While it looks as though the tri-state region will be spared the worst of Hurricane Joaquin’s wrath, all the talk about storm preparedness got us thinking about resiliency, redundancy, and what might happen if catastrophe struck New York and the metropolitan region again.
There are some components in the region’s transportation network that are particularly vulnerable, but perhaps none more so than the rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River. The century-old North River Tunnels serve about 200,000 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak passengers each day, but their condition is a daily threat to transport and commerce because of the damage they sustained from Superstorm Sandy. The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman wrote in July:
Engineers realized both tunnels urgently needed repairs to avoid Railmageddon. Built on silt, they move with the tide. People who have inspected them tell me they’ve seen pools of water. Today the tunnels barely manage 24 trains at peak hours. Closing one for long-term repairs, experts say, will reduce the hourly number to six trains, an 80 percent drop.
Fortunately, there appears to be hope for the Gateway project, which would connect New York and New Jersey with a new pair of tunnels. Last month, Governors Cuomo and Christie committed to paying for half of Gateway’s cost, and this week U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that early planning is underway at the federal level.
But construction on the Gateway project won’t be done until 2025, and according to the Port Authority, “trans-Hudson commuter demand will increase by 50 percent over the next 25 years.” So what can we do to help accommodate that growing demand before Gateway is complete? It probably wouldn’t be much different from what we would do if Joaquin decides to change course and take the same path Sandy did.
Ferries – It’s how people crossed the Hudson before we had any tunnels under the river, and a practical solution for getting across the river if a storm (or years of neglect) were to disable the tunnels we now have.
Lincoln Tunnel bus lanes — The single exclusive bus lane in the Lincoln Tunnel opened in 1971, and still only serves eastbound commuters during the morning rush (even though just about as many people head west during the evening rush each day). That needs to change. The Port Authority installed a westbound exclusive bus lane for the Super Bowl in 2014. Let’s do it for everyday commuters, too.
More bus lanes — Remember the “bus bridge” over the East River post-Superstorm Sandy? We shouldn’t have to wait for a natural disaster to get better bus service, so let’s not stop at the Lincoln Tunnel. Let’s convert some general travel lanes in the Holland Tunnel and on the George Washington Bridge to bus-only lanes. And since west-of-Hudson commuters also come into Manhattan from points even farther north, why not bus-only or bus/HOV or HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes on the Tappan Zee Bridge? This would require, like we recommended in 2009, a coordinated effort between NJ Transit, the MTA, Transport of Rockland, and Westchester County’s Bee-Line to expand bus service between Bergen, Rockland and Westchester counties and the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal.
Manhattan bus capacity — With more buses coming into Manhattan, and a Port Authority Bus Terminal at capacity since 1966, there would no doubt be a need to reshuffle the way buses pick up and drop off passengers in the city. Perhaps NJ Transit buses would get exclusive access to the gates at Port Authority, with intercity buses relocated to curbside stations, not unlike the westernmost block of 34th Street where Megabus operates. Of course, finding all this new street space for bus operations would likely entail — gasp — losing some curbside parking spaces. And speaking of reducing space for cars…
Ban single-occupant vehicles — Single-occupant vehicles (SOV) are the least space-efficient means of moving people, especially in a place and time where road space is so limited. SOV were banned on Manhattan crossings in the months following 9/11. It might seem a bit extreme today, but if the North River Tunnels were to go offline on short notice, this would certainly be a useful congestion mitigation tool.
What are some of your ideas for improving trans-Hudson travel in the short term? Leave them in the comments section below, or tweet them to us at @Tri_State.