Avoid These Roads!: Top 10 Bottlenecks in the New York City Region


Traveling in and around the New York City area this holiday season? Make sure you avoid these roads. A recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute identified the most congestion-prone corridors in the nation. Using this data, the Rudin Center has developed a list of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the Tri-State area to help you plan ahead and get where you’re going on time. These corridors were ranked based on the Texas Transportation Institute’s Buffer Index, a measure of how much additional time should be allocated for travel along these corridors to account for traffic congestion.

The Christmas holiday season is one of the busiest long-distance travel periods of the year, as tens of millions of Americans will be traveling long distances each day during a two-week period. A 2001 study by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics identified that 9 out of 10 Americans who travel long-distances during the holiday season do so by car, and long-distance travel during the Christmas holidays is 23% higher than that of other periods. The 2001 study also identified the weekend before Christmas was the busiest travel days of the holiday period, with 93% more long-distance trips than the daily average on Saturday, or December 22. Thus, travelers driving in and around New York City both during and after the holiday season should take note of these ten worst traffic bottlenecks in the region.

  • The Bronx-bound Whitestone Expressway and the northbound Hutchinson River Parkway are tied for the worst traffic bottlenecks of any corridor in the Tri-State area. The two-lane northbound “Hutch” in Westchester County requires motorists to plan for a trip three times longer than normal along the corridor to guarantee on-time arrival at the end of the route.
  • While part of the Whitestone Expressway from Flushing to the Bronx is twice as wide as the “Hutch,” it is just as prone to crippling congestion during peak traffic hours, and also requires motorists to plan for a trip that’s three times as long as expected.
  • Traveling north out of the city during an evening rush hour? Pick your poison. The northbound Henry Hudson Parkway, FDR Drive, and Major Deegan Expressway are all equally unreliable and all experience peak congestion from 3 pm to 7 pm on a typical weekday.
  • The longest traffic bottleneck among the top 10 in the region is southbound I-95, including the notorious Cross-Bronx Expressway and the Jersey-bound George Washington Bridge. Evening commutes along this route can be a nightmare, as motorists must plan to travel 24 minutes more (about 40 minutes total) along this 11-mile corridor to guarantee on-time arrival.
  • Heading into Lower Manhattan early in the morning? Make sure you avoid the Pulaski Skyway approach to the Holland Tunnel. This 3.3 mile corridor is the least reliable stretch of highway in the entire state of New Jersey, and requires motorists to plan for at least 10 more minutes of travel.

Notes from BitCity 2011


by Christopher Whong

On Friday November 4, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation hosted BitCity2011 – Transportation, Data and Technology in Cities, with representatives from government, the private sector and academia discussing the many benefits and challenges of wired cities, wired transportation, and a wired population.

Janette Sadik-Kahn, the transportation commissioner for New York City, presented the keynote presentation, giving conference-goers a whirlwind tour of New York’s tech-innovations being deployed on streets.  Taking a more engaging approach to exploring how people move around the city, she stated that “Traffic is now the tail and not the dog,” and showed examples of the city’s high-tech arsenal for analyzing, enforcing, and streamlining transportation flows.  Among these is the use of RF transponders to give buses signaling priority at intersections, cameras to ticket those driving in the bus lane, and the use of NYC Taxi’s GPS data to verify that those pesky pedestrian-friendly changes such as those we’ve seen at Times Square actually resulted in decreased vehicular trip time.

Future tech-based projects were highlighted included the much-anticipated NYC bikeshare (and a nice little web-portal to allow citizens to suggest bikeshare stations), and smart curbs that will show the smartphone enabled driver where he might find an open spot, a technology that is has already been deployed in San Francisco.   Commissioner Sadik-Khan concluded that the city will continue to embrace technology to make traversing New York as efficient as possible.

Crowdsourcing apps such as Waze are changing the way users interact with public transit. Image courtesy of Flickr user MattHurst


Michael Frumin and Candace Brakewood’s presentation on the real-time bus location tracking pilot currently underway in Brooklyn was a refreshing example of government not taking the expected big, slow, and dumb route.  In using COTS (Commercial-off-the-shelf) components to allow buses to securely transmit their GPS coordinates in real time, they have been able to produce outstanding results in a relatively short time frame, and without the normal high-cost, “custom engineered”, and time-consuming fiasco of outsourcing the job to a contractor.

The concept of “crowdsourcing”, or gathering massive amounts of data piece by piece from many distributed users, was illustrated in a presentation by Di-Ann Eisnor, VP of Platforms and Partnerships for Waze.  Waze is a mobile app that allows drivers to share real-time information about the road network, including speed traps, accidents, and hazards.   These points show up as icons on the screens of other “wazers”, and they can make informed decisions about their routes, or at least know why they are stuck in traffic.  (Traffic, we would find out in another part of the conference, can actually make us more productive)

What’s most exciting is that Waze seems to have become the de facto authority on real-time traffic information in several cities, and has been embraced by local news stations and integrated into the morning traffic reporter’s toolkit.  Phoning traffic conditions into the “hotline” is so 20th century.  (Ironically, I was once an avid wazer, but moving to New York city removed me from the target demographic.)

Mitchell Moss, the executive director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management and urban planning professor at NYU, participated in a panel about new forms of data in transportation planning, stating up front that “the role of information in transportation will be more important than transportation itself”.  Moss cited numerous examples of how people have historically been “off the grid” while in transit, but this is no longer the case (excepting the subway, America’s final frontier for mobile network connectivity).   There was even mention of the phenomenon of red lights being more desirable in traffic because they present an opportunity to send text messages and reply to emails!  Traffic congestion has made us more productive!

Dr. Anthony Townsend, Research Director at the Institute for the Future and visiting scholar at the Rudin Center, closed the conference with a brief history lesson about communications networks in cities, specifically wireless communication.   He made a specific point of showing how the FCC has sliced and diced the spectrum over the last century, and assigned authorized uses (and users) to different frequencies.  He made the analogy that the airwaves are a shared resource just like waterways and roads and we may need to reform the regulations as our usage changes over time, and that “Telecom Policy” should be a political topic of concern as our data needs grow exponentially.

The most exciting thing about BitCity 2011 is that it’s only 2011.  10 years ago, internet access was 50 times slower than it is today, and smartphones didn’t exist.  Google Maps was in its infancy, facebook as we know it did not exist, and “blog” was not in anyone’s vocabulary.  The network will get faster, our smartphones will become more sophisticated, and demand, both on the government and the private sector for data-integrated products that make our lives easier is going to increase as well.  We’re just getting started, and are laying the foundations today for true “smart” transportation and cities tomorrow.


Christopher Whong is a first-year Urban Planning at NYU Wagner specializing in Transportation, Environment and Infrastructure.  He has experience with networks and information systems and is focused on finding more efficient transportation options.

New York Subway Running in Time for Monday Morning Commute

Photo: Flickr user johnathanpercy


After bracing for record winds and rainfall during Tropical Storm Irene’s path over New York City, the region’s transit agencies began a slow process of getting public transportation back online in time for the Monday morning commute.

Nearly all of the New York Subway’s lines have been restored, but the system is running on a limited service and with some exceptions. Read the full New York Times article and Rudin Center’s Mitchell Moss on the city’s unprecedented transit shutdown.