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COVID Gives NYC a Chance—and Urgent Reasons—to Redesign its Transit System

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As American cities gradually reopen for business, millions of New Yorkers have been asking themselves the same question: How will I get myself safely to work?

The recent recommendation from the CDC — drive yourself, alone if possible, and avoid public transportation — has done little to clarify the answer. On a typical weekday (before the coronavirus pandemic), the population of Manhattan would swell with 1.5 million commuters, most of them arriving via packed subways, trains, buses, and ferries. Only 27 percent of New Yorkers regularly drive to work, and fewer than half own a car.

Aside from well-founded concerns that increased car traffic will worsen gridlock and pollution, the recommendation brings an even more fundamental issue to light. Driving to work is a privilege that not all can afford; in fact, the idea goes against the spirit of a city built on robust public transit, the very infrastructure that has enabled its growth and prosperity over time. Access to transportation has always been a key to economic and social mobility in New York City, and this widespread access has provided opportunity for generations of its most underserved citizens.

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