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Post-Sandy, Queens Gets Back Into Multi-Modal Action

NYC has suffered greatly post-Sandy. While we still have a long way to go in the recovery, people are starting to go back to work and venture out of their homes.

Thursday marked the first day of modest subway restoration. It also saw the return of limited ferries, as well as a full MTA bus schedule and Mayor Bloomberg’s emergency order declaring all vehicles crossing the East River Bridges must have at least three occupants.

In an encouraging sign, the number of people walking and biking has been huge. Streetfilms was up early in Queens near the Queensboro Bridge to see how people were using all the transportation options out there. Here’s the montage we got.


How New Yorkers Are Getting Around After Sandy

Biking and walking over the Queenboro Bridge this morning. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

With the heart of the subway system knocked out of commission, this morning the Streetfilms crew — Clarence Eckerson, Elizabeth Press, and Robin Urban Smith — headed out to the bridge crossings that link Brooklyn and Queens to Manhattan, to document how New Yorkers are getting around under emergency conditions.

The huge crowds massing in Downtown Brooklyn to take shuttle buses over the Manhattan Bridge were testament to the sheer number of people who ride the subways on a normal day. While the waits were long, the system seems to have performed as well as can be expected. With HOV restrictions in effect, once buses got into Manhattan, they reportedly made better time than they do in typical NYC traffic.

Meanwhile, the city’s new bike infrastructure is really proving its worth today. If people have to cover significant distances and want to skirt gridlock or lengthy transfers entirely, biking is the way to go. The safer bikeways that NYC DOT has built in the past five years — especially the segments that link directly to the East River bridges — are helping New Yorkers get back to work.

Waiting to board the shuttle bus at Jay Street. Photo: Elizabeth Press

Boarding the bus through the back door at Jay Street. Photo: Elizabeth Press

Morning commute bike traffic on the Allen Street center median protected bike lane. Photo: Elizabeth Press

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Why NYC Needs Busways and Traffic Reduction, in Two Pictures

Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Here’s a look at Roosevelt Avenue and 82nd Street in Jackson Heights earlier this afternoon. Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson says the line to get onto these buses snaked twice as long as what you can see in the frame. Buses were already rolling up full and proceeded to crawl along Roosevelt, in traffic, at walking speed.

Eventually these buses merge onto Queens Boulevard, where today they would have run into this hellish traffic jam:

Each of those buses, packed as they were, was probably moving about as many people as all the cars in this picture combined.

With HOV restrictions in effect tomorrow, everyone riding the bus won’t have such a sluggish trip. And if the city reserves some lanes exclusively for buses — which seems like it could be in the offing, though specific plans are unknown right now — bus riders can bypass traffic even more quickly.

Of course, gridlock on streets like Queens Boulevard was worse today than it usually is, but grinding traffic heading to the free Queensboro Bridge is a fact of life when the subways are functioning perfectly well, too. The steps the city is taking to make the transportation system function during this emergency are pretty close to what needs to be done to eliminate the daily dysfunction on NYC streets: road pricing and busways.


Cuomo: “Bus Bridge” Linking Manhattan and Brooklyn Coming Soon

A few quick takeaways from Governor Cuomo’s recently-concluded press conference on the recovery from Sandy:

  • There will be very limited subway service restorations tomorrow today tomorrow morning, on 14 of the MTA’s 23 lines. Nothing below 34th Street. That’s as specific as he got.
  • Of the seven flooded subway tunnels under the East River, three have been pumped, but presumably there will be no trains running in the tunnels for a while.
  • Streets will apparently be repurposed, to some extent, to handle the extra pressure (which is only expected to get more intense as power comes back online and more people resume their commutes). Cuomo said there will be a “bus bridge” linking Manhattan and Brooklyn, but specifics aren’t available yet. Update: The buses will run from Downtown Brooklyn to Midtown, which sounds like a Manhattan Bridge route.
  • Chuck Schumer said he’s going to press for 90 percent of the recovery costs to be shouldered by the feds, as opposed to the typical 75 percent.

Mayor Bloomberg has a press conference scheduled for 1:30, so we hope to have more specifics on the emergency surface transportation plans then.

Update 2: The Governor’s office has released a list of all subway and emergency shuttle bus service that will be operational as of 2 p.m. this afternoon tomorrow morning. There are three shuttle bus routes — two plying the Manhattan Bridge and one on the Williamsburg Bridge — filling some of the gaps in subway service:


All shuttle buses will operate north on 3rd Avenue and south on Lexington Avenue.

1. Between Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge

2. Between Jay Street-MetroTech and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Manhattan Bridge

3. Between Hewes Street and 57th Street-Lexington Avenue via the Williamsburg Bridge

And here are the details on subway service restorations:

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Sandy Aftermath: Where Would You Reserve More Space for Buses and Bikes?

Pedestrians and cyclists flood the Brooklyn Bridge promenade during the 1980 transit strike. Wouldn't this picture look more balanced if one of those motor vehicle lanes was filled with people on bikes instead?

As the flood waters recede from New York City, it looks like the effects of Hurricane Sandy are going to linger in the city’s subway tunnels. MTA Chair Joe Lhota has called the storm the most devastating disaster to strike the subway system in its 108-year history.

All seven subway tunnels under the East River have flooded. So have several rail yards, though the MTA removed rolling stock to higher ground, preventing damage to subway cars. The exact extent of the damage to tracks, signals, and switches was unknown as of this morning, with Lhota telling WNYC that the MTA would have a firmer assessment later today.

At some platforms, the flooding is all the way up to the ceiling, Lhota said at an 11:30 press conference. The agency is currently in the process of pumping out the tunnels. While the subway system is out of service and gradually comes back online, Lhota said, “We’re going to use the bus system to complement and supplement” the subways.

Right now there is no definite timetable for restoring the subways. Speaking to the press this morning, Mayor Bloomberg said that he hoped some buses would be running this afternoon, with most bus service potentially resuming tomorrow. “Getting transit up and running is going to take more time and a lot of patience,” he said. “The damages they face really are enormous.”

At the 11:30 presser, Governor Cuomo said that the process of getting trains up and running will be “more about restoration of parts of the subway system first.” After the whole transit system is back online, he said, there will need to be a “long-term reconstruction effort,” referring to the region-wide process of recovery from the storm and flood damage.

For the immediate future, it seems, NYC will be without the main arteries of its transportation system, which means the city is going to have to wring more efficiency out of its surface streets.

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