After several blocks in the heart of Times Square were pedestrianized and protected bike lanes were added to five avenues in the middle of Manhattan, motor vehicle traffic is actually moving more smoothly than before, according to the latest release of NYC DOT’s annual Sustainable Streets Index [PDF].
The report, which gathers data from the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and DOT’s own counts, also shows that the volume of traffic entering Manhattan has basically stayed flat since 2009. At the same time, transit ridership has started to rebound from the recession and service cuts.
Even with population and employment levels increasing after the recession, car traffic into the Manhattan CBD declined 1.7 percent in 2011. Since 2003, traffic volumes are down 6.5 percent, while transit trips to the area have increased 11.3 percent.
The drop in Manhattan-bound traffic has come primarily from the Hudson River tunnels, which have seen a 3 percent drop since 2008, while volumes on the free East River bridges remained flat and traffic over the free Harlem River bridges inched up 1 percent. (It’s no surprise why: Port Authority tolls encourage people to take transit or carpool, while the city’s free bridges offer no such incentive.)
In Manhattan below 60th Street, predictions that reallocating space to walking, biking, and transit would only worsen traffic have not come to pass. In fact, average traffic speeds have picked up. GPS data from yellow cabs below 60th Street show that average speeds are up 6.7 percent since 2008. The average speed of a taxi trip, which was 8.9 mph in 2011, inched up to 9.3 mph last year. (Note that these average speeds don’t mean, as Matt Flegenheimer put it in the Times, that “drivers in much of Manhattan can rarely flout the law, even if they try.” In addition to aggressive and dangerous behavior like failing to yield to pedestrians, speeding in Manhattan is still very common even if average speeds are well below the limit.)
Manhattan’s business districts aren’t the only places where transit is on the rise as driving volumes fall. According to metrics incorporating car crossings between boroughs other than Manhattan, citywide traffic volumes declined 1.8 percent in 2011 from the previous year, while transit ridership increased 0.4 percent, despite service cuts and fare hikes implemented the year before. The most recent numbers are in line with a long-term trend: Since 2003, NYC transit ridership is up 9.5 percent, while driving counts have fallen 3.9 percent.