Heartbeat of a City

Pandemics don’t discriminate, but the need to pay rent does. Some have the luxury of staying home, others don’t. As most of the world starts to slow down and social distance, there are also individuals out there who must continue to travel and work, despite the risks. It is critical to understand this movement so that we can appreciate those who continue to hustle for the rest of us. So that we can understand which neighborhoods are being impacted the most. So that we remain vigilant in our social distancing actions for the sake of those who don’t have the option to stay at home, even if they want to.

This is the heartbeat of a city. It ebbs and flows as the blood, the people, travel throughout the city. It has a steady rhythm, powerful on working days, taking a rest when the inhabitants do. And then, a complication arises. COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, comes to the city. The people are now scared to leave, ordered to stay inside to protect others. And so, the heartbeat slows, in order to save the city. Yet some still travel along the beating veins of the city, risking their lives. Why?

To interact with this graph, hover over any of the individual subway stations. Upon doing so, that station and its data will be highlighted, allowing you to find differences between stations.

Those who still travel are not the same as those who do not. Disproportionately, the travelers are the working class, those who do not have the luxury of hunkering down or working from home. They must brave traveling into the city, sustaining it while risking their own lives.

This graph shows normalized values, essentially comparing peak percentage to daily at two subway stations. Before the virus, they follow roughly the same trends, but after the virus members of the poorer neighborhood rode the subway at twice the rate as those from the wealthier one.

The city’s pulse inevitably slows down as New York City starts to become the epicenter of the pandemic in the east coast. Yet the heartbeat continues to pulsate in poorer neighborhoods, pumping what would have been a dead and isolated city. Those without the privilege to stay home in order to pay rent are those who are hustling for the rest of us. They are put at risk, almost involuntarily, as a result of the disproportionate effects of COVID-19.

This animation demonstrates the flow of entries per station over time. This geo-spatial, time-series visualization shows how movement in the city dropped significantly after major dates and as cases continued to spike, especially in what used to be bustling stations like Times Square. However, it also highlights the continued activity of stations located in poorer neighborhoods.

Continue to watch to see the glaring changes.

When the city was first shut down, more people rode the bikes. They were afraid of the subway, they would not travel trapped with others who could be infected. A similar trend was seen in South Korea, which also experienced rapidly rising cases in a densely populated nation. And yet, even that movement declined as NYC slowed and slowed. People stopped going out for pleasure, and no longer trusted the bikes to be sanitized and safe.

Hover over the graph to see specific data for each individual day.

The subway followed its traditional pattern of powerful working days interspersed with the more leisurely weekends. Yet, the highs were not so high as they had once been, and the lows were markedly lower. The city that never sleeps began to slowly fall into a deep slumber, its weekly rhythm disrupted.

Click here to see our Citi Bike data mapped!

The subway is not New Yorkers’ only method of transportation. We walk. We drive. We bike. All different speeds and all different ways of moving, but all still slowed down after social distancing mandates came into play. Particularly, Citi Bike is a popular alternative to the subway or the iconic yellow cab with a record of 17.6 million rides in 2018 alone. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases continued to spike and after the lockdown was implemented on March 20th, the pace of the bicycle movement in New York City also unavoidably slowed down.

The reality is that the coronavirus does not discriminate, but the effects of it do. While some can afford the luxury of staying home, some are forced to travel during this global pandemic to pay rent.

We hope that with each scroll, we can be reminded of the disparity that this pandemic has revealed. That “stay well” wishes are not just default email signatures but genuine prayers for those who continue to travel amidst this crisis.

Ilica Mahajan, Nicole Hong, William Hall