Roughly 3.9 million people entered Manhattan below 60th Street every weekday in recent years until March of 2020. Most of these people had ridden the subway into town: They flooded up from underground and streamed into offices and restaurants and retail stores, to Broadway theaters and Times Square and the Empire State Building. They made Midtown and Lower Manhattan the anchor of jobs and wealth in the Northeast.
Sixteen months after New York’s lockdown, however, foot traffic in Midtown resembles that on a sleepy Sunday. So many of the city’s highest-paid workers are still working at home full time, keeping offices in central parts of the city largely empty when compared to their prepandemic levels.
But we need to confront a root impediment to New York’s coming fully back to life, one seen in Chicago, Philadelphia and some other cities, too: fear of the subways. Before the pandemic, three-quarters of daily visitors to Midtown and Lower Manhattan came in via transit, more than 2.2 million on the subway. Today, weekday subway ridership remains less than half of normal.
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