Innovations in Bus Rapid Transit: Event Recap


By Carson Qing

This week, the NYU Rudin Center and the Wagner Transportation Association (WTA) hosted a panel discussion of recent innovations in bus rapid transit (BRT) in the New York City metropolitan area. The panel’s presenters included Ted Orosz from MTA New York City Transit, Eric Beaton from the New York City Department of Transportation, and Tom Marchwinski from New Jersey Transit.

The discussion highlighted how transportation providers were able to find innovative solutions to implement BRT under the unique context of the New York City metropolitan region, where street widths, curbside usage, land use characteristics, and competing transit options often pose challenges for developing a BRT system similar to those built in Latin America and Asia. The panel’s speakers highlighted how implementation of Select Bus Service in New York City and bus rapid transit in high-volume, medium-density, and suburban settings in New Jersey have succeed in reducing travel times, improving level-of-service, and attracting new riders by adapting BRT characteristics to better fit the context of the corridors and communities they serve.

The presentations are available for download here: Ted Orosz, Eric Beaton, Tom Marchwinski

 

 

Super-Commuting vs. Mega-Commuting


Carson Qing & Sarah Kaufman

Earlier this week, The U.S. Census released a report announcing the proliferation of “mega-commuters,” 600,000 Americans who travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles each way. It’s slightly different from the “super-commuters” we at the NYU Rudin Center defined last year, who are individuals who work in one county (usually of a major metropolitan area), but live in another, usually commuting more than 90 miles each way.

The most pressing difference between the terms “mega-commuter” and “super-commuter” is that the former focuses on the individuals traveling long distances regularly to their workplaces, while the latter also includes people who make these journeys once or twice or week, at most. These long-distance, low-frequency super-commuters may travel to the office only once or twice per week at most, or maintain similarly unconventional schedules. Our definition of a super-commuter, estimated to be 3% to 10% of the workforce depending on the city, includes both “mega-commuters” and low-frequency, long-distance commuters who were not captured in the mega-commuter definition. The graphic below illustrates the differences between these two types of super-commuters in their travel behavior.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau provides two data sources to define origins and destinations of commuter flows. To define the mega-commuter, the Census Bureau used American Community Survey (ACS), which measures data from only 7.5% of the working population, then extrapolates the data for a larger population based from that sample. But the Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool (OTM), used in our super-commuter report last year, extracts employment data directly from state employment insurance records and represents coverage of nearly all employees and their work locations, with the exception of self-employed individuals. Because of this difference between ACS and OTM, the “mega-commuter” figure is most likely an undercount of long-distance commuters.

Using OTM, we found nearly 650,000 long-distance commuters in the top five U.S. super-commuting metropolitan areas who commute to the core county from a county outside the metropolitan area. OTM is more successful at capturing low-frequency commuting trips than the ACS, because the ACS’s line of questioning focuses on frequent trip-making, asking respondents where did they work for the majority of the past week and how did they travel to work, and assumes that the sample data applies to a larger population[1]. Low-frequency commuters are coded as “working from home” in the ACS, even though in reality their link to the workplace is not severed: the trips are made less frequently, due to the impediments of travel time, distance, and cost.

The rise of “tele-commuters,” who now represent 10% of the total workforce (or in the case of Aetna, 47% of its workforce, up from 9% in 2005[2]), and low-frequency, long-distance commuting has created a fundamental shift in the way people travel between home and work. The traditional “Journey to Work” survey methodology used in the ACS does not fully capture new patterns of commuting or the growing distances between home and work locations in metropolitan regions. It neglects the large and growing number of Americans who do not travel exclusively between home and work on a regular basis. Thus, transportation planners and researchers should not overly rely on the “Journey to Work” methodology to analyze and understand transportation flows: a more nuanced data source that captures a greater variety of trip purposes is increasingly necessary to analyze travel behavior in this new era of commuting.


[1] Spear, Bruce. “Improving Employment Data for Transportation Planning.” Cambridge Systematics. September 2011. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP08-36(98)_FR.pdf

[2] Miller, C. & Rampbell, C. “Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office.” The New York Times. 25 February 2013.

Manhattan Commuting Trends: An In-Depth Look


Carson Qing

Earlier this week, we discussed the unique patterns of employment “re-centralization” that the New York City metropolitan area experienced over the past decade. Now, we focus on the region’s core, Manhattan, and where its commuters are coming from. A detailed analysis, building on last year’s report describing trends in commuting among Manhattan’s workforce, reveals that most of the growth in Manhattan commuting has originated from waterfront neighborhoods in Jersey City, Hoboken, and Brooklyn, areas that experienced significant high-density residential development in recent years.

Using the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics dataset from the U.S. Census Bureau, I identified specific towns and neighborhoods (defined as ZIP codes) that have the greatest increase in commuters to Manhattan. The interactive map below shows areas of residence with growth and declines in Manhattan commuters from 2002 to 2010 in absolute numbers. Zip codes shaded as blue represent a decrease or no difference in commuters to Manhattan. Darker shades of red indicate greater increases in commuters to Manhattan from that zip code. Click around to see the figures at a neighborhood level.

These numbers indicate substantial increases in Manhattan work trips originating from Northern Brooklyn, Western Queens, Jersey City and Hoboken, the South Bronx and Staten Island. The five neighborhoods with the greatest increase in Manhattan commuters were Williamsburg (+5,405), the Paulus Hook section of Jersey City (+4,262), Downtown Brooklyn (+3,598), Williamsburg/Bedford-Stuyvesant (+3,373), and Greenpoint (+3,139), all consisting of neighborhoods situated along either the Hudson or East River waterfronts. Areas that saw declines in commuters to Manhattan were largely in the northern and eastern suburbs, consisting of neighborhoods in eastern Queens and Westchester, Rockland, and Nassau counties.

High-density residential developments along the waterfronts in New Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens, paired with the expected increase in Manhattan-bound commutes from those neighborhoods, indicate that there are significant opportunities for expansion in ferry services in New York City. The East River Ferry that connects the neighborhoods of Downtown Brooklyn/DUMBO, Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City with the Midtown East and Lower Manhattan business districts has been far more successful than originally anticipated during the first year of its 3-year pilot service, carrying more than 1.6 million passengers (300,000 more than expected). A long-term extension and expansion of ferry services on the East River should be strongly considered as a strategy to relieve rush hour crowding on subway lines such as the L and 7 lines and provide a more convenient travel alternative.

The growth in Manhattan commuting to from the west in suburban New Jersey is not limited to communities with “one-seat” rides into Manhattan where no transfers are required to get in. Communities in Bergen and Passaic Counties along the Main-Bergen and the Pascack Valley rail lines, where Manhattan-bound rail trips require transfers at either Secaucus Junction or Hoboken to enter Manhattan, have also seen significant increases in commuters to Manhattan: these include towns such as Fair Lawn (+39% increase), Paramus (+30%), and Lodi (+47%). Workers traveling to Manhattan from those areas are much more dependent on the regional express bus system operated by NJ Transit and private companies to commute into Manhattan, and will continue to be dependent due to the cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) rail infrastructure project in 2010. Making the region’s system of commuter buses run more efficiently, whether by creating additional capacity at the Port Authority Bus Terminal or providing an express bus lane in the Lincoln Tunnel during evening rush hour, should help accommodate this growth in commuters from suburban New Jersey and sustain the region’s economic productivity and competitiveness in the 21st century.

 

The State of Employment Decentralization in Major American Cities


Carson Qing

Since the mid-20th century, employers have followed its employees to the suburbs, and have adapted the workplace to fit their employees’ commuting needs, leading to the rise of the “corporate park” and the “edge city.” Some scholars have observed that in the 2000s, a dramatic shift has occurred as cities were again attracting the jobs that left in earlier decades, as employers respond to changing preferences among younger workers who desire a more urban lifestyle. Others contend that such a conclusion is premature, and that employment decentralization, also known as “job sprawl,” still occurs, as there is still high demand for suburban living. Using data on private sector employment from the Census Bureau’s Local Employment Dynamics, I tried to determine if the pattern of employment distribution across metropolitan areas had truly shifted in the past decade, and based on my findings, it seems that job distribution and movement vary by region, although generally, the trends remain slightly in favor of continued employment decentralization in major U.S. metro regions.

Metro regions with an increase in the share of its workforce employed clustered within 5 miles of the Central Business District were:

  1. San Francisco: +1.5%
  2. New York: +1.3%
  3. Detroit: +0.8%
  4. Chicago +0.2%
  5. Philadelphia +0.1%

The above cities are all older designs, where most development occurred early in the 20th century, in the pre-automobile era. Metro regions with the greatest increase in the share of its workforce employed within 20 – 50 miles of the CBD (or, “job sprawl” tendencies), were:

  1. Atlanta: +4.5%
  2. Dallas: +2.9%
  3. Houston: +2.6%

These cities are generally sprawling, Sun Belt areas that have experienced much of its growth during the late 20th century. After accounting for job trends based on distances from each region’s CBD, I observed the following patterns of employment growth (see methodology below for more detail):

Jobs in New York and San Francisco are increasingly concentrated in their urban core. In these cities, employment is no longer de-centralizing, but is re-centralizing. Both cities have a dense and diverse urban core that offer distinctive amenities and advantages for workers and employers, which could be a major driver of these recent trends.

A group of cities had an increasing share of jobs in both its urban core and its exurban fringes, but a smaller share in the “core-periphery” area: the peripheral areas of the primary city, and inner-ring suburbs that border the city. These cities exhibit a “U-shaped” relationship between the increase in the share of jobs in a given zone and the distance from the center city. One-third of the metro areas sampled exhibited this spatial pattern of job growth, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, and St. Louis.

In Houston and Dallas, employment decentralization has been sustained. Areas further from the city are capturing a greater share of the region’s jobs. This trend resembles the traditional pattern of late-20th century employment decentralization.

In general, employment decentralization has been sustained in the largest metro regions in the United States since 2002, but mostly at the expense of the “in-between” zones situated within 5 to 10 miles of the CBD, rather than the CBD itself. These generalized job growth trends show that the past decade was a period of deepening spatial divisions within U.S. cities. Overall, diverging demographic preferences and market forces are leading to an unconventional pattern of employment distribution, one that places the high-density urban core and the low-density suburban fringes at a distinct advantage over the medium-density urban periphery and inner-ring suburbs, locations that typically do not offer the agglomeration advantages of the central city, nor the accessibility advantages of the exurban fringes.

 

Methodology:

This analysis divided the 15 largest metro regions (defined as all census tracts within 50 miles of the primary city’s CBD) into 4 zones of analysis, based on distance from the city center. After calculating job growth for each of the zones and for each metro region, the data was smoothed to reflect a “best-fit” trendline. A composite average of the job growth data was also obtained and fitted to a trendline (highlighted by the red curve above). The composite average trend indicates that regional trends generally favor sustained employment decentralization, but there are distinctive variations across metro regions and the spatial patterns are more complex than anticipated.

The fitted trendlines of New York and San Francisco are negatively sloped (highlighted in yellow), which indicates that recent job growth and distance from the city center appear to be inversely related and have a highly linear pattern.

The fitted trendlines of Houston and Dallas are positively sloped (highlighted in blue), indicating that areas further from the city are capturing a greater share of the region’s jobs.

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.