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Where the New York City Subway Doesn't Go

A map of “transit deserts” shows the plight of the outer boroughs.

With 468 stations (now available on a single poster!), 5.6 million daily riders, and enough track mileage to reach Chicago if laid end-to-end, you might think there’s nowhere in New York City the subway doesn’t go. A new map from local transportation data junkie Chris Whong kindly asks that you think again.

Whong punches blue holes into parts of the city within 500 meters (roughly .3 miles) of a subway station—exposing the areas left in white as “subway deserts.” Here’s the full viz:

A few things stand out. One is how many deserts exist in the outer boroughs, with Staten Island and eastern parts of Queens especially subway-deprived. Thin desert strips do exist in Manhattan along 10th Avenue in midtown west and 2nd Avenue on the east side, though the coming 7 train extension and 2nd Avenue line should fill these gaps. The lack of subway access to the city’s two major airports, LaGuardia and JFK, is another notable void.

Whong’s map has some obvious limitations. The choice to use .3 miles as the walking threshold seems low—especially in a city as pedestrian-friendly as New York. The impact of transit-oriented development can range up to a mile away from a station, suggesting some riders are willing to walk farther than planners typically think. And lots of the “subway deserts” shown here aren’t actually transit deserts once you take bus service into account:

About 97 percent of New York City’s population is within a quarter-mile of a local bus stop. (Regional Plan Association)

Still, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that operates the subway makes its case for a long-term funding plan, any reminder of how New York’s great system can become even better is a welcome one.

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