Transit Tips for the Summer of Hell

Emergency track work at Penn Station is what unleashed the term “Summer of Hell” for New York City commuters. Though the repairs directly impact Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains and some MetroNorth lines, the rerouting and cancelled trains spread the heat to all modes of transit in the region, especially the already wilting MTA subway system.

Adding to the inferno metaphors, in July, the New York City Comptroller released a report citing that fires were the cause of 14,445 train delays in 2017, and that’s through April alone (in all of 2016, fires caused 9,597 delays). With the track fire near 145th Street on July 18 wreaking havoc on the A, C, B, B and 1 lines with delays of up to two hours, more commuters are looking for alternative means of transport. Whether you’re new to New York City area or looking for a new way to get in and out or around it, here’s a brief guide to making the most of transit in New York City.
 

Subway

In the summer of 2017, anything can happen any day on the MTA subway system. In general, it’s fair to say the subway is an affordable and efficient way to travel within the four boroughs of the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn (it doesn’t exist in Staten Island). If you are unfamiliar with the system, map out your trip beforehand to avoid stress and confusion. Some stations are served by both local and express trains, and many lines are not operating on weekends this summer (or for the next year), due to continuing repairs due to Hurricane Sandy. Check the MTA Service Advisory page daily to be on the safe side. Don’t assume your weekday ride is possible on the weekend: always check the Weekender section of the MTA site. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced on July 24 the five things that comprise “What New York City Riders Deserve From Governor Cuomo’s Subway Turnaround Plan“. Here is the two-phase MTA “Moving Forward” plan MTA Chairman Joe Lhota unveiled July 25.

Beginner’s Tip: Before you enter a station, make sure the entrance serves the direction you want to head (ie, uptown to points north or downtown to points south).

Pro Tip: If you’re in the Times Square area and want to use the Shuttle to Grand Central Terminal, a subway entrance close to the Shuttle platforms is at the southwest edge of Broadway and 43rd Street, next to the police kiosk. You must have a MetroCard to enter there (no booth).

Helpful Subway Links:

MTA Subway Map
MTA Trip Planner
MTA Service Advisory Page
MTA Weekender
Tips for Using the Subway

 

Commuter Rail Services

For changes and alternative travel options to Amtrak, NJ Transit and Long Island Railroad (LIRR) services, see our rundown on What Can I Do?.

Beginner’s and Pro Tip: Download the NJ Transit app to look up train and bus schedules, then check “DepartureVision” for a real-time status on your train. The app also allows you to purchase monthly passes and single tickets on your phone so you won’t have to contend with long lines at ticket machines as you watch your train pull away from the station.

 

Bike

Bicycling in NYC isn’t just for food delivery and messenger companies, it is a regular mode of transportation for many. If you want in on a growing transit choice, check out Bike Smart, New York City’s official guide to bicycling in New York City. Its handbook is available to download in 10 languages.

Beginner’s Tip: It is illegal to bicycle with both headphones in. Keep at least one ear open so you can listen to the traffic around you; better yet: don’t wear headphones at all.

Pro Tip: This is for Brooklyn bikers headed towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Google Maps will point you this way, but the Smith/Jay Streets approach to the Brooklyn Bridge is not a continuous protected bike lane. The traffic on this route can make for a harrowing, or at least aggravating, ride. Avoid close calls with cars and other bikers with the following alternate side-street route. From Smith Street, turn left onto Pacific Street. When you reach Clinton Street, turn right. At Cadman Plaza you can turn into a separated bike lane on Tillary Street that takes you to Brooklyn Bridge. Once you get there, know that tourists are going to step into the bike path and try not to be the enraged, scary biker.

Bike Riding and Safety Lessons

Bike NYC promotes bicycling in New York City and offers many free classes and workshops throughout the five boroughs on learning how to bicycle, and how to biking safely in traffic. Check out Bike NYC for education opportunities and advice.

CitiBike

The blue, basket-bearing sturdy bikes you see on NYC streets, as well as in Jersey City, are part of the Citibike share network that clocks in roughly 60,000 trips daily in New York City. In Brooklyn, bike station docks expanded to Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in 2016. In April, StreetsblogNYC reported on other proposed expansions that have not yet been realized: Prospect Lefferts Gardens in Brooklyn; Astoria in Queens; and in Manhattan, CitiBike still ends at 110th Street instead of the planned expansion to 130th Street.

CitiBike Plans

An annual membership for CitiBike is $163 and grants 45-minute rides; a day pass ($12) and three-day pass($24) grants unlimited 30-minute rides within a 24- and 72-hour period.

Helpful Links:

NYC DOT Bike Tips
2017 NYC Department of Transportation Bike Map
CitiBike
Bike NYC
Hudson Bike Share (Hoboken, NJ)
 

Bus – MTA

If you haven’t made a habit out of bus travel, note that the MTA has 12 Select Bus Service (SBS) lines across the boroughs that have increased capacity and sped trips by cutting down the boarding time. SBS lines include the M15 route between East Harlem and South Ferry (north on First Avenue and south on Second Avenue), and the M34/M34A from the 34th Street Ferry Terminal on the East River to the Jacob Javits Convention Center on 12th Avenue.

The SBS buses make fewer stops, similar to Limited lines. Passengers must obtain a SBS ticket near the bus shelter before boarding the bus. SBS stops have a MetroCard Fare Collection machine (insert your MetroCard or electronic paper transfer) and Coin Fare Collection machine (no half-dollars or pennies accepted) that generate receipts for the bus. You must board at the stop where you paid your fare within one hour.

Beginner’s Tip: You can use a MetroCard to pay for your bus ride or to gain a free transfer while continuing a journey that began via the subway. To purchase a fare on board, you must use exact change in coins; pennies and half-dollar coins are not accepted.

Pro Tip: Use MTA Bus Time to find out how many stops away the next bus is from your stop. You can scan a stop’s QR code to your phone, text message, and also use desktop and mobile sites. Learn how to use Bus Time in a variety of ways.

Helpful Bus Links:

NYC Bus Guide
MTA Bus Tips
MTA Select Bus Service
Bus Schedule
 

Car

If you have a car, it can be your way and the highway when it comes to getting into and around the city.

Beginner’s Tip: Get an E-ZPass account if you are traveling between New York City and New Jersey.

Pro Tip: New York City just put all of its 85,00 metered parking spaces on the ParkNYC app, which launched in December 2016. You can use the app to pay remotely for parking, and add time to the meter up to the maximum time allowed in the spot. See the many tips on “How to Beat the Traffic,” below.

E-ZPass Discount for All

Bridges and tunnels connecting New York City and New Jersey charge drivers a toll when they are entering New York City (they are free for drivers traveling to New Jersey). This includes the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington, Bayonne and Goethals bridges, and the Outerbridge Crossing. There is a steep discount on these tolls if you use an E-ZPass instead of cash. Those forking over cash not only face long lines, but a flat $15 toll at all times, whereas E-ZPass users have faster moving toll lanes and pay $12.50 at peak and $10.50 at off-peak times.

E-ZPass Peak Hours: Weekdays 6-10 am, 4-8 pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am-9pm.

Commuter E-ZPass Plans

If you are making 20 or more trips per month into New York City, select an E-ZPass commuter plan for additional discounts.

E-ZPass by Cash

A credit card is no longer necessary to have an E-ZPass account, and you don’t have to own a car or have a bank account to use E-ZPass. Now everyone can save time in lanes, gas from idling, and avoid fumbling for tickets, crumpled bills, and loose change. Even if you only occasionally use a car to cross a bridge, get an E-ZPass.

From EZ Pass Site: A cash payment plan lets you take advantage of E-ZPass toll discounts, with no credit card or bank account required! Just purchase an E-ZPass tag in a cash lane or Customer Service Center, register it, and then refill your balance with a Reload Card as needed.

How to Beat the Traffic

Here are some tips from a WNET staff member who commutes regularly between New Jersey and New York City.

Navigation Apps

Download a navigation app to your phone. Even if you know how to get to where you’re going, navigation apps like Waze (which is owned by Google) uses real-time data collected from users to inform you of accidents and delays on your route, and will suggest time-saving alternative routes.

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes

New York City has numerous HOV lanes for vehicles and motorcycles with two or three or more passengers. See the Department of Transportation HOV pages for exact details and hours of use.

The newest HOV/bus lane opened June 23, 2017 on the Brooklyn-bound upper level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. This created a continuous 14-mile HOV lane from Staten Island to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel between Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan.

George Washington Bridge

Traffic on the George Washington Bridge’s lower level is usually moving faster that the upper level, both into and out of New York City. If you are using the Palisades Interstate Parkway through New Jersey, the upper level of the bridge is the easiest on-and-off access.

If you’re taking the NJ Turnpike north to the GWB, it’s often faster to not follow the giant sign that says “George Washington Bridge” and instead follow the sign for the Lincoln Tunnel. You can still get up to the bridge from the next toll plaza: just stay left at the plaza, and instead of heading to the Lincoln, use exit 18E and enjoy smooth sailing up this rarely used extension.

Lincoln Tunnel

Traveling from the south toward the Lincoln Tunnel and New York City, stay out of the right lane until you pass the Hoboken exit. Once past the Hoboken exit, work your way into the right lane and avoid the E-ZPpass lane that crawls to a stop. Once you get down toward the curve bringing you into the toll lanes, strive to get back to the left and hit the center tunnel headed into the city.

NJ Turnpike

Truck lanes are usually always faster and not hindered by traffic. With three or more people in a vehicle or motorcycle or hybrid, you can access to that sweet, sweet HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane.

Helpful Car-Related Links:

E-ZPass New York Service Center
New York City Department of Transportation
Port Authority of NJ & NJ: Bridges and Tunnels
Car2Go: New York City (currently Brooklyn and Queens only)
Zip Car: New York City/New Jersey

 

Ferry

In spring 2017, the NYC Ferry began offering routes between the Rockaways and Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan and 34th Street for the same price as a subway fare ($2.75). For some in Williamsburg, this is a great alternative to the stuffed-to-the-gills L line. The company had stormy start with delays and overpromised service in general, but problems smoothed out over time.

Beginner’s Tip: The NYC Ferry operates on the East River, between Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan; the NY Waterway operates on the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan. The Staten Island Ferry is free and operates between one location in Staten Island (St. George) and one location in Lower Manhattan (South Ferry Terminal next to Battery Park).

Pro Tip: NY Waterway has free red, white and blue shuttle buses to and from 39th Street Midtown Ferry Terminal at Pier 79 to 57th Street, 49th Street, 42nd Street, 34th Street and downtown. The buses can be flagged down at regular MTA bus stops. Check this NY Waterway bus shuttle map for routes in Manhattan.

Helpful Ferry Links:

NYC Ferry
NY Waterway
NYC DOT Ferry Information
 

Car Ride Share

Thanks to smart phones, people can now access easy-to-use ride share apps that let you get around the city 24/7.

Beginner’s Tip: If signing up for an app for the first time, make sure you use a discount code to get money off your first ride.

Helpful Car Ride Share Links:

Uber Ride Share
Lyft Ride Share
Via Ride Share

 

Walk

If the street is jammed with traffic and the subway is hot with crowding or delays, sometimes it’s easier or just sanity-saving to walk.

Beginner’s Tip: Walking the sidewalks isn’t risky, but crossing the street can be. Don’t be distracted by what’s playing on your earbuds and don’t unquestioningly follow the person in front of you into an intersection: look up because the light could be against you.

Pro Tip If it’s evening rush hour and you have to walk Eighth Avenue between West 48th Street and the West 30s, keep in mind you’ll be battling Port Authority, Penn Station, Theater District and tourist foot traffic. Either travel as much of the distance you can via Seventh or Ninth avenues, or bake in extra walking time.

Helpful Pedestrian Links:

NYC DOT Pedestrian Tips
City Street Guide