The Tunnel to Nowhere

There is an ecology to traffic in Manhattan. Thousands of cabbies and drivers have mastered the elaborate system of streets and signs and lights that govern the flow of autos, trucks and buses. Any disruption in the basic ecology of the system can have enormous consequences, even if the changes looked good on paper in a committee meeting.

The recent decision by the city’s Department of Transportation to make the Park Avenue Tunnel serve one- rather than two-way traffic is a foolish and arrogant effort that is causing serious delays and disruptions in Park Avenue traffic. The purpose of the DOT is to make traffic move more efficiently—not add to the city’s gridlock. Moreover, the decision was made in the doldrums of August, with virtually no notification of the public, smuggled in under a temporary closing of both lanes during DOT upgrades of adjacent sidewalks, signage and pedestrian islands. When the work was completed, only the northbound lane was reopened. A traffic nightmare—naturally—followed. The DOT says it’s keeping the southbound lane closed for a trial period, and may make it permanent. This would be a terrible mistake.

The department’s concern for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in the vicinity of the 33rd Street tunnel exit is of course admirable and necessary. But simply shutting the southbound tunnel lane—in effect, pretending it never existed and isn’t integral to the area’s smooth flow of traffic—betrays a striking lack of common sense and smart urban planning. There are better ways to prevent people from walking into moving traffic—80 percent of pedestrian accidents at the intersection between 2004 and 2006 were caused by pedestrians trying to cross against the light—than choking off a vital traffic artery in the midtown business area. We urge the DOT to reopen both lanes of the tunnel, and let traffic flow.

The Tunnel to Nowhere