The Hot Spots of New York: A Coverage Map of NYC’s Free WiFi Payphones

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The Hot Spots of New York: A Coverage Map of NYC’s Free WiFi Payphones

If you are a New York City local, there is a reasonably good chance that you have not picked up a payphone in the last decade or so.  And for those of you who have, you probably knew there was an even better chance that the phone you picked up was going to be out of service.

Useless, right?  Well, not for long.  This week the city announced that all of those pay phones (with the exception of two) will become free wifi hot spots!  Yes, for real.

Now I know what your next thought is.  “But wait, there are not a lot of pay phones left in NYC.“   Believe it or not though, there are a LOT of pay phones left in NYC. A lot lot.  Don’t believe me?  Check out this map courtesy of data from the NYC Open Data portal:

So lots of phones that will soon be free wifi hotspots.  We also learned that each of these hotspots will broadcast wifi for 150 feet.   So, I took all of the phones in the data set, added 150 feet buffers around them and made the cities very first free wifi coverage map:

The 150 foot radius covers an impressive amount of many neighborhoods.

While this represents about 6,000 phone locations, the NY Times reported that they will be adding at least 1,600 additional locations.  So where should those locations be?  I decided to explore which neighborhoods have the best and worst coverage given the current phones to identify where additional locations would add the most value.  To do that, I calculated the total area with wifi coverage in each neighborhood as a fraction of the total area of the neighborhood.  The top findings are below.  (You can search any neighborhood in the table using the filter on the upper left):

The winner?  Kips Bay with a whopping 65% coverage.  In fact, 9 manhattan neighborhoods have so many pay phones that they have over 50% of their area covered.  As the map shows, the coverage is definitely strongest in Manhattan.  In fact, the first 38 neighborhoods on the list are all from the borough.  Its not till 39 and 40 on the list where we see the outer boroughs:   Downtown Brooklyn with 16% coverage and , and Ridgewood with 15%.

The borough breakdown is pretty interesting as well: 55% of phones are in Manhattan, 18% are in Brooklyn, 17% Queens, 10%  Bronx and less than 1% for Staten Island.

If these kiosks are mainly aiming to help tourists, there are some notable tourist destinations that could use a boost.  Battery Park has only 12% coverage from 14 phones.  Central park fares the worst in Manhattan, with less than 1% coverage from only 7 phones in the whole park.    In Brooklyn, one up-and-coming tourist destination fares particularly poorly: Red Hood with only 0.2% coverage form a single phone.

If they are hoping to offer internet for lower income communities with this program, once again Red Hook notably scores pretty poorly.  Cypress Hills gets 1% in Brooklyn, and Windsor Terrace has a single phone providing < 1% coverage. In fact there were 50 neighborhoods with out any phones in the list, giving 0% coverage.  Those might be a good place to start when placing additional units.

Still want to make a phone call though?  Don’t worry, you’ll be able to do that too…  for FREE again.  The catch?  It will be through a speaker phone.  So just don’t say anything you wouldn’t want a whole city block to hear.  Though in this city, that’s probably not very limiting.

This post was done in response to a Twitter Request by @BrianYoung88.

(Tweet your requests too!)

Pay Phone Data from NYC Open Data Portal here.

Analysis done in QGIS.

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