Monday, February 9, 2009

Middle class faces crappy commute

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.


Anonymous said...

The Motherfucking Thief Authority is a monstrosity worse than dictatorships in third world countries. The city and state governments hav always found excuses for not funding mass transit for the past 20 years or so, even thought they are officially required to do so. In fact, several subway car contracts from the 1930s until the early 1970s were funded in part out of the NY State capital budget. The city needs to be reminded to pay based on the fact that the city FOUNDED the IND, which eventually absorbed the two private subway companies and evenually evolved into what is now the MTA. The state needs to be reminded to pay based on the fact that the MTA is currently a state agency. I can't stand the BS that outer borough commuters like me have to face. For me to get from Riverdale to Brooklyn Heights (or vice versa) it takes, on average, 1 hour and 15 minutes. And when one of the 40+ year-old junkheaps breaks down, it takes more than an hour and a half. I say off with their heads!!

Anonymous said...

You heard it first
on "Queens Crap"...warning you all about over development outpacing
our rotting infrastructure topped off
with an antique public transportation system...DUH !

Well...FU.. MTA & Mayor Doomberg
up your cabooses!

Unknown said...

I live in Forest Hills and work on East 40th Street. If I leave work between 5:30 and 6:30 I can usually get home in 1 hr. 15 minutes. But if I leave closer to 7 or later, my commute gets dramatically longer. It is a real pain in the ass and I often feel like my time, which is important to me, is stolen. And I blame the fucking MTA which could do so much better!

Kevin Walsh said...

The way to go is high speed surface light rail or if that's too expensive, designated express bus lanes on roads like Queens Boulevard.

This will deprive too many motorists of precious driving space, and until you get them out of their cars and into the trams or buses, the discussion is a nonstarter.

New subway tunnels are now impossible because of cost. The 2nd Avenue and Flushing Line extension plans will founder because of that.

Surface transit and express buses (presumably using nonpolluting fuel) must be part of the solution.

Again, though, getting the representatives from Schoharie, Schenectady and Skateopolis to support anything but putting people in cars will be daunting.

Anonymous said...

"With housing prices in Manhattan practically out of reach for all but the affluent."

A big part of that blame goes to the upstate Republicans who have weakened NYC rent laws.

I know about these transit times:

From the UES to Bayside 1hr+23-40 min

To Forest Hills 1hr-15min.

Unknown said...

I do want to add, tho', that when you're comparing commuting times to other parts of the country where people have to drive themselves, at least I can read a book or the newspaper or knit during my commute, so it is not a complete waste of my time. If I had to sit in a car in traffic for 90 minutes each day I'd be apoplectic.

Light surface rail would be awesome, as long as cell phone babbling was either blocked or prohibited. Otherwise, a nightmare!

Express buses are pretty fast in the morning when they have a dedicated lane on the LIE but awful on the way home when they do not. But the extra expense is an unfair burden on people who are poorly served by regualr buses and subways.

Anonymous said...

Have friends who live on the East Side in Manahttan. They cannot even get on the trains in the morning because of overcrowding.

Newburgh Restoration said...

This is so true. I don't even live in the 5 boroughs and I commute 1hr 30/45mins to work each way. Some people think that that is way too much time. But when you look at how long people who live in the 5 boroughs commute, it's practically the same thing. And my ride is a lot more comfortable. But seriously-this is killing the middle class, and now a hike!

Newburgh Restoration said...

And least we can do stuff with our time...if there is actually a seat on the train/bus or if someones purse/butt is not in your face b/c of the overcrowding.

Anonymous said...

I've been commuting to Manhattan
from Whitestone Queens
to attend high school
since I was 15 years old and later from downtown Flushing to go to work.

I took it in stride.
So get used to it brother and stop being so spoiled!

faster340 said...

Yeah I am still trying to figure out why it takes 40 mins. to an hour sometimes to get to my job in Manhattan which is only 5.8 miles door to door by mass transit... It makes me sick when I have driven through the midtown tunnel and have made it in less than 10 mins. My record so far is 8 mins. by driving.

Queens Crapper said...

I used to live by Faster340 and can vouch for that! It took me 1 1/2 hrs+ to get to work on a normal day. But less than half that by driving.

Anonymous said...

By the way, what is even freakier is that our grandparents had better transportation in the 1920s then we have now.

See all the abandoned LIRR trackage, torn up trolley lines, and the long-lamented 3rd Avenue El. With more people we have less service.