Manhattan traffic is, well, less bad NYC traffic drives home the recession.

July 10, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

NEW YORK -- Gridlock is history. Gotham is practically a ghost town.

That's correct; statistics do not lie. Because of the recession, fewer cars and trucks are jamming into Manhattan these days, reducing pressure on the city's streets, government officials say.

Traffic has eased so much that the average vehicle speed has moved all the way up to 7.9 miles per hour -- pretty brisk by New York standards. It was 6.5 mph two years ago.

And parking, well, that's no problem. With each downward tick of the economy, more spaces become available, and at a discount, too. They're practically giving away spots near Wall Street for less than $20 a day.

Take it from Doug Sarini, vice president of Edison Parking Corp., whose 75 New York parking garages have suffered a 15 percent decline in business. He has an unusual way of measuring Manhattan traffic volume:

"I have a little game that I play where I see how long I can stand in the middle of the avenues before I have to move as a result of the traffic," he said. "Sometimes I can stand in the middle of Eighth Avenue for up to 35 seconds. That should give you a little idea that it's no problem getting around Manhattan."

So Manhattan's empty thoroughfares are practically beckoning out-of-town motorists, right?

Don't be silly.

"It's kind of hard to measure degrees of badness," said Harris M. Schechtman, general manager for the New York City Transit Authority's bus operations. "It's still a nightmare."

New York officials say that, for motorists, deteriorating road conditions have more than offset any gains from an estimated 1 percent decline in the number of vehicles entering Manhattan each day -- the first decline in a decade.

"It's not easier to drive at all," Schechtman said. "If anything, it's considerably worse."

For instance, one of Schechtman's bus routes crosses the Queensboro Bridge, which was frustrating enough for drivers before the city shut down several lanes for reconstruction.

"Now, in the afternoon, the average trip is taking almost two hours," Schechtman said. "That translates into 3 1/2 miles an hour average speed. If you're in good shape, you're better off walking the route."

And even though New York City Transportation Department officials say a mere 875,000 vehicles enter the city each day, it takes fewer vehicles to create a Big Apple traffic jam nowadays because there are about 200 fewer brown-uniformed traffic control agents to keep the intersections clear, thanks to the city's budget cuts.

"Because of our diminishing city resources to manage the traffic and to manage the incidents, it's just going to get worse and worse," said Joseph Bierman, regional director of operations for Metro Traffic Control Inc., a private company that produces traffic reports for radio and television.

Many of New York's traffic problems are tied to the limited points of entry to Manhattan, most of which are filled to capacity at rush hour. Even the loss of one lane in a bridge or a tunnel during rush hour sets off a ripple effect for miles around.

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