From City of Aspiration [PDF] by Center for an Urban Future:
"With housing prices in Manhattan practically out of reach for all but the affluent, the other four boroughs have become increasingly crucial to the city’s hopes to retain its middle class. But one tradeoff for many middle class New Yorkers who moved to city neighborhoods outside of Manhattan in search of reasonably priced housing is a transportation infrastructure that is unable to meet the growing demand.
The dismal result is overcrowded subways and buses and some of the nation’s longest commuting times.
Though transportation infrastructure is not ordinarily considered one of the key problems facing the middle class, dozens of New Yorkers interviewed for this report cited their long and often uncomfortable commutes as a major drawback to living in the city—and one of the main reasons they would consider moving. “If you’re commuting for an hour and a half, when are you going to spend time with your kids?” asks Olga Djam, an entrepreneur who lives in Elmhurst.
Indeed, Staten Island, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn have the four longest average commuting times of the 231 counties in the United States with populations over 250,000. And it isn’t only people living in Far Rockaway, Tottenville and other communities on the city’s outer reaches who suffer through super long commutes. The average commuting time is 38.5 minutes for those living in Greenpoint; 37.6 minutes from Astoria; 49.5 minutes in Ditmas Park; and 41.7 minutes in Bay Ridge.
These communities have all experienced a significant increase in middle class professionals in recent years. The commutes are typically even longer in a number of other traditional middle class enclaves, some of which have attracted growing numbers of first-time homeowners, such as Richmond Hill (with a 46.1 minute average commuting time), Coop City (49.5 minutes), Bensonhurst (45.3 minutes), St. Albans (51.7 minutes) and Springfield Gardens (52.3 minutes).
Most who live in the boroughs say they expected longer commutes when they moved outside of Manhattan, but few expected things to get worse. Yet as these neighborhoods have fueled most of the city’s population explosion—and much of the increase in transit ridership—during the past two decades, this is precisely what happened. According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, while commute times across the city dropped over three percent from 1980 to 1990, they rose by nearly seven percent between 1990 and 2000—and that longer trip, in most cases, became more unpleasant at the same time. “On a lot of bus lines, people are packed in there like sardines” says Yvonne Reddick, district manager of Queens Community Board 12, which covers neighborhoods including Jamaica, Hollis and Springfield Gardens.
The growing strain on what is already the largest mass transit system in the country has highlighted the failure of city and state officials to make meaningful investments in increasing service or creating new transit options in the boroughs.
In part, this is a function of the unique—and to many New Yorkers, uniquely infuriating—governance structure of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, as well as a federal funding formula for transportation that includes a built-in bias against large cities and public transit.
And even within the city, the priorities remain in Manhattan, from the development of the eternally delayed Second Avenue Subway to the 7 train extension and costly station improvements for Lower Manhattan and Penn Station.
Yet, the rationale for improving and expanding transit service outside of Manhattan has never been clearer. Between 1990 and 2005, 87 percent of the city’s overall gain in population occurred in the four boroughs outside of Manhattan.
Not surprisingly, each of these boroughs has experienced significant spikes in transit ridership. For instance: Between 1998 and 2006, 81 percent of the increase in bus ridership across the city occurred outside of Manhattan. The number of people in Manhattan riding city buses rose by 11 percent, but this was far less than the increase in Queens (24 percent), Staten Island (23 percent), Brooklyn (22 percent) and the Bronx (18 percent).
Thirty-nine of the 50 subway stations with the largest percentage increase in ridership between 1998 and 2006 were in the boroughs or in Manhattan north of 96th Street. Twenty-two of the 50 were in Brooklyn.
In 2006, 54 stations outside of Manhattan had average weekday ridership over 10,000, compared to 46 in 2003 and 36 in 1998."
Yet the MTA has money for this. Sure it would be nice to see where the trains are. But we've lived without this technology for more than 100 years and this money could be put toward more pressing problems. Like not cutting bus lines.