Large queuing structures at both ends of the tunnels

These structures would be basically laid out as queuing lanes for cars. Imagine the tunnel traffic that stacks onto city streets relocated to a multi-story structure. It could be above ground, below-grade, or even within the footprint of a building. In Manhattan, the housing, offices and public buildings are vertically stacked. Why not vertically stack the traffic as well? The SketchUp drawings to the right and on the following pages illustrate the concept, based on an above ground structure built over existing lanes of traffic.

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A similar example can be found at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, where taxis are directed into a “queuing corral”. The corral releases cars to the airport’s pickup area one lane at a time, and congestion at the pickup area generally does not occur. They wait until it has cleared out before they allow another line of cars in. On the New Jersey side, the deck would have a lot of spaces where commuters could leave cars for the day and join carpools or hop on buses in order to reduce cars going into Manhattan. Former Mayor Bloomberg was fond of saying that the city isn’t made for cars. The objective of reducing the need for them has become painfully obvious, especially in Manhattan. Apps such as Uber Pool and Lyft Line could be used to allow commuters to find cars that are going to the vicinity of their workplace. This utilizes existing technology that anyone with a smart phone can access. On both sides, the waiting lanes would be designed to give HOV vehicles priority. During peak times, vehicles would enter the queuing decks. The cars would proceed into the queuing lanes where they could take on additional passengers while waiting. The decks would be open to drivers wishing to find passengers at all times of the day. The passenger pick-up lanes would have security cameras and be patrolled by traffic police to help ensure safety. The lanes would have variable message signs along them to give drivers an approximate wait time. The lanes would be numbered and blocked off in sections so that riders can easily locate the car they have contacted for a ride. The queuing deck would work in tandem with sensors within the tunnel. Gates would open one at a time at the end of the queues, allowing the cars to enter the tunnel. The alternate merges which cause so much conflict are eliminated. The lanes would be allowed to refill as they empty, with gates on the entry end preventing drivers from going into the lane that is moving out. The traffic on the deck would alternate with the traffic on the surface streets. To further incentivize the HOV lanes, they could be opened twice in each cycle. Enforcement of HOV lane rules is made very easy with this arrangement, as traffic officers could walk along the line checking for compliance. At times when the deck is not filling up completely, they would be opened at regular intervals, perhaps every fifteen minutes, and of course the tunnel could still be accessed from the surface streets. In addition to taking more cars off of the surface streets as they wait their turn to pass through the tunnel, cars would be sheltered from the weather while waiting, which means less stacking space needing salting and plowing in the winter and additional shade in the summer. That translates into less of a need for heat in the winter and for air conditioning in the summer, again reducing idling time and, in turn, emissions. The users would have the option of waiting in climate-controlled spaces that are part of the structure instead of sitting in their cars. According to the Port Authority, the peak capacity of the Holland Tunnel, one-way, is 2,600 vehicles per hour. Now consider that if all of those vehicles were stopped for 30 minutes instead of creeping along in stop-and-go traffic. For the three peak afternoon hours, that would be a reduction in total engine running time by 7,800 hours a day, which over a year of weekdays comes to 2,028,000 hours. That would be a major step towards reaching clean air and carbon reduction targets.

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These views show the deck level queuing space for vehicles. There are concrete barriers dividing the lanes, but they could easily be removable bollards. The bollards could be removed by attendants to allow cars to move out of a lane when blocked by a disabled vehicle. To alert drivers when their lane opens, there would be countdown clocks and flashing lights. Riders would be able to see the time that each lane is expected to open and make their choice of vehicle accordingly.

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The first level above the street is the queuing space for cars. It is reached by a ramp from street level. The top level is meant to be a waiting area for commuters, sort of a rooftop lounge open to everyone. This design features a coffee shop, solar panels that function as shade structures, and public restrooms. Restrooms are important, as anyone ever stuck in traffic here can attest. The green panel in the top view is a vine-covered trellis or green wall. The entire structure could be covered in vegetation, but is left open in these illustrations to make the uses on each level clearly visible. A heavily vegetated structure would mitigate traffic noise and make it more aesthetically appealing. Electric car chargers are visible in the lower view.

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This illustrated location is loosely based on the blocks of Canal St. near the tunnel. The passengers would reach the deck levels via a stair/elevator tower. Bike racks, bike share and electric scooter share docking stations would be amenable here, along with generous pedestrian space.

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It is acknowledged that elevated roadways are no longer considered to be good urban design solutions. However, this is more parking deck than roadway. It would only run for a few blocks. In its current form, Canal Street is not a great street for pedestrians due to its width and the amount of space given to vehicles. This structure would subdivide the blocks where it sits into two narrow, shaded pedestrian-oriented spaces on either side.

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The sidewalk entry area of the structure is shown with an adjacent newsstand. This would also be a good location for food carts. A newsstand or convenience store could also be easily incorporated into the structure.

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Driver’s eye view on the surface street. Blue-spectrum lighting could be used for a calming effect. Sound-absorptive surfaces on the ceilings would help mitigate vehicle noise. Having a “cap” on the streets like this would make the decks function as a sound barrier, reducing the noise for the occupants of surrounding buildings.

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Looking down from above, the green roofs and photovoltaic panels are visible. Why green roofs? Just the usual reasons – reduction in rainwater runoff and mitigation of the urban heat island effect. Plus it would look better from surrounding buildings.

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The top level features outdoor seating and coffee shop. The components needed for a successful urban public space are well known, and it would not be difficult to locate them here.

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The top level amenities are also meant to function as outdoor space for the neighborhood in the same way that deck parks over highways do. The success of the High Line proved that you can have elevated park space provided that it is adequately maintained and policed.

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A large outdoor television at one end could allow commuters to catch up on news while waiting for rides.

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The irritating thing about stop and go traffic is that it demands just enough of one’s attention to make it difficult and unsafe to do anything else other than maybe making phone calls. If drivers are stopped while waiting and they have a rough idea of how much time they have until they will have to move again, they would have the opportunity to check email, make a restroom break, or purchase a quick meal. Electric cars are becoming more common now, and recharging with the fastest commercial chargers takes 30 minutes. Chargers could also be located on the deck, available for use while commuters wait their turn. Leasing of space for the chargers could also be a revenue source. If a facility can allow people to do things that they normally would have to drive out of their way to do, regional VMT can be reduced. People here are very pressed for time, and anything that allows them to get more things done at once can yield productivity benefits. The way it is now, people are basically trapped in their cars on the tunnel approaches, breathing exhaust and growing irritable. Implementation of the plan should also make life easier for the traffic police at the tunnel entrances. Based on my casual observations, there is a high turnover rate among officers directing at the intersections around the tunnel entrances. It certainly does not look like an easy job. It would do this by taking more traffic off of the surface streets and reducing demand for driving into Manhattan through carpooling and steering commuters to other modes. The new task of the traffic police would be keeping order within the queue lines, all while partially protected from the weather. The deck structure would have easy and safe pedestrian access for commuters looking for a carpool, taxi or limousine ride through. Commuting expenses would be reduced by concentrating more riders per car and allowing NJ commuters to park in a location where real estate, and consequently parking rates, are cheaper. By making carpooling and vanpooling through the tunnel and then to workplaces just part of the trip, commuters would be able to retain the flexibility afforded by commuting by car. Their commuting times would not be dictated by a train or bus schedule. Another advantage of letting groups of vehicles go in platoons through the Holland tunnel would be so that the traffic lights on the NJ side could be synchronized to allow the platoon to quickly move through Jersey City. It should be noted here that the autonomous vehicles of the near future will have the ability to wirelessly link up and so could stay closer together while moving. Safety would also be enhanced by taking traffic away from the street locations where difficult merges occur. Once the concept is proven successful, it could be tried near other congested crossings such as the East River bridges. One of the biggest challenges with transit is how to have enough vehicles on the road or rails at peak times when demand is highest. PATH is limited by the size of the tunnels and the length of the train platforms. NJ Transit is limited by the number of trains that can go through the tunnels during peak times. With considering car and van pools as part of a transportation plan, you essentially have a system that swells in capacity with demand right when you need it to, and then shrinks back down as demand tapers off. There is no need to keep drivers on the clock as they wait for the afternoon commuters out of the city. Construction costs should be similar to that of parking garages. Due to the high construction costs in the NYC area, it could be estimated at the high end of $30,000.00 per space. For a queuing deck with space for 1,300 cars, that would be $39 million. There would be no property acquisition costs if the structures can be built above or below existing streets. Considering the fact that most infrastructure projects currently in the planning stage for the region go into the multiple billions of dollars in cost projections, the costs of the queuing decks would be relatively small. Amenities like restrooms, climate-controlled rider waiting areas, and outdoor seating would of course add to the cost, but also make them more popular. Green roofs and extensive landscape plantings are another additional cost, but would make the facilities more acceptable to the neighborhoods in which they are located.

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The facility serving the Holland tunnel on the NJ side may be able to make use of currently underutilized parking at the Newport Mall as well as that of other “big box” stores in the area. It should also be noted that if they are planned to include an amenity value, such as park space on the top level, they may become a catalyst for new development, as the High Line has been. The obvious potential choke point in this scheme would be at the entrances to the queuing structures, but there is still more space for vehicles to wait to enter the tunnels, rather than on the surface streets. The photo to the right is of the ramps and elevated roadway for the cruise ship terminal along the West Side Highway. This infrastructure, all this relatively new stacking space, is only used occasionally when cruise ships are docked. It does not interfere with the recreational use of the Hudson River Greenway. The Holland Tunnel is nearly ninety years old. Yet the traffic patterns on the approaches are essentially unchanged from the day that the tunnel opened. Why is that? Driving habits have changed, the ability to work remotely has changed, toll collection technology has changed, and the ability to find carpoolers has changed. Why not accommodate these changes?

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As autonomous shuttle buses come into common use, our street infrastructure will need to be adapted to allow them to function better. These queuing structures would be designed to function as future stations for these buses. Habits are already changing with ride-haling apps. Autonomous shuttles are an integral part of this plan, as detailed in the next section.


The city of Zurich, Switzerland, has a sophisticated traffic management system where traffic is detained on the periphery of the city center during peak times, and only allowed to enter at a pace which will not cause traffic to back up or become gridlocked. This works similarly to a highway on-ramp with a metering traffic light, albeit on a much more comprehensive scale. They do it with a lot of traffic sensors and traffic lights that are all monitored from a central location. This would function similarly, but instead of keeping traffic in the suburban parts of the city, it would back up into the queuing structures, where vehicles would wait without idling, without producing pollution and wasting fuel. The queuing structures would allow traffic into the tunnels at a rate that would not cause traffic to become congested. The concept could be deployed along other often-congested routes in the metropolitan area such as the BQE and LIE, functioning as space for traffic to expand into during times when backups occur.