Advice For Post-Sandy New York Traffic: Take the Bike

Source: Google

A map of New York traffic. Black lines, like those on the Williamsburg Bridge and the Queensboro Bridge, mean it's virtually impassable.

If you’re a New Yorker living in a borough other than Manhattan and you’re thinking about coming into the city, my advice to you: stay home.

I, like countless thousands of New Yorkers, didn’t heed that advice this morning, and my normally 45-minute commute from Prospect Park turned into a Gilligan’s Island two-hour tour, requiring two car services, a mile-long walk, and a lot of patience. Sandy left Manhattan without functioning tunnels and subways, leaving millions of intrepid New Yorkers scrambling for alternatives.

Some observations for those who imagine that for them it will be different:

  • Ride a bike. Commuters are filling bike lanes in greater numbers than usual this morning. Staring out the window of an idling car, I wished I were one of them. The sun is shining and the streets are full of optimism. Don’t forget your helmet.
  • Free buses aren’t without cost: If time is money, they will set you back a fortune. There were more people at most bus stops than could fill an empty bus, and none of the buses I saw were empty. Also, buses follow routes, and many routes today are at a complete standstill.
  • Electricity is still out in lower Manhattan. That includes traffic lights. Inexplicably, some busy intersections don’t have police guiding traffic. I specifically recall 1st Ave and 14th Street, but there are many others. However, it’s almost worth the trip to witness the novelty of a powerless Manhattan, if you’ve never had the experience.
  •  Check for traffic bottlenecks before you leave. Most tunnels are still closed. That means a lot of New Yorkers are jammed up on bridges. When I departed this morning, the Brooklyn Bridge and 59th Street Bridge were completely impassable, but the Manhattan Bridge wasn’t too bad.
  • Don’t rely on your mobile phone for directions or traffic maps. Cell service is down for much of Manhattan. I have AT&T and didn’t get a clear signal until I reached 42nd Street.
  •  Check the ferry services and water taxis if they’re convenient to you. The superstorm tides have receded, and they will no doubt be pressed into more service, as they were after Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Wait for tomorrow. Limited train and subway service is on track to be restored and should relieve some of the congestion.

My journey began when I hailed a limo service from my home in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. The driver took me almost to the Brooklyn Bridge until he begged me to find a new car because the traffic was so bad and he needed to take his sister to work. A taxi took me across the Manhattan Bridge instead. Rules are relaxed today, and taxis are allowed to pick up multiple passengers and negotiate fares.

Traffic in lower Manhattan was bad, and the lack of lights didn’t help. But drivers seem on good behavior and with some trial and error, it’s possible to navigate the city. Things slowed down as we approached Midtown. My cell signal was restored and my Google traffic map confirmed what we were seeing: All avenues were bright red, meaning traffic wasn’t moving. I abandoned my ride at around 42nd street to walk the last mile to 59th Street and Lexington Ave.

Part of what makes New York City so remarkable is how resilient it can be in the face of disaster. There’s evidence of that on the streets of Manhattan today. Still, if you are well provisioned and have the option to avoid the commute, consider yourself lucky and enjoy a little peace and quiet at home.

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