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One Mindblowing Fact Missing From BuzzFeed’s Port Authority Listicle

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed gleaned some fun facts about the Hudson River bridges and tunnels from a Port Authority data dump on the number of eastbound automobiles, buses, and trucks. If you took the numbers at face value, you might be left with the impression that cars are the most important thing moving around New York. But when you measure people instead of vehicles, the numbers look quite different.

BuzzFeed's John Templon started off the nine-point listicle with a breakdown of vehicle traffic on the Port's crossings:

1. It’s almost all cars. Automobile traffic consistently makes up around 91% of the total vehicles going over and through the bridges and tunnels in a month. Trucks make up between 6 and 7 percent, and buses account for the final 2 to 3 percent.

Buses are mentioned once again, and readers are left with the impression that they aren't all that important, even at the crossing with the most bus traffic:

6. Buses love the Lincoln Tunnel. Buses accounted for 11.4% of all vehicles taking the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan in 2013. (Port Authority is right around the corner.) That proportion is 10 times greater than any other eastbound crossing. Next is the Holland Tunnel, at just 1.4%.

Barely more than one in ten vehicles coming from New Jersey in the Lincoln Tunnel is a bus. But what happens when you measure people, not vehicles?

To get the numbers, we turn to the Hub Bound Travel report, issued annually by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. Like other long-running NYC transportation metrics, the Hub Bound report only measures travel to and from Manhattan south of 60th Street. Because of this limitation, we're restricted to looking at the two Port Authority crossings serving this area: the Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel.

In October 2012, the most recent month for which Hub Bound data is available, buses were 10.8 percent of all eastbound traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel, according to the Port Authority. But on an average weekday that month, buses carried 73.4 percent of all people traveling through the tunnel, according to the Hub Bound report. Put another way: Nearly three-quarters of people in the Lincoln Tunnel are traveling in about one-tenth of the vehicles. Or: Nearly 90 percent of vehicles clogging the tunnel are carrying slightly more than one-quarter of the people.

The bus numbers aren't as lopsided for the Holland Tunnel, which has no dedicated bus lanes, but the efficiency of transit is still apparent: Buses are only 1.5 percent of the vehicles, yet manage to carry 26.5 percent of all people using the downtown crossing.

Many regional leaders recognize the central role buses play in trans-Hudson travel. “The Lincoln Tunnel… is essentially a mass transit system now, in terms of buses coming from New Jersey," First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris told the MTA Reinvention Commission last week. "It carries more commuters than PATH."

It's true. According to the Hub Bound report, nearly 172,000 people use Manhattan-bound Lincoln Tunnel buses every day, while about 119,000 use the inbound PATH. (That number is close to evenly split between the tunnels to 34th Street and the World Trade Center.) The Lincoln Tunnel even carries more people every day than the two tracks carrying nearly 82,000 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders to Penn Station daily.

Despite this, there's not enough capacity for buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, so they overwhelm neighborhood streets. And buses only get a dedicated lane in the Lincoln Tunnel during the morning rush, not the evening commute. Here's the classic Streetfilm explaining why that needs to change:

When you measure people, not vehicles, the numbers will make you say: "OMG."

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