Rush Hour in Williamsburg…at 1 AM


By Carson Qing

Last September, one of our research assistants at the NYU Rudin Center, Nolan Levenson, took an interesting picture at the Bedford Avenue subway station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (right). The subway platform was filled to capacity with straphangers, but what makes the photo interesting is that the image was captured in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, at 1:30 AM. There has been much discussion, and subsequent action, over the issue of providing more L-train service on the weekends to better serve this ridership growth, but the image of a subway platform filled to near capacity at 1:30 AM on a Sunday morning, when Manhattan-bound trains run on 20 minute headways, raises some interesting questions about travel characteristics along this particular subway line.
Since 2005, ridership on the L train has soared, with every station in Brooklyn posting double digit growth rates in ridership on weekdays (with the exception of Broadway Junction). On weekends, ridership by station has grown at even faster rates: tripling or even quadrupling the ridership growth on an average weekday for a given station. The Morgan Avenue station in Bushwick had the greatest ridership growth on both weekdays (+59%) and weekends (+174%) of all L-train stops in Brooklyn from 2005 to 2010. The Bedford Avenue station in Williamsburg had the greatest absolute increase in average weekday ridership (+5,867) and average Saturday ridership (+9,236) from 2005 to 2010. The two maps below compare ridership growth on an average weekday (left) and on average weekend (right) for all L-train stations in Brooklyn, from 2005 to 2010.

 

To examine these weekend ridership trends in more detail, I used the MTA’s turnstile data and took a sample of a turnstile at the Bedford Avenue station over one week in August 2012 to identify trends in peak hours of subway ridership, and what could be driving these patterns in weekend ridership. I classified both entries and exits into the Bedford Avenue station and identified “peak hours” in subway ridership, which were hourly intervals that were in the top 25% of all intervals in the sample data in total entries or exits into the station. The results are summarized in the chart below (note: data is only for a single turnstile, and is only meant to illustrate ridership trends):

What’s remarkable about this case study for Bedford Avenue is that not only are there ridership peaks for long durations on Saturday (8 am to 4 am Sunday) and Sunday (8 am to 8 pm), but entry/exit figures are actually comparable to morning and evening rush hours during the work week: thus, growth in weekend ridership at Bedford Avenue has increased so much that it may very well have resulted in an “extended rush hour” for almost the entire weekend.

Even more remarkable is that the peak entry hours on Saturday night actually extend into the wee hours of Sunday morning for the sampled data, suggesting that the crowded subway platform at 1:30 AM might in fact be quite a common occurrence. Given recent, dramatic changes in demographics and land use patterns in Williamsburg, these unusual peak hour trip patterns should be expected. Not only has there been a well-documented influx in 25-to-34 year olds in Williamsburg (25% of the population, compared to 17% in 2006, according to census data), but there has also been a significant growth in restaurants and bars that are open late on weekends and draw young New Yorkers from across the city to the neighborhood (117% increase in full service restaurants and 59% increase in bars since 2005, according to census business data). The peak entry hours from 12 am to 4 am on a Sunday morning should be expected given the context of how Williamsburg has changed dramatically in just a few short years, as many of the restaurant and bar patrons are likely contributing to this peak period of subway ridership during these late night hours.

These trends reveal that due to the growth in weekend ridership on the L-train, conventional assumptions of travel demand for this particular subway line may no longer be appropriate, and may require some adjustments in service offerings during weekend evenings, late nights, and other times of day. According to subway schedules, the MTA currently runs roughly 43 Manhattan-bound trains on the L during a weekday morning rush hour (8 am-12 pm) and 48 Manhattan-bound trains during Saturday afternoon (4 pm-8 pm), falling to roughly 32 on Saturday night (8 pm -12 am) and 13 during weekend late-night hours (12am-4 am Sunday). With only 13 trains during one of the busiest travel periods of the entire week, crowded platforms at Bedford Avenue and nearby stations during late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings will likely be commonplace going forward.

The growth in weekend ridership on the L-train in Brooklyn and peak travel demand during unconventional hours show how as cities and neighborhoods evolve, traditional assumptions of “rush hour” travel will inevitably change. Transportation providers should be flexible and adaptable to recognize these anomalies, rather than assume that travel characteristics are uniform system-wide, and respond by offering level of services that are appropriate given these unique patterns in peak travel demand.

Have you taken the L from Bedford Avenue during late night hours on the weekend? Are weekend, late night hours in Williamsburg comparable to weekday morning “rush hours?” Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Short Talks, Big Ideas: Recap and video


Last night’s Video of last night’s excellent Short Talks, Big Ideas session is now up:
Short Talks, Big Ideas

Thanks to the 100 or so attendees, and in particular, to all of our excellent presenters:
David Mahfouda, Weeels, brought to light the concept of taxis as public transit
Taylor Reiss, NYC Dept. of Transportation, showcased exciting plans for Select Bus Service
Jesse Friedman, Google, proposed new ideas to make bus ridership more appealing
Brian Langel, Dash, presented his new app Dash for personalized car data
Susi Wunsch, Velojoy, discussed the importance of women in bicycling efforts
- Raz Schwartz, Rutgers, showed the compelling urban data that can be gleaned from social media and neighborhood connectivity
Matt Healy, Foursquare, demonstrated the movements of New Yorkers shown through FourSquare checkins

We’ll see you in the Spring with more exciting events. If you have speaker suggestions for our next Short Talks, Big Ideas event, please get in touch!

Commuting After Hurricane Sandy: Survey Results


Sarah Kaufman and Carson Qing

As part of the NYU Rudin Center’s recent report on transportation impacts from Hurricane Sandy, we conducted a survey of commuters to learn about their experiences of getting to work after the storm.

The survey was conducted online, on the site Surveymonkey.com, and was publicized via email blasts and social media. Three hundred-fifteen people in 98 zip codes responded anonymously between October 31 and November 6th, answering questions about their typical and post-Sandy commutes.

Key findings from the survey included:

Many people in the region worked after the storm, either physically reporting to an office or by telecommuting. New Jersey had the lowest rate of people who continued to work, at 56%, while 85% of Brooklyn respondents worked, at the highest percentage.

With limited transit options after the storm, New York commuters significantly altered their commute patterns. Bus ridership rose in Brooklyn (5% of respondents normally used buses, but 12% reported using buses November 1-2) after shuttle buses were put in place of subway routes disrupted due to flooding. Bike commuting rose significantly in Manhattan (15% normal to 24% Nov 1/2) and Queens (17% to 30%).

Post-hurricane commute lengths varied significantly by home region, as shown in the table below. The largest differences were in Staten Island, where commute times almost tripled, and Brooklyn, where they doubled. Variations among home locations are due to the wide range of transportation options available to each set of commuters, and the lower number of survey respondents who reported physically to work, rather than telecommuting or not working.

Post-hurricane commutes were twice or three times as long, varying by mode, as shown in the chart below.Average post-Sandy commute lengths ranged from 43 minutes (walked on Nov 1/2) to 115 minutes (drove, or took subway and bus). Frustration levels ranged from 2.3 on the lower end (walked) to 5.7 on the higher end (drove). Commuters who drove, or took a subway and bus combination, had the greatest difference, with travel times at nearly triple their typical lengths. As expected, they were also among the most frustrated commuters.

Walking and biking commuters were, on average, the least frustrated. Commuters who biked to work Nov 1/2 had the fewest delays in their commutes, as they were only 9 minutes longer than their usual commute. Telecommuters ranked their level of frustration on a similar level as transit commuters, 3.7 to 3.8, perhaps due to communications difficulties of connecting to work.

Commuters used a variety of communications channels to learn about transportation resources, as shown in the chart below. They most commonly referred to official websites and social media, and least from smartphone apps and community groups. The lack of smartphone app connectivity was likely due to the lack of schedule and outage data used for programming the apps.

These figures show the need for increased storm preparation and ever-present public information in times of crisis to ensure residents’ mobility. However, the survey results also demonstrate the resilience of New Yorkers and their workplaces; even in the face of detrimental circumstances, New Yorkers’ businesses maintained operations, showcasing the extreme adaptability of their operations, finances and creativity. The adaptations to new, longer commutes are uniquely New York, in that the population quickly adapted to alternate and substitute transportation modes, new norms of local business practices, flexible, temporary workplaces, and continuous communications.

 

Survey respondents’ home and workplace locations, by zip code:

 

 

Average commute times and frustration levels by home region, November 1-2, 2012

Home Region Pre-Sandy Typical Commute Time (min) Post-Sandy Commute Time (min) Percent Reporting Physically to Work* Self-Reported Frustration Level, 1 (min) – 10 (max)
Manhattan 29 52 56% 2.97
Brooklyn 42 86 58% 3.93
Queens 45 47 65% 3.00
Bronx 41 63 100% 2.14
Staten Island 84 240 25% 7.00
New Jersey 52 69 27% 5.67
Northern Suburbs 73 61 33% 2.40
Long Island 85 85 33% 2.00

* Excludes telecommuters

 

 

Commuters’ travel time by mode and self-reported frustration level:

NOV 1/2 MODE Pre-Sandytravel time (min) Post-Sandy travel time (min) Avg frustration index (1-10)
Walk only 21.1 43.3 2.3
Bike only 43.6 52.0 2.7
Drive only 47.3 114.7 5.7
Taxi only 30.0 65.0 5.5
Subway only 35.0 51.4 2.9
Bus only 42.3 100.8 4.2
Rail only 80.0 85.0 2.0
Subway + bus 46.5 115.1 4.9
Subway + bus + rail 60.0 75.0 2.0
Any transit* 41.7 86.3 3.8
Telecommuting 40.1 0.0 3.7
Did not work 42.3 0.0 5.6

*includes PATH, private buses, ferries and other miscellaneous transit options

 

Sources of Transportation Information

Respondents were asked to select all that apply.

National Perspective on the NYC Subway Fare


Just how far does a single ride ticket get you in subway systems across the U.S.? In light of the MTA fare hike discussions, the NYU Rudin Center decided to investigate:

Even if the base fare is raised to $2.50, you’re still able to go about six times farther on a MetroCard than the MBTA Charlie Card, WMATA SmarTrip or any other city fare. As Americans’ commutes get longer, NYC Subways remain one of the best bargains in the country.

UPDATE: Based on feedback via Twitter followers: True, most people don’t ride the entire track length. But the system’s size determines the costs to run, maintain and secure it. A system of NY’s size can’t afford to run on the same fare as Chicago’s.

Super-commuters in the news: A Roundup


Our recent report on super-commuters has struck a chord across the country, making the news in a variety of places:

Businessweek, Bloomberg, Toronto Globe & Mail and Atlantic Cities, among others, covered the growing trend of longer commutes.
– WNYC’s Transportation Nation featured a map of air commuters to New York City.
– USA Today discussed the number one super-commute corridor, between Tucson and Phoenix.
– The St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured a law professor who commutes weekly from Chicago to St. Louis.
– The Houston Chronicle saw the report as a call for more transportation options in the region.

This roundup is only some of the coverage shown here. What’s most telling is the broad reach of people affected by this growing trend, and how it affects local economies, commuters’ families, and the shrinking importance of in-office time.

 

Super-Commuters and the Market for Inter-City Transportation


By Carson Qing

Earlier this week, we examined the impact of the super-commuter’s emergence on transportation policies, using the example of the Arizona Department of Transportation’s study of a potential intercity rail line connecting Tucson and Phoenix, one of the most prominent super-commute corridors in the nation. But in recent years, the private sector has serviced a great number of these super-commutes.

While the Northeast Corridor is well-served by Amtrak, a fleet of discount bus companies (Megabus, Boltbus, Peter Pan, and several enterprising Chinatown bus operators) has provided an alternative for potential super-commuters between major cities, in response to the growing market for affordable intercity travel. Because super-commuters tend to be younger and are more likely to come from middle-income backgrounds, they may very well be responsible for the growing success of the intercity bus industry in the Northeast.

Private bus companies have played a significant role in shuttling thousands of super-commuters from Eastern Pennsylvania to Manhattan on a daily basis. Since 2002, the number of residents in the East Stroudsburg, PA metro area working in Manhattan has more than doubled, gobbling up affordable and spacious single-family homes in the eastern Poconos. The 75-mile, 2 hour, $60 round-trip commute to the Port Authority Bus Terminal has become a popular option of these hardy commuters, profiled in this 2008 New York Times article. Private bus operators such as Martz and Transbridge provide commuter services to Manhattan from as far west as Wilkes-Barre and Allentown, respectively. Even though no public infrastructure investments have been made to support development in the area, Eastern Pennsylvania is quickly becoming one of New York City’s newest exurbs as private commuter bus companies have made these daily super-commutes to Manhattan feasible.

Airlines have also facilitated super-commuting by adding greater flight capacity along these emerging corridors: in 2005, JetBlue added 10 flights per day from Boston-Logan to JFK Airport, a 14% increase in capacity, according to the New York Times. Since 2006, the number of residents from the Boston metropolitan area working in Manhattan has doubled. Southwest Airlines, whose entire business model is centered on short, 200-400 mile trips that have seen a significant growth in potential commuters over the past decade, may also make it possible to shuttle between the Texas Triangle cities once or twice weekly. Along the fastest growing super-commuting corridor in the nation (Dallas to Houston), Southwest runs a staggering 25 flights per day between the two cities. These examples show how the market has already responded to the demand for inter-city travel and contributed to the growing trend of super-commuting, while transportation policies are only starting to account for this emerging segment of the labor force.

Work Day Population Increases Across the U.S.


 

On the average work day, Manhattan’s population increases by nearly 1.5 million people. See the chart below for the top 10 workday population increases in counties across the United States.

This chart is part of our report, “The Dynamic Population of Manhattan,” which analyzes the volume of people flowing in and out of Manhattan during a 24-hour period. Click here for the full report.

The Super-Commuter and Transportation Policy


By Carson Qing

In our recently released super-commuter study, we defined a potential super-commuter as an individual who works in the core county of one metropolitan labor market, but lives in another metropolitan area, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool. Using these definitions, super-commuters may include individuals who commute daily, weekly, monthly, or may not even commute at all, working remotely. Below is a chart of the most common super-commutes in the United States.

The Arizona Sun Corridor is the most prominent super-commute corridor in the nation, based on the 10 core counties of the largest metropolitan labor markets. Residents from the Tucson area commuting to the Phoenix area (Maricopa County) account for 3.6% of the latter’s workforce, or 54,400 total. Robert Lang and Arthur Nelson have conducted extensive research on the growing convergence between metropolitan regions, and first coined the term “Sun Corridor,” which they predict will become the next Dallas-Fort Worth, merging into a mega-region of 9 million people over the next few decades.

Transportation planners in Arizona are already quite familiar with the impact of that super-commutes are having along the Sun Corridor. Arizona DOT planners estimate that already lengthy super-commutes on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix would take more than twice as long in 2050 due to a doubling in travel demand, even if the road were to be widened, primarily due to population and economic growth, as well as the already substantial volume of daily commutes between the two cities. Consequently, DOT officials are in the early stages of studying the impact of a multi-billion dollar intercity passenger rail line connecting the two cities in anticipation of the mega-region’s emergence and to sustain its current economic and demographic growth. Establishing a rail corridor may allow land use planners to shape development patterns in a way that e  nhances mobility between the regions and further alleviates the anticipated traffic congestion along the I-10 corridor. The Phoenix-Tucson rail initiative exemplifies how the emergence of the super-commuter during the past decade is already making a significant and important impact in regional transportation policy. On Thursday, I will discuss what the private sector has already done to facilitate these super-commutes nationwide.