A new analysis by City & State suggests that New York City might be at risk of “Carmageddon,” a phenomenon in which residents returning to work after the pandemic forsake public transportation for private cars, risking increased congestion, traffic deaths, and poor air quality in the city. According to the report, 80% of commutes into Manhattan were on public transportation, a figure that has fallen approximately 785 since the pandemic began. On the other hand, data show that vehicle ridership on bridges and tunnels has only fallen 18%, and “traffic in Manhattan below 60th Street is down just 15%.” The figures are not quite so rosy for the Long Island Rail, whose ridership is at 23% of its levels one year ago, and the Metro North system, which is at 16% of its levels one year ago. The report states that transit experts fear New Yorkers may suffer massively as a result of these factors.
According to those experts, “a modest change in the number of cars circulating around Manhattan makes a difference” that can ruin the entire transportation system. One metro planning think tank president said that if just 10,000 more vehicles are added to the system, “It’s actually the difference between the system functioning and completely crashing.” This may lead to the demise of New York City’s public transportation—due to budget cuts and decreased ridership—that adversely impacts working-class New York residents who have no other choice but to ride the subways and buses. Experts believe workers might not return to work in their offices in New York City en masse until the summer of 2020, long after there’s a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. This is because office buildings, with their ill-ventilated rooms and crowded elevators, may be a hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks. In contrast, according to the report, public transportation poses less of a risk, so long as riders follow proper precautions. “ In New York City’s subways, filtered air circulating around a car is replaced with fresh air at least 18 times an hour, The New York Times reported,” the report states, whereas the “recommended rate of replacement” in offices is six to eight times per hour. “I definitely think that there’s the chance that a significant fraction of the workforce will not return until we have a vaccine in place,” one expert told City & State.