On top of all that is another transportation paradox: Congestion has returned, even though only 10 percent of workers have returned to Manhattan office spaces. “New Yorkers are no longer defined by the 1950s-era commute,” explains Sarah Kaufman, associate director of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation and co-author of the report. “We make multiple, short trips throughout the day … In normal times, city residents take advantage of multiple modes for those trips: subways, bikes, buses, taxis,” she says. “But now that people assume cars are safer in the pandemic, they’re opting for driving — and likely for every trip. These micro-trips add up to citywide congestion.”
But only New Yorkers with access to vehicles have the luxury of making that choice, which calls for a greater shift in the way cities design streets as commuting patterns change, says Charles T. Brown, a researcher and adjunct professor at the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University. “We must design our roadways with the locals in mind,” he says. “We know that disproportionately those who are killed in these sorts of vehicle-pedestrian crashes are Black, brown, and low-income communities, and these are the same people who are heavily dependent on alternative modes of transport. That’s where we need to make the investments.”
In New York, like most large U.S. cities, these newly formed habits have created a new safety conundrum. Although car travel has rebounded, the rate of bus and subway travel continues to lag, both because there are fewer commuters and because of the perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 on mass transit (when, in fact, the risk is low). As an American Public Transportation Association study shows, one of the best ways to reduce traffic deaths is increasing the per capita rate of public-transit ridership. Sustained investment, including an enormous influx of federal dollars, to make transit safe, reliable, and affordable would be one of the best investments to decrease the dangers New Yorkers face while getting around their city — whether it is from coronavirus or cars.