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May 8 million daily riders be attracted back to N.Y. Mass Transit?



As New York City prepares to open again after suffering one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, officials are trying to avoid a new disaster – the gridlock that could be the result if many continue to avoid public transport and turn to cars instead .

Prior to the crisis, eight million people in the region each weekday – including over 50 percent of the city’s population – used a complex network of subways, buses and railways that has long been a lively symbol of America’s largest metropolis. After the outbreak, however, the ridership hit when workers stopped at home to slow down the spread of the virus.

The city now faces a dilemma: Encouraging people to return to mass transit can increase the risk of new infections. But the region’s roads, tunnels and bridges cannot cope with an increase in car traffic, and there are few alternatives.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees most of the system, said on Friday it would roll out a plan to lure riders back, including ramping up service to reduce congestion, deploying police to enforce mesh use and station workers across the subway to report overcrowding.

Even Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged that public transport may not be the preferred first option when the city may open again on June 8. “Some people will be comfortable on mass transit, some aren’t,” de Blasio told reporters. “You can see people using their cars more in the short term.”

The mayor has so far resisted taking measures to prevent increased traffic or encourage commuters who are careful with the metro to use other modes of transport, such as bicycles.

“There is not always a chance to help people all the time when it comes to their transportation needs,” de Blasio said. “People will need to improvise and I think they will.”

Cities around the world face similar challenges. Social distancing is difficult for public transport systems that are designed to effectively move large numbers of people, but they are considered crucial to opening businesses again and starting stalled economies.

In the United States, the first predictor of whether people are comfortable going back to work is if they take public transport, according to Elucd.

“The biggest concern people have for trying to work is not about policies or routines, it’s about the behavior of others that will jeopardize them, especially strangers on tight trains and buses,” said Michael Simon, Elucd’s CEO.

Later, he abruptly changed the lane, announcing that the city would temporarily close 100-mile streets for cars – or about one percent of the city’s 8,000-mile road – during the pandemic. Some of these street closures can become permanent.

“In New York, we hesitate, we make false starts and are not strategic,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

Some cities that came out of lockdowns before New York have already seen an increase in car traffic: In early April, when Chinese officials lifted home-home orders, several major cities, such as Shenzhen and Guangzhou, experienced higher levels of rush hour compared to the previous year.

In Europe, cities have taken aggressive measures to avoid traffic congestion by offering alternatives to returning commuters.

Brussels, London, Milan and Paris have announced plans to add miles of new bike lanes, while London also has raised congestion rates for drivers entering the city center.

“Usually people are so used to how the streets have been so they can’t imagine them any other way, but right now people’s minds are open,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, a former New York City Transportation Commissioner who has worked with cities that Milan on their transport programs after the pandemic. “You’ve had this moment to rebuild our streets and make the changes we wanted to see in the future become reality now.”

This possibility is underlined by developments in New York, where people have flocked to other modes of transportation.

In May, the number of trips at Revel, a sharing service for electric scooters in Brooklyn, Queens and parts of Manhattan, jumped by over 200 percent compared to the pre-pandemic. Bike shops have experienced record sales with long-time customers.

Active membership at Citi Bike, the city’s bike share program, rose to over 157,000 in May – a celebration of the system.

  • Updated June 1, 2020

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise scientists and doctors have some blunt advice for those of us who are aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then up your training, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the home-home mandate began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to facilitate your return to regular exercise safely. First, “start with no more than 50 percent of the exercise you did before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, head of muscle and skeletal medicine at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Also, thread in some preparatory squats, she recommends. “When you have not exercised, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle threads after these preliminary sessions after lockdown, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a call to stop and return home.

    • My condition opens again. Is it safe to go out?

      States reopen bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and that more and more companies are allowed to open again. The federal government largely passes the decision to states, and some state leaders pass the decision on to local authorities. Even if you are not told to stay home, it is still a good idea to limit travel outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What is the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting us with the bacteria is not usually how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies on influenza, rhinoviruses, coronaviruses and other microbes have shown that respiratory diseases, including the new coronaviruses, can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces, especially in places such as nurseries, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events must happen in order for the disease to spread in that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus – whether it is surface transfer or close human contact – is still social distance, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and full sinuses are less common. C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headaches and a new loss of taste or smell as symptoms to watch out for. Most people get sick five to seven days after exposure, but the symptoms can occur in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is inevitable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. The most important thing: Wash your hands frequently and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during seasonal flu is the safest place to sit in a plane at a window, since people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially ill people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your place and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces of your place such as the head and armrest, seatbelt buckles, remote control, screen, back pocket and compartment. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or plaid, you can also wipe it off. (Using wet wipes on upholstered seats can lead to a wet spot and spread bacteria rather than kill them.)

    • How many have lost their jobs because of coronavirus in the United States?

      More than 40 million people – the equivalent of 1 in four American workers – have applied for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who worked in February reported losing a job or being flooded in March or early April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was very concentrated among low-income earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $ 40,000 or less lost work, compared to 13 percent of those earning more than $ 100,000, said a Fed official.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear fabric masks if they go out in public. This is a change in federal guidance that reflects new concerns about the spread of coronavirus by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, C.D.C., like W.H.O., has stated that ordinary people do not need to wear masks unless they are sick and cough. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-quality masks for healthcare professionals who desperately need them at a time when they are still in short supply. Masks do not replace hand washing and social distance.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you have been exposed to the corona virus or think you have and have fever or symptoms such as coughing or breathing difficulties, call a doctor. They should advise you if you should be tested, how to be tested and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a number-based system, has an ongoing list of non-profit organizations working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can donate blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


Kendall Miller, a 33-year-old business manager at a real estate company, sometimes used his bike for training. But when the pandemic hit, she started cycling on errands and seeing friends. When she returns to her office, she plans to cycle to avoid the subway.

“Right now, the only way I do it is to ride a bike there,” she said.

The city’s transport commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, said the de Blasio administration is committed to investigating how the city can benefit from the latest change to bikes and other forms of “micro mobility.”

“Certainly this is a critical time,” Trottenberg said. “How do we open our city and our economy while keeping the positive things we have recently experienced – streets that are safer, quieter and better able to serve bus drivers, cyclists and pedestrians?”

C.D.C. later changed its guidelines to encourage cycling, walking and driving with household members and to drive alone.

While car sales in New York and across the country have fallen during the pandemic, as restrictions ease and dealers are allowed to open industry analysts say low interest rates and cheap gas can attract buyers.

“We’re still pretty deep into a pandemic, and the question remains, does another set of buyers turn up to buy cars?” said David Steinberg, the founder of Foureyes, a company that works with car dealers. “The reality is that we probably don’t know it yet.”

On social media, there are already many discussions among New Yorkers considering buying cars.

In Astoria, Queens, Nina Fiore said she and her husband were considering buying a car to use on this weekend’s trips after talking to friends who drive to parks “where they can better distance themselves and let the kids play and run around.”

And if her husband has to return to work in Manhattan before a coronavirus vaccine is available, they would prefer that he drive rather than take the subway.

Even Doug Gordon, a Brooklyn-based bike advocate and host of the “The War on Cars” podcast, says he and his wife can buy a car to go out in the summer with their two kids and give the family travel flexibility.

“It’s surprising to me, too,” he said. “Three months ago, I was contrasted right now – it’s a completely different conversation.”

If the city does not take ambitious measures soon to redevelop its streets, it will lose a unique opportunity to diversify how New York people get around, experts say. After almost every disaster that pulled riders from the subway – the September 11 attack, hurricanes and train shutdowns – the New York commute eventually returned to normal before the crisis.

“During my 50-year career in New York, there have been several moments” like this one, said Samuel I. Schwartz, a consultant and former city traffic commissioner. “We should take this opportunity in this moment. The question will be whether there is the political will to do so. “


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