Tom Vanderbilt, traffic expert and author of the bestselling book "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do," shares with us these ten things to know about New York City driving. Who knew Columbus Circle was so special? —Ed.
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1. If you're in a car, stay the heck out of the Bronx.
The nation's worst bottleneck is in the Bronx. According to INRIX, the exit 4B segment (0.30 miles) of the Cross-Bronx Expressway is congested 94 hours a week. The average speed when congested is 9 mph. (For reference, the average New Yorker walks 3.4 mph.)
2. The clearance phase is precise.
The clearance phase — the time between an intersection's opposing light cycles — here is about 1.7 seconds (e.g., when one set of lights turn red, the others will go green approximately that much later).
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3. Those guys in the shuttles are dangerous.
Statistically, Access-a-Ride drivers are the worst in the city — I'm not sure if this is because they're put on a too-tight schedule or if they're just trying to increase their passenger count. Empty school buses are a close second, followed by off-duty ambulance drivers.
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4. Talkers and smokers walk slower.
Smokers, and people on cell phones, walk more slowly than other New Yorkers (4.17 feet per second and 4.20 feet per second, respectively, versus an average of 4.28 f/s for all pedestrians).
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5. Brooklyn is a land of out-of-towners.
Every third car in Brooklyn has North Carolina license plates. (Insurance fraud, anyone?)
6. Parkers, count yourself lucky.
New York is the only major U.S. city without residential parking permits (see item #5).
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7. Bikers, you're less lucky.
The only thing harder than trying to park a car in NYC is trying to park a bike.
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8. If it's good, Bloomberg probably has something to do with it.
Bloomberg deserved reelection for his Janette Sadik-Khan appointment alone. Sadik-Khan (left) is the current commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation; her recent efforts to improve the city's infrastructure include the addition of protected bike lanes; improved bus lanes, with bus priority at stoplights; and pedestrian plazas in which portions of streets are transformed into car-free greenspaces.
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9. Even people who study this stuff can't figure out the Holland Tunnel.
After a decade of investigation, I still do not know the fastest approach lane on the massive funnel-like, ten-lanes-to-two entrance to the Holland Tunnel (once you're past the tolls, on the Jersey side). The outside lanes sometimes seem better to me; not sure if this correlates to say, rice moving through a funnel.
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10. The city was a traffic circle pioneer.
New York City is home to the world's first traffic circle, Columbus Circle, designed by William Phelps Eno (note, however, there is a countering claim that the carrefour a gyration in Paris, by Eugene Henard, deserves the prize). Also note this has nothing to do with the modern roundabout, of which NYC has none.
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