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Maps

The Many Ways People Commute to New York

Manhattan’s hordes of workers pour in by bus, subway, train, unicycle, and helicopter.

Parsons Brinckerhoff

So many commuters pour into Manhattan from other boroughs and elsewhere that it doubles the island’s daily population from 1.6 million to 3.1 million, as per a 2013 Census estimate.

How are they traveling there—by bus, train, car, or canoe? A report commissioned by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, called the Trans-Hudson Commuting Capacity Study, answers (most) of that question in excruciating detail, showing the commutes of people who work in Manhattan in a pointillistic, rainbow-colored smorgasbord.

The agency tasked Parsons Brinckerhoff to prepare the report to study a possible overhaul or replacement of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, whose daily users are expected to increase from 232,000 to 337,000 by 2040. Included in the document is this map, highlighted by Redditor legalskeptic, that’s based on port and Census data and that shows “1 Dot = 1 Commuter.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff

A couple things stand out: Folks in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens overwhelmingly use the subway. Much of Staten Island takes the bus, and there’s a hot spot of ferry activity near its northern terminal. Commuters in Westchester like to come down on the railway, while New Jersey workers are all over the place, but seem to prefer cars more than most other areas.

Unfortunately, the map does not depict people who bike to the office. It also misses the two guys who paddle kayaks across the Hudson River from Hoboken, the nut who pedals a unicycle, or the people who zoom from Morristown, New Jersey, to Wall Street in 12 minutes in helicopters. Perhaps a future version will catch up on these outliers.

For folks who are interested in the study’s recommendations, it’s basically “build a new Port Authority.” Here’s part of its conclusion:

The authors have not found convincing evidence that a reconstructed bus terminal with substantially fewer gates than the full-build options presented in the [Midtown Bus Master Plan] could be relied upon to accommodate future demand for trans-Hudson bus travel over the useful life of the facility. Some adjustments in capacity and scope may be possible, but the evidence does not support large reductions in the number of bus gates.

The review of available trans-Hudson alternatives and commuter market trends affirms that there is no effective or practical substitute for expanded trans-Hudson commuter bus service. Meeting this regional need will require a replacement [Port Authority Bus Terminal] with expanded peak-period operations capacity, as well as infrastructure and operational innovations west-of-the-Hudson, especially along the Lincoln Tunnel corridor, that would enable the tunnel and the replacement [terminal] to operate with increased efficiency that contributes to safer and less congested mobility in West Midtown.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.