Traffic could get heavier than before the pandemic, experts say; Cuomo urges subway riding

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NEW YORK CITY — If it seems like traffic in and around the city is getting back to its pre-pandemic levels, there’s a good reason for that: it is, even though a significant percentage of people in the tri-state region are still working from home.

Data and analysis from traffic experts also shows that the traffic volume could rise even higher than it was before the pandemic. It’s why New York’s governor is calling on people to take public transportation.

The traffic analysis company Inrix not only compares congestion in New York to that of other large cities worldwide, it also compares traffic volumes day by day within the city.

Bob Pishue is a traffic analyst at the Seattle-based company.

“People are starting to come back on the roads,” Pishue told PIX11 News via Zoom, “but we’re still down from where we were in February.”

The Inrix data also breaks down traffic volumes in each New York City borough.

In August, based on mid-week averages, traffic in the Bronx was at 76% of pre-pandemic levels, Inrix data showed; it was at 81% in Brooklyn.

Manhattan, where the largest number of mostly-empty offices are, traffic in August was less than half of its pre-pandemic level, at 45%.

Queens was 69%, and Staten Island had a traffic volume that was almost the same as before the pandemic at 91%.

Since August, though, traffic levels have apparently continued to increase, as Michael Shamma, the president of Sam Schwartz Engineering, pointed out.

“On the fourth of September — just a snapshot,” he said, referring to traffic measured on the bridges and tunnels in and around the city, “the traffic was pretty much what it was on that day last year.”

The founder of the company for which Shamma is president, Sam Schwartz, actually coined the word gridlock. The region is not currently at levels of traffic where there is frequent gridlock, but it can sometimes feel that way in certain areas.

Drivers at 62nd Street and First Avenue, where a bike lane was installed recently — confusing some motorists — said that the blocks-long backup in which they’d found themselves on Wednesday afternoon is one of many such spots around the city.

“Traffic was light” before, said Mark Callahan, as he waited behind the wheel for the light to change at the intersection, “but it’s catching up. It’s getting back to normal.”

Another driver was among the many who’d concurred.

“Now that COVID is loosening up,” he told PIX11 News, “traffic is getting so worse, because everybody’s coming outside.”

Pedestrians like Caitlyn Pacheco, who was waiting to cross at the very busy intersection, agreed that traffic volume is more frequently getting heavy.

“Definitely a lot more congestion,” she said, “[and] a lot more horns because of it. Definitely louder sounds.”

The increased volume resulted in Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday making the same request of commuters that he’d done the day before.

“Leave the car at home,” he said, noting that traffic after Labor Day always increases throughout the rest of the year. “Take public transportation,” the governor continued. “Try it. I think you’re going to be favorably impressed.”

Meanwhile, the experts pointed out that the traffic filling up the region’s roadways is not going to get lighter.

“Some of [the people] who are away now are coming back,” said Shamma. “You add to that the school traffic,” after public schools reopen on Sept. 21, he observed, and “I would say the traffic in September and October is going to be worse than it was last year.”

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