NYC Subway


It is hard to mentally separate New York City from its iconic subway system, which can boast of having the most stations of any metro system in the world (424* 472 if interchange stations (i.e. different sets of platforms) are counted separately. , exactly one hundred more stations than Shanghai, which comes in second) as well as the the highest ridership, most boardings per mile, longest track lengths, and most lines of any rapid transit system in North America.

All of that is a roundabout way of saying that — despite its mounting troubles — the subway system is a fundamental and dynamic part of New York City and its economy. But how exactly? We can explore this relationship using businesses, their addresses, and their functional tag, classified according to the Locus Classification System. Specifically, we compare the distributions of businesses surrounding subway stations and non-subway areas, and identify various economic communities in New York through the lens of subway stations.


The Locus Classification System (LCS) assigns economic entities a functional barcode, with each field in the barcode corresponding to a specific attribute of the classified entity. LCS applies a unified framework to classify both companies and occupations.

First, we identify the businesses surrounding a station. Take the Franklin St subway station in Tribeca as an example. We can define a radius (792 ft, roughly 3 blocks* This is roughly the same length as one avenue. ) around the station and identify all businesses that fall within that radius. We do this for each subway station in New York City, as well as a corresponding number of randomly selected points (taking care to ensure that the radii of these points do not overlap with the radii of any subway station). We will call these subway areas and non-subway areas, respectively.

We then tag all businesses by their Locus functional attributes: what they do and for whom they do it. At the most basic level, all companies perform one of four activities: procure Locus: 1.*.* (which includes sourcing, transporting, & storing resources), produce Locus: 2.*.* (designing, manufacturing, repairing), exchangeLocus: 3.*.* (marketing, selling, accounting), or manageLocus: 4.*.* (strategizing, allocating, auditing).

By calculating the proportion of businesses in an area that perform a particular function, we can identify functional patterns. To illustrate, many investment banks (they allocate money) and management consultancies (they strategize) are located in Midtown. Sure enough, the proportion of businesses around the 51st St station that manage is 42%, vastly higher than most subway stations (the average is 14%), indicating a high concentration of this function (and business suits) there. We can do the same calculations for all functions in each area.


Wondering why some words are colored? Hover over verbs and nouns that are colored to learn what Locus code they correspond to. Each word corresponds to a specific Locus activity or resource and corresponding color.



So how would the distribution of businesses in subway areas be different?

Well, since subways are a major mode of transportation for commuters and visitors in New York, we would expect businesses in the immediate vicinity of stations to be more reliant on foot traffic, visibility, and convenience for their customers.

For that we want to investigate businesses that primarily deal with sellingIn the charts, selling is highlighted and referencd by its Locus code, 3.1.*.

We see that this is the case with the proportion of businesses that sellLocus: 3.1.*, which make up 30% of businesses in subway areas and only 28% of businesses in non-subway areas. While a 2 percentage point (pp) difference may not seem like much, that can translate into an additional 100 businesses in a three block radius, and roughly 10,000 more businesses across the city. The bulk of this difference can be attributed to the sellingLocus: 3.1.* of foodLocus: E** — restaurants, food carts, bars, and grocery stores — which make up around 16% of businesses in subway areas and only 12% of businesses in non-subway areas. Put differently, the proportion of food and beverage businesses is one-third greater in subway areas*Another finding in support of this “increased foot traffic” effect is the differences in businesses with consumer customers, with subway areas having higher proportions (57.5% compared to 54.7%). . In contrast, the difference in the proportion of businesses that sell other resource types is never larger than 1pp.

The proportion of businesses that sellLocus: 3.1.* also decreases as a function of distance from the subway. Specifically, there is an estimated 4pp drop for every mile away from a subway station. However, although we thought the increase with proximity to subway entrances would apply to restaurants, bars, and grocery storesLocus: 3.1.* E**, we did not find a statistically significant effect as we get further from subway stations. Instead, we found strong decreases in the proportion of businesses selling clothing, souvenirs, and equipment (2.8pp for every mile) and diversified resources (0.8pp for every mile).

One might also suspect that businesses that deal with transportation and logistics may benefit from being close to the subway system, since being highly connected is essential for them. We would hence expect these businesses to be highly concentrated in subway areas. This turned out to be true particularly for businesses that transportLocus: 1.2.*.

Bearing in mind that these businesses represent only 3% of all businesses, they were still more likely to be found close to subway stations, making up 3.2% of businesses in subway areas compared to 2.7% in non-subway areas. This is true for the transportationLocus: 1.2.2 of peopleLocus: F, as we might expect. But it is also true for the transportationLocus: 1.2.2 of equipmentLocus: B** and informationLocus: 1.2 C**. Examples of the former include vehicle towing, waste collection, and moving services; while the latter includes post offices, wireless carriers, and other telecommunication services.



While differences between the businesses in subway and non-subway areas exist, it turns out that subway areas are not all the same. In fact, these differences are more pronounced than the difference between subway and non-subway areas. This is not actually surprising. Most would agree that the concrete jungle of the Financial District looks very different from the residential landscape of the Upper East Side, in no small part due to the businesses that make up the neighborhood.

Visualizing, deconstructing, and understanding the boundaries between these different economic communities is more suitably done with subway stations than zipcodes given how integral and noticeable they are to the daily lives of New Yorkers.



Let’s revisit the Financial District. Its subway stations*Wall St, Broad St, Fulton St, Rector St, and Cortland St have a distinct functional distribution, similar to that of subway stations in Two Bridges*City Hall, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, Chambers St, Midtown*Times Square, 34th St, 50th St, Bryant Park, Lexington Ave-53rd St, Lexington Ave-59th St, Grand Central, and Brooklyn Heights*Borough Hall, Hoyt St, Court St, Jay St-Metro Tech. Specifically, these economic communities are marked by high concentrations of businesses that manage Locus: 4.*.* or act on moneyLocus: D** and diversified resourcesLocus: Div.

Bokeh Plot