The four outer-boroughs suffer the worst commutes in the country, according to the 2010 Census. No wonder drivers get so worked up about Transportation Czarina Janette Sadik-Khan. Even if the city’s D.O.T. is improving the roads for drivers, any efforts even perceived to be undermining cars, like bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, is seen as a threat, regardless of whether or not it improves transportation not only for drivers but bus riders, bicyclists and pedestrians, too.
Besides, whether or not Ms. Sadik-Khan can take all, or even any, of the credit (as some readers have argued to us, these programs have been in the works for years—still, all the experts we talked to applauded), a new report by IBM shows that New York’s commutes are better than many in the world and are getting better.According to the Commuter Pain Index, New York ranks 14 out of 20, with a fairly happy rating of 28, better than L.A. (34), Paris (31) and Madrid (28), who are immediately ahead in the rankings, while Toronto (27), Stockholm (26), Chicago (25), London (23) and Montreal (23) feel less pain. (Don’t forget Stockholm and London have congestion pricing schemes, while Chicago has a robust commuter rail system.) The three most painful cities are Mexico City (108), Shenzen (95) and Beijing (95).
What is interesting is, that while the city, or at least the press, has been consumed with the bicycle backlash over the past year, New Yorkers polled for the the pain index said their commutes have actually improved over the past year. IBM found that 24 percent of respondents thought traffic had improved, compared to last year, when only 12 percent thought it had. That may not be a rousing endorsement, especially when 35 percent of respondents found traffic made them angrier, compared to 14 percent last year, and a whopping 45 percent said traffic increased their stress levels, compared to 13 percent last year.
What makes New York fairly fortunate is our density: 60 percent have commutes under 30 minutes, and we top the list of micro-commuters at 23 percent.
Ultimately, this is a not a question of driving but one of transportation on the whole. IBM finds that there is too little room or money to simply build more streets. The best options are smart street design—remember, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas cost but 1 percent of the DOT’s total budget—and technology.
And many New Yorkers seem to get that. Just look at the rising support for bike lanes. And New Yorkers are voting with their feet: IBM found that 59 percent of metro area drivers survey are driving to work, opting instead for mass transit, compared to 90 percent of drivers last year.
As Ms. Sadik-Khan told us, “We need to define a new approach. It can’t be just one perspective from behind the windshield. We need to innovate and find new solutions because we can’t pour any more concrete, we’ve run out of room.”