MIDTOWN, Manhattan — The United Nations campus only occupies six blocks on the far east side of Manhattan. However, during its General Assembly this week, while heads of state from more than 130 countries convene on and around the UN’s headquarters, New York commuters will be affected by the institution for miles, and, possibly, for hours every day.
This year, the problem is particularly bad, with traffic volume reaching levels similar to those seen before the pandemic began.
Drivers in the area on Monday reported severe delays.
When asked how long it had taken them to drive from 49th Street to 51st Street on Third Avenue at midday, a van driver and his passenger told PIX11 it had been a 45-minute ordeal.
Another driver, Cody, said he’d driven from the Upper East Side to Midtown.
“Forty blocks; I’ve been in the car two hours already,” he said. “Whoever’s out there — use mass transit. Do not drive.”
AAA is an automobile advocacy organization, but its senior public affairs manager Robert Sinclair said it also promotes sensible transportation.
He agreed that during the UN General Assembly, public transportation is the best way to go.
“We’re approaching what would be called pre-pandemic traffic levels,” Sinclair said about AAA’s analysis of the amount of traffic in New York City now compared to a similar period in 2019.
The analysis, based on tolls paid within the city, showed that traffic volume is down only 6% — and the analysis doesn’t include all of the traffic. It exempts tolls between Staten Island and Brooklyn on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, since those tolls weren’t established in 2019.
Sinclair said the bigger picture might indicate traffic levels are even higher now than before the pandemic.
“These are the numbers, but I tell you from being on the road, it seems like we’re ahead of those numbers. It seems like there’s traffic all the time,” he said.
It’s why the MTA also encouraged people to take public transportation. The subway in particular has been emphasized, since most of the bus routes near the UN have been rerouted to avoid parking lot-style traffic jams as much as possible.
The MTA recently reported nearly 3 million customers on the subway in one day, with an average of 2.5 million daily. While those numbers are a pandemic high, they’re still about 49% lower than pre-pandemic levels.
The acting chair and CEO of the MTA, Janno Lieber, said last week his agency will provide high levels of on-time subway service, even though it currently faces a shortage of personnel.
“We’re doing vacation buybacks, we’re rescheduling people so they’re having longer tours of duty. We are really compressing the training [of new subway operators], we’re doubling the size of classes. We’re dealing with it,” Lieber said.