Traffic Roars Back in NYC as COVID-19 Cases Jump Elsewhere

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Traffic jams are a common sight again in the city. 

New York City has lost its world-famous museums, Broadway and the myriad of restaurants that made it an international must-see, but one facet of NYC life is making a pandemic comeback that no one wants to see: traffic. 

A genuine exasperation for New York commuters, the renaissance in city car travel is threatening decades of gains on the city’s air quality. Now with a sprawling subway system, transit in the five districts is accountable for only 30% of NYC’s sprawling greenhouse yield. But during lockdown, with more citizens avoiding trains and opting for car travel, that trend is quickly starting to reverse. 

What does that mean? The city is staring down a perfect storm: Driving is returning to normal way faster than ridership on the MTA’s subways and buses since the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April. Not to mention that the budgets for mass transportation programs are catering as New York reels from the economic crisis of the pandemic- a shock that could hinder service and further turn citizens away from taking buses and subways. 

Traffic Roars Back in NYC as COVID-19 Cases Jump Elsewhere
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Threatened by the upsurging traffic jam is a gridlocked city where cars and trucks sit idle and spew emissions, mainly affecting the predominantly Latino and Black communities that surround main highways. Environmental activists claim it’s time for City Hall to consider a potential upsurge in transit emissions, and quickly ramp up the infrastructure for bike and bus lanes, while they convince Washington to support cash-starved public transit services. 

According to Julie Tighe, president of the New York City League of Conservation Voters – the city avoids nearly 17 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually thanks to MTA. 

NYC is Heading to “Carmageddon” as Report Suggests 

An analysis conducted by the Transportation Alternatives advocacy organization found that NYC’s reopening will bring many dangerous levels of car traffic, new reputation for biking, limited recovery of transit networks and a huge demand for monthly parking NYC.

The pandemic changed every aspect of life, creating what has become the new normal. The effects of the pandemic is also seen in public transportation, particularly in NYC.  

TA or Transportation Alternative, an advocacy company that demands better bicycling, public transit, and walking for all New Yorkers, has tracked data linked to transportation as New York has reopened and found that the city is headed for conflict. 

As very little accommodation is made for the safety and efficiency of those who don’t drive and more commuters opt to drive, New York could soon experience congestion, crash-laden and exhaust-choked Carmageddon. 

TA has also revealed the first edition of a new monthly report analyzing NYC’s post-pandemic transportation revival, only to allegedly identify dangerous levels of truck and car traffic, increasing popularity of cycling and reduce the recovery of the transit network.  

Solving New York City’s Traffic Congestion Problem 

One study from CUNY researchers reveals insights on the impacts that pricing might have. The study looked at the effects that a barrier pricing system enforced between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. would have on traffic emissions and transportation demand in Lower Manhattan. 

The study was conducted before the pandemic. But now, remote work orders for businesses and the shutdown of retailers, tourist attractions, hotels, and other entities have considerably reduced traffic in Manhattan as well as the number of citizens heading in and out of the city public transportation. 

With that said, using a computerized model of New York City and counties that took income, housing size, and other socioeconomic information into account, the study simulated the effects of fees from $5 to $20 for entering or exiting the “the central business area”. A fee could minimize traffic congestion by up to 40 per cent, the study found. Though most of this relief would take place at the boundaries of the business district, and more work might be necessary to free up inner areas. 

Fees also usually improve public transit usage and reduce both particulate emissions and greenhouse gas in the region.

The project also revealed how some behaviours might play out. For example, as the car fee went from 5$ to $15, high occupancy vehicle use increased. This can be better explained by citizens carpooling to reduce costs. 

But as the fee reached $20, high-occupancy vehicle use went down. At some point, the surging cost might be enough that people would rather use transit alternatives. 

It’s proposed that the future could examine whether traffic pricing will be equitable and fair, the study says, by looking at factors like environmental justice, income levels, and accessibility on public transit. 

In the meantime, another analysis of transportation figures since NYC shut down in March found that: 

NYC citizens are driving more. While tunnel and bridge vehicle crossings dropped 69 per cent in April, driving resumed to near pre-pandemic levels by June.

New Yorkers prefer the bus and avoid trains. Between March and April, subway usage went to 92 per cent while bus usage dropped 78 per cent. 

While both figures remain under pre-COVID levels today, bus usage is now only 35 per cent down, compared to the subway alternatives, which was reduced to 74 per cent since August. 

New Yorkers are driving more dangerously as well. City’s automated speed safety monitors that issue 94 per cent of all speeding tickets in the city have found a 67 per cent increase over pre-pandemic levels, which could lead to fatal accidents.

NYC citizens are either biking or searching for bike information, more than ever, indicating new bikers in the roads. Although New Yorkers are not commuting to the office, in August, the figure of daily bike commuting over the East River reached 23 per cent higher than this time in 2019.

Traffic jams are once again something familiar in NYC. Unless the mayor acts now to give citizens safe and reasonable transportation options, pollution, congestion, inequality, and traffic violence in New York City will continue to soar. 

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