For most of its 8 million-plus daily riders, the MTA is something they despise. The customer service is horrible, the trains and buses are late and crowded, and the overall riding experience is stressful. But it doesn't have to be this way. New York's expansive transit system contains some very scenic rides that will make you rethink the way you see the MTA. Unlike your daily commute to and from work or school, these rides will help you relax and de-stress.
1. A Train Between Howard Beach-JFK and Broad Channel
This is the longest stretch between two consecutive NYC Subway stations (3.5 miles long and approximately 7 minutes each way) but undoubtedly the most scenic. Heading south from Howard Beach, the train heads on to a drawbridge that cuts right through the middle of the expansive Jamaica Bay. If you listen closely you can even hear the sound of the waves gently rocking the bridge's support columns. Towards the east, you can see JFK Airport and potentially planes taking off and landing. After a mile and a half of breathtaking maritime views, the train rolls through marshland at speeds up to 50 mph-close to the speed limit of the subway system. This ride is always stunning, but especially during the PM rush hour right before sunset. And the best part about all this is that the A train mostly runs R46 type cars, which are very quiet and smooth.
2. Q44 or Q50 LTD via Bronx-Whitestone Bridge
Front window view from a Q50 bus crossing the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge.
This is probably the most scenic portion of NYC's expansive bus system. The Q44 and Q50 are the only two bus routes connecting the Bronx and Manhattan, and both cross the graceful, Art Deco style Bronx-Whitestone Bridge to connect these two boroughs. Looking west from the bridge, you can see the Midtown Manhattan skyline in the distance and LaGuardia Airport closer by. If you look east, you will see the Throgs Neck Bridge and the wealthy suburbs of North Shore Long Island. And all this takes place over a seemingly endless expanse of azure water since the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge crosses the East River at one of its widest points.
3. M60 SBS via RFK Bridge
The M60 Select Bus Service, which connects Upper Manhattan to Astoria, Queens and LaGuardia Airport, is the only bus route to cross the East River suspension span of the RFK Bridge. This crossing is another one of NYC's most scenic, with views of the East River and Upper Manhattan towards the South, and the historic Hell Gate Bridge (which inspired the world famous Sydney Harbor Bridge) to the north. On top of that, the RFK bridge makes a sweeping turn on Randall's Island between Manhattan and Queens, making this already breathtaking crossing even more breathtaking.
4. Eastbound Q101 via Queensboro Bridge
The Queensboro Bridge has been featured in numerous works of pop culture, from The Great Gatsby to Charlotte's Web, and it's not hard to see why. The exposed cantilever structure of this century-old bridge is truly a marvel of engineering, and the views of Midtown Manhattan and Queens from the upper level are breathtaking. There are three local bus routes that cross the Queensboro Bridge: the Q32, Q60, and Q101. Unfortunately, only the eastbound (Queens-bound) Q101 crosses the bridge on the upper level; the Q32 and Q60, as well as the westbound Q101 all use the far less scenic lower level. But if you ever ride the eastbound Q101, sit back, relax, and enjoy the views, since you are in for a treat
5. BMT Brighton Line
The BMT Brighton Line, used by the B and Q trains in Brooklyn, is a favorite among photographers and transit enthusiasts, and for good reason. Unlike most NYC subway lines, the Brighton Line does not run underground or on elevated tracks, but rather in open cuts, or trenches. This, along with an abundance of vegetation and long stretches of straight track, provides stunning photo opportunities, as well as long and fast express runs and a general rustic feel. Riding this line is strangely relaxing and invigorating, in stark contrast to a Lexington Avenue rush hour train at crush load. The Brighton Line really brightens your day.
Despite its reputation for being a stress creator, NYC's transit system is also an excellent stress reliever. It is full of beauty and splendor. You just have to discover it. And once you do, you will not only appreciate but be grateful for, the greatest city in the world and its transit system ever so much more.