Pratt Center Research

Transportation Equity

Transportation Equity Atlas

Maps  |  September 21, 2010

Pratt Center compiled the Transportation Equity Atlas to compare mobility and transit access among New York City neighborhoods. We found great disparities in transportation access between higher-income, professional workers and low-wage manual and service workers. High housing costs mean that most low-wage workers live in areas outside the city's subway-rich core. Those workers also must travel to work sites dispersed widely around the city and region. This leaves the lowest-paid workers with the longest commutes to work, and limits the geographic range of job opportunities for residents of high-unemployment communities.

The maps show the commuting patterns of some 289,000 residents of 13 predominantly low- and moderate-income communities in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, and similarly the patterns of workers arriving at major job centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens that together employ nearly 300,000 workers.
These maps show that a significant share of New York's workers travel long distances to get to work, and every day must reach destinations that are far outside the Manhattan central business district - south of 59th Street - where our radially-designed subway lines converge. The city's future economic growth will depend in part on how efficiently workers can get to these and other locations outside central Manhattan.

New York's boroughs outside Manhattan have the longest commute times in the country - the Queens average is 41 minutes - and they are getting longer. Lower-income New Yorkers have the longest rides to work: Three-quarters of a million New Yorkers travel more than one hour each way to work, and two-thirds of them earn less than $35,000 a year. By contrast, just 6 percent of these extreme commuters earn more than $75,000 a year. Black New Yorkers have the longest commute times, 25 percent longer than white commuters; Hispanic commuters have rides 12 percent longer.

To bridge the transportation gap, the City of New York and Metropolitan Transportation Authority need bold new approaches expanding transit infrastructure, to reach more homes and destinations, and to do this cost-effectively in a tough budgetary environment.  The Transportation Equity Atlas shows the untapped potential of innovations like bus rapid transit to open transit access to employment and residential centers that until now have been underserved.

Maps Index

  • Type of Employment by Residence        
  • Job Centers of the NYC Region         
  • Commuter Profile: Washington Heights        
  • Commuter Destinations: Washington Heights Residents        
  • Commuter Profile: West/Central Harlem        
  • Commuter Destinations: West/Central Harlem        
  • Commuter Profile: Melrose        
  • Commuter Destinations: Melrose        
  • Commuter Profile: Soundview        
  • Commuter Destinations: Soundview        
  • Commuter Profile: East Elmhurst        
  • Commuter Destinations: East Elmhurst        
  • Commuter Profile: Woodside        
  • Commuter Destinations: Woodside        
  • Commuter Profile: Downtown Brooklyn        
  • Commuter Destinations: Downtown Brooklyn        
  • Commuter Profile: Bushwick        
  • Commuter Destinations: Bushwick        
  • Commuter Profile: Flushing        
  • Commuter Destinations: Flushing        
  • Commuter Profile: Jamaica        
  • Commuter Destinations: Jamaica        
  • Commuter Profile: East Flatbush        
  • Commuter Destinations: East Flatbush        
  • Commuter Profile: Sunset Park        
  • Commuter Destinations: Sunset Park        
  • Commuter Origins: Flushing         
  • Commuter Origins: Bathgate        
  • Commuter Origins: Lower Concourse         
  • Commuter Origins: Hunts Point        
  • Commuter Origins: Long Island City        
  • Commuter Origins: East Williamsburg        
  • Commuter Origins: Downtown Jamaica        
  • Commuter Origins: JFK Airport        
  • Commuter Origins: Central Brooklyn Medical Centers        
  • Commuter Origins: Sunset Park    

 

Type of Employment by Residence

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Job Centers of the NYC Region

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Commuter Profile: Washington Heights

Washington Heights is packed with red dots on our map of New Yorkers who have one hour-plus commutes to work, which may seem surprising since this is an area of transit-rich Manhattan, served by two subway lines. Part of the reason is that Washington Heights is a densely populated neighborhood with a high share of lower-income households. But a second factor is that  subway trips are often complicated by transfers, and while many residents work in midtown Manhattan, others must journey to lower Manhattan and other boroughs. The share of commuters who drive or carpool is identical to the share of households that own cars, at 22 percent. Overwhelmingly Washington Heights is a neighborhood dependent on subway and buses (including buses to New Jersey employment opportunities over the George Washington Bridge). Express buses run via Dyckman Street to east Midtown.

This map uses data that predates Select Bus Service, which connects Washington Heights to Fordham Road in the Bronx using a form of bus rapid transit. The Bx12, which runs across the Bronx to the zoo, botanical garden, Fordham University, Jacobi Hospital and Bay Plaza Shopping Center, opens up faster commutes and new employment opportunities.

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Commuter Destinations: Washington Heights Residents

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Commuter Profile: West/Central Harlem

Very few Harlem residents own cars and even fewer use them to get to work. Bus and subway dominate the transit mix, and not surprisingly rides on average are shorter compared with those of commuters from other boroughs, since most Harlem commuters work in Manhattan. Easy subway access to Manhattan employment opportunities comes at a tradeoff: job prospects in Brooklyn and Queens can be hard to reach. In 2008, on the eve of the current jobs slump, Central Harlem's unemployment rate was 8.9 percent.

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Commuter Destinations: West/Central Harlem

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Commuter Profile: Melrose

Melrose sits in the poorest community district in New York City, which makes access to a wide range of employment opportunities -- especially in higher-paying sectors like manufacturing -- imperative. The map of Melrose commuters' destinations shows a much more scattered location pattern than seen with other Bronx and upper Manhattan neighborhoods, including many far-flung sites across the Bronx. But meanwhile big areas of employment in Queens and Brooklyn have few Melrose workers, suggesting that inaccessibility of these areas from Melrose may be preventing more job-seekers from finding opportunity there.

The share of workers who commute alone by car, 19 percent, is just two points lower than the share of residents who own cars, and that doesn't include the additional 8 percent who carpool. This is the highest rate of private vehicle use as a share of overall car ownership of all the neighborhoods we surveyed, and suggests suggesting that driving is the mode of choice for those who can afford it

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Commuter Destinations: Melrose

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Commuter Profile: Soundview

Soundview is at a unique disadvantage among the communities in the Transportation Equity Atlas: Fewer than half of households live within walking distance of a subway station, and at the same time incomes are relatively low: median household income in 2008 was less than $40,000. Residents must either endure long commutes on public transportation (including express buses to midtown), slow local bus rides across the Bronx, or drive/carpool to work, which a large share (41 percent) of households do. Car ownership imposes a heavy economic burden on low-income households; car and insurance payments, gas, and maintenance can easily add up to $500/month or more.

Note the sizeable cluster of Soundview residents who work in the industrial area of Long Island City, Queens, the majority of whom commute by subway. Also note the presence of bus commuters to Flushing and nearby areas of Queens, using the bus service crossing the Whitestone Bridge. The proposed bus rapid transit routes from COMMUTE include one that runs from Washington Heights to Soundview down to JFK Airport, roughly following the Van Wyck Expressway.

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Commuter Destinations: Soundview

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Commuter Profile: East Elmhurst

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Commuter Destinations: East Elmhurst

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Commuter Profile: Woodside

Woodside, in western Queens, is well served by subways, so perhaps it's not surprising that two in five residents head underground or to the No. 7 el to get to work. While a fair number of residents work in the Queens hubs of Flushing and Long Island City, midtown Manhattan is the main destination, and relatively few journey beyond those two boroughs. The neighborhood's dense mix of residential, commercial, and industrial uses enables many Woodside residents to walk to work.

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Commuter Destinations: Woodside

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Commuter Profile: Downtown Brooklyn

Until its recent rezoning downtown Brooklyn was more of a commercial area than a residential one, and many who lived there resided in public housing hemmed in from subways and local employment opportunities by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. But the proximity to major employment centers - including MetroTech, Fulton Street retailers and Brooklyn Hospital Center - means downtown Brooklyn rivals Sunset Park for the number of residents who walk or bike to work, at 19 percent.

Among those who take mass transit, most have trips that are shorter than 45 minutes. A wide array of transit options mean that very few commuters drive (indeed, only 22 percent of households even own a vehicle).

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Commuter Destinations: Downtown Brooklyn

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Commuter Profile: Bushwick

Like Sunset Park, Bushwick is a relatively affordable neighborhood with close proximity to a major industrial area, in this case the East Williamsburg Industrial Business Zone as well as nearby Maspeth and Long Island City. Other local employers include Woodhull Hospital, retail strips, and social services.

Most Bushwick residents do not own cars and therefore can only take jobs they can walk, bike, carpool or take the bus or subway to - a serious constraint for an area where, at the time of this snapshot, unemployment stood at 17 percent. Bushwick is fairly close to Manhattan employment centers but subway commutes are nonetheless long, thanks to the need to transfer trains to enter most parts of Manhattan.

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Commuter Destinations: Bushwick

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Commuter Profile: Flushing

Flushing is one of many Queens neighborhoods where more commuters use cars - either driving alone or with one or more companions - to get to work than use any other form of transportation. Most subway riders, no matter what their destinations, face long commutes, with three in four taking daily rides of more than 45 minutes each way. The only subway line serving the area is the #7, whose overcrowding will only worsen when it is extended to enable new development on Manhattan's Far West Side. The Long Island Rail Road's Port Washington branch parallels the #7, but few Flushing residents can afford the much higher LIRR fares.

While most commuters work in Manhattan Flushing is strongly represented in major Queens employment centers, including College Point, Long Island City, Jamaica/JFK and downtown Flushing itself.

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Commuter Destinations: Flushing

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Commuter Profile: Jamaica

The distance between the black-bordered area on the right outlining Jamaica and the sea of blue showing where most Jamaica residents go to work in Manhattan only begins to show the journeys faced by the residents of this eastern Queens neighborhood. While Jamaica is an job center in its own right - employers include colleges, a major retail hub, a medical center and government offices - most residents leave the neighborhood to work, and more than one-third of them drive.

Mass transit commutes tend to be extremely long: Of those who take the subway to work more than half have a trip longer than one hour each way, and three in four take 45 minutes or more to get to work. Faster rail options exist - the AirTrain to JFK, and the Long Island Rail Road to Manhattan - but are too expensive for low-wage workers. Only 3 percent of commuters use the Long Island Rail Road as their main way of getting to work within New York City. And lack of capacity on the LIRR's main line means that reverse-commuting options to Long Island are limited.

 

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Commuter Destinations: Jamaica

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Commuter Profile: East Flatbush

East Flatbush, Brooklyn, is an area whose residents overwhelmingly rely on public transportation to get to work and then find themselves enduring extremely long commutes. Three in five residents take the bus and/or subway to get to work, and more than half of them face commutes of more than 45 minutes.

While the central Brooklyn hospital cluster is the biggest employer located in the area, most worker go to destinations further afield, including virtually every neighborhood in Brooklyn, and only 5 percent of East Flatbush residents walk or bike to work. One reason: East Flatbush is home to many home care and child care workers who must travel to the far-flung neighborhoods where their clients live.

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Commuter Destinations: East Flatbush

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Commuter Profile: Sunset Park

Sunset Park is that rarity in 21st century New York City: a blue-collar walk-to-work neighborhood. Downhill from the residential area is an industrial zone anchored by the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal, where companies employ many neighborhood residents. Many more small factories and warehouses intermingle with housing on the area's many mixed-used blocks. More than one-third of Sunset Park residents work in some form of manufacturing. Relatively affordable housing stock and well-established Latino and East Asian communities reinforce Sunset Park's status as a laborers' haven - though heavy truck traffic exacts a price, compromising the health and safety of workers and their families.

Despite the concentration of jobs nearby, the majority of residents commute outside of Sunset Park to get to work, mostly to Manhattan's central business district but with many other destinations as well, predominantly along the subway corridor serving the neighborhood. Two in three residents do not own cars, and only 17 percent drive alone to work.

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Commuter Destinations: Sunset Park

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Commuter Origins: Flushing

Unlike its industrial neighbors, Willets Point to the west and College Point to the north, downtown Flushing is a dense commercial district. Many  workers and customers come from the surrounding neighborhood and rely on bus, bike or foot. Finance, trade and wholesale companies, many with ties to east Asia, are major employers here; private van services connect Flushing with New York's other Chinatowns, in Lower Manhattan and Borough Park.

Among workers who travel to Flushing from other neighborhoods, transit commutes are long. The absence of efficient north-south connections means the only access to Jamaica and southeast Queens is via slow local buses.

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Commuter Origins: Bathgate

Bathgate is one of New York City's sixteen Industrial Business Zones; over 16,000 New Yorkers work in manufacturing and wholesale distribution firms housed in this 30-block area. Many live nearby and walk to work; those who rely on public transportation face long trips. The nearest subway lines are almost a mile away over steep and discontinuous crosstown streets, while the Cross-Bronx Expressway is a barrier to north-south travel. Metro North provides infrequent and expensive commuter rail service to Tremont Avenue.

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Commuter Origins: Lower Concourse

The area from Yankee Stadium to "The Hub" at Third Avenue and 149th Street is the seat of Bronx government and court system, as well as to multiple retail centers.  It's a transit hub as well, served by the 2, 4, 5, 6, B, and D trains, as well as by all three Metro North lines and numerous bus routes. The diversity of employment and transportation choices is reflected in how commuters get to work, and especially in the heavy use of transit. Most commuters from other boroughs take the subway, while many Bronxites rely on the bus. Parking capacity developed to serve Yankee Stadium and Gateway Mall now appears to exceed demand from users of those facilities, and may generate additional car trips to the area not reflected in data from the 2000 census. 

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Commuter Origins: Hunts Point

The New York region's wholesale food distribution hub has only expanded since this data was collected in 2000; demand for industrial space throughout the Hunts Point peninsula remains strong. Thousands of wholesale buyers' trucks crowd access routes to the produce, meat, and fish markets every morning, as workers fight their way through traffic to get to jobs dispersed across this low-rise industrial area. The nearest subway station is over a mile from the markets, separated from Hunts Point by eight lanes of traffic on Bruckner Boulevard;  the Bx6 bus provides the only transit connection. Many workers and employers rely on livery cabs and carpools to make the trip.

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Commuter Origins: Long Island City

Befitting its role as a major industrial and backoffice center for New York City, Long Island City draws commuters from every borough and neighborhood. Those include many subway riders who must travel long distances and make at least one transfer to get to work. 

LIC has a strong base of local workers who walk or bike to their jobs. At the same time, many Queens residents opt to drive, a reflection of the great distance of many destinations from subway stations and the availability of free parking. And while their homes are not shown on this map, many public and private sector workers commute by car to this area from Long Island.

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Commuter Origins: East Williamsburg

Befitting its role as a major industrial and backoffice center for New York City, Long Island City draws commuters from every borough and neighborhood. Those include many subway riders who must travel long distances and make at least one transfer to get to work. 

LIC has a strong base of local workers who walk or bike to their jobs. At the same time, many Queens residents opt to drive, a reflection of the great distance of many destinations from subway stations and the availability of free parking. And while their homes are not shown on this map, many public and private sector workers commute by car to this area from Long Island.

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Commuter Origins: Downtown Jamaica

Downtown Jamaica, Queens, offers a mix of retail, government, educational and medical employment, attracting many workers who live along the bus subway and commuter lines serving this transit-rich hub. Still, widespread car-commuting by workers who live outside the local transit corridors suggests that while well served by two rail trunks, Jamaica is also challenging to access from neighborhoods outside of Queens.

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Commuter Origins: JFK Airport

John F. Kennedy International Airport is one of New York City's biggest employment centers - and its most remote for commuters. The opening of the AirTrain in 2003 has made the area more easily accessible by public transportation, but it comes at a price - $40 a month for workers to access, in addition to regular MTA fares. (The data used for this map predates the AirTrain's opening.)

Many airport workers - those in cargo, food service, maintenance, and other behind-the-scenes jobs - travel to their jobs during late night and early morning hours, when already long trips are lengthened by infrequent off-hour transit service. As the map shows, most JFK commuters drive, contributing to infamous traffic tie-ups on the Van Wyck Expressway. Many workers who live in Brooklyn and Queens live near the routes of local buses that serve the airport, suggesting the potential for improved bus service to open up access to employment opportunities in northeast Brooklyn and Southeast Queens.

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Commuter Origins: Central Brooklyn Medical Centers

Together Kings County Hospital Center, Downstate Medical Center, Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, Kingsboro Psychiatric Center and Brookdale Hospital form a vital resource for Brooklyn: a medical services hub that is one of the borough's biggest employers. Its diverse workforce relies heavily on public transportation to get there, and overwhelmingly lives in nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods.
The planned Nostrand Avenue Select Bus Service route runs near the Central Brooklyn medical centers and promises to improve access for patients and workers who now face slow and long local bus rides, from neighborhoods that include Bedford-Stuyvesant, Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg.

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Commuter Origins: Sunset Park

Sunset Park remains a working waterfront, home to active maritime uses. A diverse array of light industrial employers, many concentrated in the Brooklyn Army Terminal and Bush Terminal, includes printers, medical testing labs, garment makers, and even a vinyl-record pressing plant. Small manufacturers share the area's avenues and side streets with warehouses, waste transfer stations - and residents. In contrast to the Maspeth/East Williamsburg industrial area, Sunset Park workers, especially those living in its long-time Latino and Asian communities, are much likelier to walk or take the subway to work.

Among subway commuters, far-flung homes across the boroughs -- with a high concentration in northeast Brooklyn -- indicate many long commutes via local trains, while the lack of efficient transit connections from southeast Brooklyn means that workers living there are more likely to drive or carpool. Even with significant subsidy, commuter ferry service to Brooklyn Army Terminal (discontinued as of 2010) was too expensive for most Sunset Park workers; the ferry primarily served park-and-ride customers bound for Manhattan.

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