New York City’s traffic engine

They call it the Big Apple, the grandeur of a North American metropolis – New York City. There is hardly another city so often being made the subject of songs, novels, or art pieces, as is the urban showpiece of American success. So what exactly is New York City famous for? Paying a visit, among the many things one could pick, one characteristic becomes apparent almost immediately: the city’s pace and energy. Its eight million inhabitants scattered across the five boroughs, each of which could be its own city, perpetually move about. Despite the city being the epitome of modernism and technological gigantism, its energy and drive is largely dependent on one major engine. And this engine is the New York City Subway. Whereas in other cities the subway is one of the many possibilities to travel around, in New York City it is the main artery of traffic flow.

The subway substitutes car traffic

New Yorkers must have something like an aversion towards cars as the following statistics suggest: around 75% of the city’s inhabitants do not even own a car, which equates to more than half of all households being car-free.[1] Most people in New York travel by subway, which is by far the fastest way around town, especially in comparison to travel by car: average speed on asphalt is 10 km/h, whereas average speed on rails is 48 km/h.[2] The subway’s authorities, the Metropolitan Transportations Authority, claim that the New York Subway transported approximately 1.6 billion passengers in 2011[3] - the equivalent of around one in every three users of mass transit in North America.[4] Finally, the New York Subway is the most extensive public transportation system in the world by number of stations in use (468) and by total length of route (1056 km).[5] Whereas elsewhere in North America, the car is praised as an embodiment of the idea of freedom, New Yorkers typically cherish their subway. It does not only allow riders to go anywhere they want but also at whatever time they choose to do so. Thereby, it is the subway that keeps New York City moving with services running 24 hours a day, seven days a week - unique among all subway networks in North America.

Shaping New York’s history

This brings us to the following question: why is the subway so much more popular in New York than in any other major North American metropolis? Of course the brilliant service provided is one main reason for the subway’s success.But New York’s affinity towards the transport on rail is more deeply rooted than that. In 1904, the opening of the subway was an important contributor to an unprecedented era of prosperity and growth for New York City. Furthermore, New York City had just been unified and the subway was the first real connector between businesses and their employees allowing workers to commute to work cheaply and efficiently. Today, New York City would not function without its subway. The city would come to a hold because of traffic jams and car owners would struggle for hours to find parking spots.


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