The Fulton Street subway station is the busiest station in Downtown Manhattan. Last year, it experienced a ridership volume of 8,855,302—a figure that, interestingly, is very close to the total population of New York City. The station is located near the World Trade Center, Wall Street, and the rest of the financial district. Use of Fulton Street is heavily dependent on weekday commuters, meaning that it might be able to climb in the rankings once COVID shutdowns have fully subsided.
34th Street and Penn Station (1, 2, 3)
Penn Station effectively has two subway stations in one location, allowing it to claim both the sixth and seventh spots in the MTA’s annual report. Were Penn Station to be counted as a single station, it would rank second overall. The 1, 2, 3 lines extend north into the Bronx and south into Brooklyn, allowing for easy movement between boroughs. In 2020, this station had a rider volume of 8,103,809.
34th Street and Penn Station (A, C, E)
Like its nearby counterpart, the A, C, E lines coming out of Penn Station offer riders easy access to areas both outside and within Manhattan. The station, which experienced a rider volume of 8,010,472 last year, has also benefited from the development of Hudson Yards—the most expensive real estate development ever to occur in the United States. As the project progresses over the next decade, ridership will likely increase further.
59th Street and Columbus Circle
Last year, the subway station at 59th Street and Columbus Circle experienced a rider volume of 7,618,925. The station is located right near the southwest corner of Central Park, a blended-use neighborhood where the extremely commercialized Midtown meets the much more residential Upper West Side. Proximity to several museums, shops, and restaurants helps maintain consistent ridership, even on the weekends.
74th and Broadway
The 74th and Broadway station, located in Queens (near the Brooklyn border), was the busiest New York subway station found outside of Manhattan. In 2020, the station witnessed a ridership volume of 7,523,538, largely due to the fact it was commonly used by individuals heading to LaGuardia or looking to transfer between lines. The presence of the 7, E, F, M, and R lines have made this station become one of the city’s most important.
Flushing and Main Street
Though the Flushing and Main Street station is served by just one line—the 7—the fact this station is a terminal has caused it to rank among the city’s busiest. The station is a frequent destination for individuals living in Queens, along with those living beyond city limits on Long Island. As you will find with many terminal stations, there are many parks and ride options nearby. Were the line to ever be extended further—an idea that has been floated around MTA—the values of properties further down the line would likely increase.
Notes on Our Analysis
This list contains the ten busiest NYC subway stations from 2020, a year that was much different from almost anything we have ever seen before. Last year, subway ridership was much lower than it was the year before. Many of these stations experienced rider volumes up to three times higher in 2019 (MTA). However, even keeping this in mind, the list of the ten busiest stations was relatively unchanged. These stations play a very critical role in New York City—New York’s subway system is the largest and busiest in the country. By taking the time to understand the complexities of this city’s massive subway network, you can improve your outcomes as a property investor (or, at the very least, find a better route to work). Check out our annual subway rent map to find out how much you can charge or have to pay in rent by your subway stop.