NYC has first Gridlock Alert Day of holiday season — why that may be a good sign

Manhattan

MIDTOWN, Manhattan — Thursday was the first of a series of Gridlock Alert Days for the rest of the holiday season. The designation, of course, means that traffic volume is even more heavy than usual, resulting in headache-provoking traffic jams.

Still, some New Yorkers — including some merchants and business leaders — said the heavier traffic volume is a sign that New York is back from the depths of the pandemic.

Isaias Diaz works in downtown Manhattan. He was at the Union Square Holiday Market, which has returned to New York, after being put on hiatus last year.

“It’s great to get back to some kind of normalcy,” Diaz said after entering the open-air market packed with stalls selling a wide array of goods.

Each one of the dozens of booths at the market represents anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 in rent, or more, according to vendors on site. They have to take in far more than that in sales.

It can happen, they said, thanks in a big way to vaccinations helping to open the city back up to tourists from the U.S. and abroad.

Olaf Hammerich was visiting from Germany on his fourth trip to New York. While the city is not quite as busy as during his previous visits, Hammerich said he noticed that venues are still active.  

“There are a few that are closed [from] where we were there last time we were here, but 80%, I’d say,” Hammerich said.

To get closer to 100%, the city needs people like him — tourists, especially international ones. They make up about 20% of all visitors in typical years, but account for 50% of the $47 billion annually in spending, according to NYC & Company, the marketing and tourism promotion bureau.

Alyssa Schmid, the senior director of NYC & Company’s communications division, pointed out that holiday attractions have returned citywide.

“It’s not just Manhattan that’s back,” she said. “There’s so many things to do across all five boroughs.”

As part of the city’s return, more than 30 major events, in every borough, are either back after taking last year off, or are brand new this year.

That also means that something else is back, though: traffic.  

It’s something we have to productively deal with, according to Sam Schwartz, a traffic engineer and former New York City transportation commissioner. Schwartz invented Gridlock Alert Days — and the word “gridlock” — during his tenure.

On Thursday, he said that while the gridlock the city is at risk of experiencing now can be tedious, it’s also an indicator of improvement.

“The fact that we have Gridlock Alert Days means people are returning,” said Schwartz, who talked about traffic volumes. “Last I looked, cars were about 98% of normal, and trucks are 106 to 107 [percent] of normal.”

He said that traffic will increase every weekday until Thanksgiving and advised taking the subway or riding buses, or other forms of transportation, such as CitiBikes or scooters, rather than driving.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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