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Journal Article

Inequality in behavioural heat adaptation: an empirical study with mobility data from the transport system in New York City, NY, USA


Stechemesser,  Annika
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;


Wenz,  Leonie
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research;

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Stechemesser, A., Wenz, L. (2023): Inequality in behavioural heat adaptation: an empirical study with mobility data from the transport system in New York City, NY, USA. - The Lancet Planetary Health, 7, 10, e798-e808.

Cite as: https://publications.pik-potsdam.de/pubman/item/item_28673
Background: Heat exposure, which can negatively affect human health and wellbeing, is heterogeneous within US cities. However, little is known about who can avoid heat stress by adjusting their everyday behaviour. We aimed to analyse the effect of ambient temperature on mobility, specifically subway (ie, the underground railway system) use, in New York City, NY, USA, during 2014–19. - Methods: For this empirical study, subway use across New York City was measured with turnstile data from the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority between Jan 1, 2014, and Dec 31, 2019. Passenger numbers were then aggregated to the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) level. Daily observational climate data were obtained from the US National Weather Service between Jan 1, 2014, and Dec 31, 2019. Socioeconomic data at the ZCTA level originated from the American Community Survey 2019. We extracted data on population age, ethnicity, commuting, employment, median household income, rent, and health-insurance coverage. We used a fixed-effects panel-regression model to assess the influence of temperature on subway use in New York City, which was the main outcome of our study. - Findings: We obtained data for 438 subway stations across New York City. After data cleaning and preprocessing, the final aggregated data sample consisted of 238 508 instances of subway use in 1955 days across 6 years for 122 ZCTAs, with 168 days missing in the raw data and 67 days removed as outliers. The results of the fixed-effects panel-regression analysis showed a strong, non-linear effect of daily maximum temperature on subway use. Subway use was highest at 11·5°C and substantially decreased for temperatures that were colder and warmer than that, with reductions reaching 6·5% (95% CI 2·5–10·5) for the coldest temperature (ie, –6·5°C) and 10·5% (6·0–14·0) for the hottest temperature (ie, 34·5°C). Reductions differed between weekdays and weekends, when residents generally had more freedom to adjust their behaviour. Neighbourhoods that were at a socioeconomic disadvantage experienced smaller or no reductions in mobility in heat; mobility increased in neighbourhoods with beach access. - Interpretation: Our study showed that temperature had a strong, non-linear effect on subway use, but the magnitude of the effect on subway use was heterogeneous across areas of the city on warm days. Weaker avoidance of heat stress correlated with less privilege, indicating compounding health risks. Everyday behavioural adaptation to heat is therefore an effect pathway that contributes to unequal heat effects and should be explored in future research.