As New York City prepares to reopen after one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, officials are trying to avoid a new catastrophe – the standstill that could result if many people continue to avoid public transport and turn to cars instead.
Before the crisis, every day of the week, eight million people in the region – including over 50 percent of the city’s population – used a complex network of subways, buses, and railroads that has long been a living symbol of the largest metropolis in the United States. After the outbreak broke out, the number of drivers dropped as workers stayed at home to slow the spread of the virus.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees most of the system, announced on Friday that it would introduce a plan to lure drivers back, including starting up the traffic congestion reduction service, using the police to enforce mask use, and more Report stationing of workers in the entire subway overcrowding.
Transit officials are also calling on the city to commit large companies, create flexible start times, and extend work-from-home plans to reduce the crowds of companies reopening.
Nevertheless, efforts by New York officials to restore public transport confidence were struck as suddenly as that The disease control centers unexpectedly released guidelines on Thursday asking people to go to work alone when the states reopened instead of using public transport.
The M.T.A. quickly to the C.D.C.
“Encouraging people, especially people without a car and in congested areas like New York, to not use public transportation is wrong,” said Patrick J. Foye, chairman of the M.T.A., which is controlled by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. “Transit is and has long been the safest way to move around a city. Our transit and bus system is cleaner and safer than ever because we clean and disinfect around the clock. “
Public transport challenges underscore how the outbreak has disordered many of New York City’s long-standing rhythms and routines, suggesting that the road to full recovery will be long and difficult. Since the outbreak, the number of underground drivers has dropped by around 90 percent.
In May, almost half of New Yorkers said they would avoid public transportation when the city comes back to life. This emerges from a survey carried out by Elucd, a data research company, and Industrious, a workplace operator.
Even Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted that public transport may not be the preferred first option once the city may reopen on June 8th. “Some people will feel comfortable in local transport, others will not,” de Blasio told reporters. “You can see people use their cars more in the short term.”
The mayor has so far refused to take comprehensive measures to prevent traffic from increasing or to encourage commuters who are wary of the subway to use other modes of transport such as bicycles.
“There is not always a way to constantly help people with their transportation needs,” said de Blasio. “People have to improvise and I think they will.”
Cities around the world face similar challenges. Social distancing is difficult in public transport systems that are designed to efficiently move large numbers of people. However, they are seen as crucial for the reopening of companies and the recovery of stuck economies.
In the United States, the main indicator, according to Elucd, is whether people are comfortable going back to work or whether they would be using public transportation.
“The main concern of people trying to work is not to adhere to policies or procedures, but to behave in a manner that endangers them,” said Michael Simon, managing director of Elucd, especially strangers on crowded trains and buses.
The problem is particularly acute in New York City, where traffic is worst in the country.
There are already worrying signs that more and more New Yorkers are getting back into cars: in the past few days, city officials have said traffic over the city’s bridges and tunnels has risen to 60 to 70 percent of pre-pandemic levels – a turnaround earlier this month, when the city streets were almost empty.
Between April 20 and May 17, search requests for new parking spaces by new users at SpotHero, a popular parking app, almost doubled compared to before the pandemic.
To ward off a possible standstill, some traffic experts have called on the city to temporarily ban one-person cars from entering parts of Manhattan and to set up new bike lanes along commuter-heavy streets.
New York is already the first major American city to plan to impose a fee on drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan to raise funds for public transportation and lure people out of their cars. The program should start early next year, but officials have announced that it is likely to be pushed back.
At the moment, the city’s limited network of cycle paths is unable to accommodate a flood of people cycling to work, and this could drive them onto more dangerous roads.
In April, Mr. de Blasio proposed cuts to the city’s cycle path expansion program as part of his original budget, and launched a pilot project to block roads for cars, citing police resource burdens.
He later abruptly changed course and announced that the city would temporarily block 100 miles of roads for cars during the pandemic – or about one percent of the city’s 8,000 miles of road. Some of these road closures can be permanent.
“In New York, we’re hesitant, we’re making false starts and we’re not strategic,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.
Some cities that had been closed before New York had already seen an increase in car traffic: in early April, when Chinese officials lifted home orders, several major cities such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou were more congested during rush hour than last year .
In Europe, cities have taken aggressive steps to avoid overloading cars by offering alternatives to returning commuters.
Brussels, London, Milan and Paris have announced plans to add miles of new bike lanes, while London has also raised the price of traffic jams for riders going downtown.
“People are usually so used to the way streets were that they can’t imagine it, but people’s thoughts are open at the moment,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, a former New York City traffic commissioner who has worked with cities like Milan on their transportation programs after the pandemic. “You have this moment to redesign our streets and make the changes we wanted in the future a reality.”
This possibility is underlined by developments in New York, where people flocked to other modes of transport.
In May, the number of trips with Revel, a rideshare service for electric scooters in Brooklyn, Queens and parts of Manhattan, increased by over 200 percent compared to the pre-pandemic. Bicycle shops have had record sales with long lines of customers.
Active memberships at Citi Bike, the city’s bike share program, rose to over 157,000 in May – an all-time high for the system.
Kendall Miller, a 33-year-old manager of a real estate company, occasionally used her bike for sports. But when the pandemic broke out, it started running errands and seeing friends. When she returns to her office, she plans to avoid the subway by bike.
“From now on I would only do it by bike,” she said.
The city’s traffic commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, said the de Blasio government is determined to investigate how the city can benefit from the recent shift to bicycles and other forms of “micromobility”.
“Absolutely, this is a critical point,” said Ms. Trottenberg. “How can we reopen our city and our economy while preserving the positive things we’ve seen recently – roads that are safer and quieter and can better serve bus drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians?”
The C.D.C. The guidelines were later changed to encourage cycling, walking and driving with household members, as well as driving alone.
While car sales in New York and across the country have declined during the pandemic, industry analysts say low interest rates and cheap gasoline could attract buyers as restrictions tighten and dealers are allowed to reopen.
“We are still pretty deep in a pandemic and the question remains whether another group of buyers shows up to buy cars?” said David Steinberg, founder of Foureyes, a company that works with car dealerships. “The reality is, we probably don’t know yet.”
There is already a lot of talk about buying cars in New Yorkers on social media.
In Astoria, Queens, Nina Fiore said she and her husband are considering buying a weekend trip car after speaking to friends who drive to parks “where they can distance themselves better and let the kids play and run around”.
And if her husband had to go back to work in Manhattan before there was a coronavirus vaccine, they would prefer him to go instead of taking the subway.
Even Doug Gordon, a Brooklyn-based cyclist and host of the podcast “The War on Cars,” says he and his wife can buy a car to spend the summer with their two children and give the family flexibility when traveling.
“It’s surprising even for me,” he said. “The I from three months ago against the I from now – it’s a completely different conversation.”
If the city doesn’t take ambitious steps to redesign its streets soon, it will lose the unique opportunity to diversify the way New Yorkers move, experts say. After almost every catastrophe that pulled drivers out of the subway – the 9/11 attack, hurricanes and train derailments – New York’s commuter traffic finally returned to normal before the crisis.
“There have been several moments in my 50-year career in New York City,” said Samuel I. Schwartz, consultant and former city traffic commissioner. “We should use this moment. The question will be whether there is political will to do so. “