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.

 

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