As the second wave of COVID-19 continues to wane in New York City, the Gothamist Data Team is periodically checking in on various statistics to see how the city is doing in its recovery. Today we'll look at traffic patterns on the Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels around the city, which will give us a good sense of how many vehicles are coming into and out of the city, compared to the time before the epidemic struck.
First, let's look at the Port Authority system, which controls the bridges and tunnels entering the city from New Jersey. In 2020, about 97 million vehicles crossed into the city, down from 122 million the year before, with the most dramatic part of the decline occurring during the first wave of the pandemic from March to June:
Notice the decline was not evenly distributed across all vehicle types; truck traffic had almost entirely recovered by June, while passenger traffic remained between 10 and 20% off, and buses, which carry commuters into the city, have stayed depressed by 40%. Since cars make up by far the largest percent of traffic overall, the total decline closely mirrors the decline in car traffic:
The decline in passenger vehicles and buses clearly reflects the trend in work-at-home for many city businesses, as well as jobs lost as businesses have closed. It makes sense that truck traffic would rebound sooner; after the initial disruptions in supply chains during the first wave, manufacturing and consumption of goods has bounced back strongly, and delivery of goods via Amazon and other e-tailers to people avoiding in-person shopping has increased dramatically, leading to more delivery trucks on the road. Still, the Port Authority has projected a $3 billion revenue loss
The Port Authority, which has projected a $3 billion loss in revenue overall due to the pandemic, provides data on individual bridge and tunnel crossings, and it turns out they actually differ quite a bit:
Here we can see that automobile traffic declined the most at the tunnels. Since the tolls are the same across all the crossings, this probably reflects a greater decline in commuting to Manhattan, as opposed to people driving to work in the outer boroughs and Long Island via the Staten Island and George Washington Bridge crossings. Truck traffic showed a similar pattern: down more at the tunnels and less at the bridges, possibly reflecting fewer deliveries to Manhattan office buildings and more to homes in the outer boroughs.
Bus traffic declined less dramatically at the Lincoln Tunnel than the Holland Tunnel, because of the former's proximity to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Hell's Kitchen, and because 26 times more buses pass through each year (1.3MM compared to 54,000). Similarly, more bus traffic passes over the Goethals Bridge (73,000 per year), vs. the Outerbridge Crossing (22,000), and the Bayonne Bridge (9,000), so the smaller sample size on the Bayonne Bridge may have produced a larger percentage decline.
Turning out attention now to the MTA bridges and tunnels, which move traffic into Manhattan and between the boroughs, we see a similar pattern to the Port Authority crossings:
As with the Port Authority data, we see a dramatic decline during the first wave in April of about 60% in volume, gradually rebuilding to approximately a 20% year-over-year decline by December. As with the Port Authority crossings, we have some data about individual MTA bridges and tunnels:
The MTA combines its data, so note that both tunnels into Manhattan are grouped together, as are the Whitestone and Throggs Neck bridges, and the Rockaway bridges. Additionally, they don't break out trucks and buses, and simply combine them into an "other" category. Still, we can see in almost every case, with the exception of the Henry Hudson bridge, that passenger traffic is down more than other traffic, and that traffic into Manhattan seems to be more affected the traffic between the other boroughs, consistent with what we know about so many Manhattan offices being closed. As vaccinations proceed and the epidemic declines, we will see many of these offices reopen, and traffic volume will eventually return to normal -- it's simply a question of when: June? September? January?
We will watch these statistics, and look for others, as the recovery proceeds. Let us know if you have other data sets you'd like us to examine!