Traffic Congestion at the Hudson Crossings – A Solution

As a regular commuter on the bridges and tunnels, I’ve experienced all the backups and bottlenecks. We all know another vehicle tunnel into Manhattan is not even on the horizon, not in the planning stage. Never mind the fact that more cars on Manhattan streets would have no place to go. As it is now, tunnel traffic leaving Manhattan backs up onto local streets, spewing pollution, creating noise, and generally degrading the pedestrian experience. Going into Manhattan, vast acreage is devoted to stacking space for vehicles, though congestion is still among the worst in the country. It is a bad condition for all involved. The new rail tunnel for NJ Transit and Amtrak is at least a decade away. With the possible closure for repairs of one of the existing rail tunnels looming on the horizon, the region may have yet another massive traffic problem to confront. What is the contingency plan in case one of the tunnels actually DOES become unusable? It appears that they don’t have one that could handle all the rail commuters. Traffic reporters regularly use the term “nightmare” to describe conditions at the Hudson crossings. On Fridays before holiday weekends, wait times for the tunnels can extend beyond ninety minutes! In Jersey City, thousands of new apartments are under construction or have been recently completed that are within walking distance of PATH stations, but the PATH trains are packed full at peak times. There are also thousands of new residential units near the Lincoln tunnel. How are all those people supposed to get to work? It is assumed that most will be commuting into Manhattan. For years, planners have advocated for Transit Oriented Development as a solution to traffic problems. Now that there is renewed interest in urban living and we have high density living conditions within walking distance of existing transit, the transit facilities are unable to handle the demand. It is long past the time for innovative solutions to the problem. Technologies that are now coming into common use will radically disrupt our commuting patterns. They are car-pooling with apps, such as Uber Pool and Lyft Line, and autonomous buses.


Goals

1. Reduce traffic that backs up onto Manhattan streets in the area of the tunnel approaches.

2. Create a system that allows for a more efficient and orderly flow of traffic into the tunnels

3. Improve air quality on the streets leading to the tunnels by reducing stop-and-go traffic and creating the opportunity for drivers to turn engines off. GreenNYC ran a public service announcement campaign about idling vehicles. The ads claimed that some 28 million gallons of fuel are wasted in NYC by idling cars each year. A massive proportion of that idling is cars backing up to use tunnels and bridges. If you create a system where a lot of cars are just stopped with their engines off for known periods of time when waiting to go through the tunnels, Idling could be reduced on an exponential scale. Once drivers know they will be waiting in a particular spot for a period of time, they should feel more comfortable doing other things while their engines are off. Reducing stop-and-go traffic at tunnel approaches should also have the effect of reducing vehicle breakdowns on the approaches, in turn resulting in fewer incidents of blocked traffic due to disabled vehicles. Stop and go traffic is hard on engines, and vehicles operate less efficiently with such conditions.

4. Improve conditions for carpooling and ride-sharing of the trip through the tunnels by creating sheltered, secure pick-up and drop-off locations at either end of the tunnels. This would have the side effect of reducing demand for the tunnel, especially at peak times.

5. Reduce crowding on PATH and NJ Transit trains by creating alternatives in the form of autonomous buses and carpooling.

6. Create a better pedestrian environment in the area of the tunnels on the Manhattan side to improve the appeal of walking. As it is now, cars often block cross-walks, and there is a lot of unnecessary honking. Although I often commute by car, I appreciate walking in Manhattan and other fine-grained, walkable neighborhoods. Honking offenses are not actively policed.

7. Create a safer, more easily policed space for waiting at the tunnels. Reduce incidents of aggressive merging or merge blocking. I have witnessed, and have been subjected to, rather unsettling incidents of road rage while in tunnel approach traffic, and there have been even more serious cases reported in the news, such as where a man brandished a Samurai sword at another driver and one where the rear window of a car occupied by a mother with young children was shattered with some kind of projectile. If you consider that each merge point and each intersection create the possibility of an accident or of inciting road rage, the more that you reduce those points, the more such incidents will be reduced in probability.

8. Reconfigure existing streets in the area of the Hudson crossings to work better with autonomous buses. Autonomous buses are already in use in several cities around the world, and they should prove useful in this context as a way to shuttle commuters across the Hudson, as they offer a greater degree of flexibility than NJ Transit or PATH trains and are not subject to staff shortages.

9. Redundancy in cross-Hudson transit. The current condition of the Hudson railroad tunnels along with the lack of progress on the Gateway tunnel call for a solution that can add more trans-Hudson capacity in a shorter time frame and for less of an investment.