January 12, 2007, page 1.
Cars Clogging New York? Most Are From the City
It's a common enough thought among city drivers inching through traffic: Everyone around me came from the suburbs, making my life miserable. But it's wrong, because more than half the drivers who crowd into Manhattan each workday come from the five boroughs.
That is only one fact about traffic in New York City that may surprise some people. For example, 35 percent of government workers drive to work, many because they have free parking. Also, one in five drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan are only passing through, on their way somewhere else.
Finally, many drivers say that they simply prefer the convenience and solitude of their own vehicles and have found ways to get around the worst congestion.
By examining a wealth of data collected by government agencies, a detailed and often surprising portrait of traffic in New York City emerges.
''There's a lot of myths, and when you look at the data, the myths go pop, pop, pop, one by one,'' said Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant who has studied regional traffic patterns.
Traffic, and competing proposals for what to do about it, will probably receive more attention in the coming months as the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg creates a plan to accommodate the city's expected growth over the next 25 years of one million more residents, many of them with cars.
''The fascinating thing about traffic,'' Mr. Schaller said, ''is there are so many different strands.''
One of the most prevalent beliefs to crumble beneath the data might be called the suburban myth, the notion that suburbanites make up a majority of the commuters who drive to work in Manhattan.
Census data show that more city residents than suburbanites drive to work in Manhattan every day, according to Mr. Schaller. He estimated that 263,000 people in 19 counties in and around New York City drive regularly to jobs in Manhattan below 60th Street. Of those, 53 percent, or 141,000, live in the five boroughs, Mr. Schaller said. The greatest numbers are from Queens, with 51,300, and Brooklyn, with 33,400. About 23,900 auto commuters live in Manhattan, while 17,400 are from the Bronx and 15,200 from Staten Island. The suburban area with the most auto commuters to Manhattan is Nassau County, with 22,091 people driving to work in the borough, followed by Bergen County, with 19,975.
When plotted on a map, the data make a striking picture, showing that some of the densest concentrations of auto commuters are from the outer fringes of Queens and Brooklyn, where access to subways is limited.
''The concentration of auto commuters is in areas that don't have direct subway service,'' Mr. Schaller said. ''So the travel time advantage of driving is greater than it is in the rest of the city.''
That applies to Dennis Alicea, of Bayside, Queens. Mr. Alicea, a banker for JPMorgan Chase & Company, drives from Bayside to Manhattan, where he first takes his daughter to school on the East Side. Then he leaves his car at a lot, which charges early arrivals about $10 a day for parking, and takes a bus to his office in Midtown. He said he typically arrives at work about one hour after leaving home.
To commute on public transportation, Mr. Alicea, 38, would have to take a bus from his home to the Long Island Rail Road station at Bayside, ride a train to Pennsylvania Station, then take a subway back to the East Side. ''You have to go into a stuffy, overcrowded train with people with attitudes,'' he said. ''I prefer driving for the peace of mind. It's much easier.''
An annual survey conducted by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, an association of government agencies involved in transportation planning, recorded 810,000 vehicles (not including buses) entering Manhattan below 60th Street on a single weekday in 2003. That figure has increased fairly steadily over the years, largely in line with changes in the city's economy and population. The 2003 count was 6 percent greater than 1993, when 760,000 vehicles were recorded, and 24 percent greater than 1978, when there were 649,000.
The number dropped after the terror attack in 2001 but has been rising since. Partial data released from the 2004 count show a total of 815,000 vehicles entering the area of Manhattan covered by the survey.
This data help bust another myth. ''A lot of people say, 'It's those Jersey drivers,' '' said Jeffrey M. Zupan, a senior fellow for transportation at the Regional Plan Association, a group that studies development and transportation issues. ''But when you look at the numbers, the Long Island sector is by far the largest sector where cars are coming from into the city.''
According to the 2003 data, 110,000 vehicles entered Manhattan through the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels the day the survey was taken. An additional 63,000 were recorded driving south on the West Side Highway, and perhaps half of those might be considered to have come from New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge, Mr. Zupan said.
Many other vehicles entering from the north come from a more dispersed area, including the Bronx, several northern counties and Connecticut. The largest number of vehicles, however -- 326,000, or 40 percent of the total -- entered Manhattan over the East River crossings, with their drivers mostly from Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island.
Mr. Schaller uses data from a computer model developed by the transportation council to estimate that about 80 percent of the vehicles in the hub-bound tally had destinations within the Manhattan core.
The model therefore suggests that almost one-fifth of the vehicles that entered Manhattan in the 2003 count, or about 156,000, were just passing through the borough. For many drivers, Manhattan is simply a place between here and there.
''The shortest way, distance-wise, is always to go through Manhattan,'' said Erick Lawson, a commercial diver who lives in Somerset, N.J., and frequently works on underwater construction jobs in Queens or on Long Island.
Early in the day, he often enjoys a smooth drive, well before the morning rush, through the Lincoln Tunnel and across 34th Street to the Midtown Tunnel. His homebound trip is a different story.
''It's almost always a disaster,'' Mr. Lawson said, explaining that he frequently drives home across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and through Staten Island to avoid Midtown.
Mr. Zupan pointed to data that show that while the overall number of vehicles entering during a 24-hour period has generally been rising, the number of vehicles entering from 7 to 10 a.m. has remained fairly steady.
''You can't squeeze any more vehicles between 7 and 10 on the bridges and tunnels,'' he said. ''So that's constant and the growth we've seen is in off-peak travel.''
John Lane, 26, a tattoo artist who lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, typically waits until after 11 a.m. to drive his 1963 Buick Skylark to work at Cutting Edge Body Arts in the West Village.
His routine allows him to skip the morning rush and arrive just as street-cleaning restrictions expire, so it is easy to park. He said his half-hour trip would take about the same time on the subway, but he prefers his car. ''I like to be in my own environment,'' Mr. Lane said.
A study conducted last year for the Partnership for New York City, a business group, cited 2000 census data that showed about 35 percent of government workers in Manhattan drive to work, compared with 14 percent for those who work in finance. Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the group, said that many city workers drive because they can park at no charge using parking placards obtained through their agencies.
The morning rush is dominated by cars carrying people to their jobs. But later in the day, the mix of vehicles on the streets of Manhattan includes more drivers who venture out for other reasons.
Andrea Hirshman lives in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, and she often drives her Mazda minivan into Manhattan to go to the theater, meet friends for dinner, attend events at her son's high school on East 29th Street, or visit her mother in Kips Bay. She lives a short walk from the subway but nearly always prefers to drive.
''In the end you usually find that when you've finished what you're doing you have your car and you can zip home,'' said Ms. Hirschman, 49. ''You have much more mobility and I like it.''