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Bus Accidents Inevitable in Lincoln Tunnel Given the Traffic

How statistics are reported matters. Take, for example, a recent article in BuzzFeed about traffic on the Hudson River tunnels and bridges based on numbers provided by the Port Authority. At first glance, it looks as if most of the eastbound traffic from New Jersey into New York City consisted of cars. Whether this is really true depends on how you count.

According to the BuzzFeed article, automobile traffic represents about 91 percent of all vehicles coming into New York City from the west. However, when you count the people instead of the vehicles, the story appears quite different.

A blogger at the website Streetsblog looked at the numbers and decided that he needed further analysis to get the true picture of what’s happening. He looked at the Hub Bound Travel Report, an annual statistical compilation by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). It covers only the Lincoln and Holland tunnels to and from the Port Authority bus terminal, but those numbers paint a very different picture from that provided by the BuzzFeed article.

It turns out that even though cars represent 91 percent of the vehicles in the Lincoln Tunnel, buses carried almost 75 percent of people. In other words, three-quarters of the commuters are using one-tenth of the vehicles. The Holland Tunnel has no bus lanes, so it carries fewer buses. Nevertheless, more than 25 percent of all people using the Holland Tunnel to cross the river westbound were in buses.

Using a bus does not guarantee safety. In 2013, two buses crashed in the Lincoln Tunnel, injuring 20 people and closing the heavily-used tunnel for several hours. In November of 2012, a bus crash in the tunnel forced passengers to walk to Port Authority. In 2011, a tunnel accident involving a motorcycle and three buses left the motorcyclist critically injured and numerous bus passengers with non-life threatening injuries. It is remarkable that there are not more serious bus accidents.

In addition to the estimated 172,000 people who use the Lincoln Tunnel buses each workday, 119,000 use the trains operated by the Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH) into lower Manhattan and to 34th Street. Another 82,000 use Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains into Penn Station every day.

Source: Streetsblog NYC, “Measuring traffic by people, not vehicles,” by Stephen Miller, Jul. 25, 2014.