New York versus Los Angeles — transportation

After doing the comparison of population densities in the New York and Los Angeles areas, I thought it could be interesting to do some comparisons related to transportation.

New York is the area with the well-developed and highly used public transit system. Los Angeles is famous for its dependence on the automobile. So let’s begin by looking at the percentages traveling to work using transit versus private motor vehicles. (The journey-to-work statistics are from the Census American Community Survey, 2012, 1-year data for the MSAs). Here is the modal split:

  • Transit
    • New York: 31 percent
    • Los Angeles: 6 percent
  • Car, truck, van
    • New York: 57 percent
    • Los Angeles: 84 percent

No surprises here. New York has a high 31 percent using public transit versus only 6 percent in Los Angeles. Fully 84 percent of workers in Los Angeles traveled to work in a car, truck, or van. So it’s clear that workers in Los Angeles are extremely auto-dependent.

But look again at the New York figures. Well over half of the workers in New York also drove or carpooled to work, nearly one and one-half times the number taking transit. So it’s hard to say that New York is not, to a considerable extent, also auto-dependent.

While I was getting these modal split data, I also got the data on the average times for the journey-to-work by mode of travel. So I am comparing these as well:

  • Transit
    • New York: 50.5 minutes
    • Los Angeles: 50.2 minutes
  • Car, truck, van
    • New York: 29.4 minutes
    • Los Angeles: 27.9 minutes

Almost exactly the same for New York and Los Angeles for both transit riders and those driving or carpooling. Transit trips take much longer, on average, than the car, truck, and van trips. I’m not sure what to make of the lack of differences, but it strikes me as interesting.

Finally, Los Angeles is known as the land of the freeway, which is the iconic symbol of the region. Here are the miles of interstates and of other freeways and expressways for the two Urbanized Areas (from Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 2014):

  • New York: 1,258 miles
  • Los Angeles: 594 miles

The New York area has twice as many miles of these highways compared to Los Angeles! But this is not quite a fair comparison, since the New York area is much larger than Los Angeles. So we take this into account by calculating the miles per million population:

  • New York: 70.7 miles per million
  • Los Angeles: 50.4 miles per million

Even taking population size into account, New York has 40 percent more Interstates, and other freeways and expressways, than Los Angeles. This is so much at variance with our accepted ideas about the two areas that I am not sure what to say.

For a visual comparison, here are links to Google Maps showing, at approximately the same scale, the freeways as bold orange lines for the New York and Los Angeles areas.

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