According to the Port Authority, between five o’clock and six o’clock PM, 2.8% of the vehicles in the Holland Tunnel carry 48% of the passengers.
Two blocks north of Canal Street, these large Jersey-bound commuter buses drive north on Sixth Avenue and make a left onto Watts before entering the two-lane tunnel.
According to Community Board member Tobi Bergman, this is a problem. The left turn onto Watts street from Sixth Avenue is greater than ninety degrees. Commuter bus drivers attempting this turn have, according the doorman of the Hampton Inn on this corner, have a fifty percent chance of doing so. Buses block three lanes of traffic and endanger the pedestrians, hotel patrons, and children from nearby schools. During rush hour, foot traffic is especially high due to the proximity of multiple subway stations nearby. The three apartment complexes along the North side of Watts also pose a problem, as residents in the second floor standing at their windows are less than ten feet from the buses.
As these buses continue eastbound on Watts street, they are given lowest priority crossing Varick Street. According to Bergman, an average of eight to twelve vehicles sit in between each bus.
In a joint meeting on September 21st, 2011 between Manhattan’s Community Board 1, Community Board 2, and a representative from the Department of Transportation, a special committee voted to submit a resolution to further study the traffic patterns of this problematic area.
Bergman, a transportation improvement advocate for many years, has been proposing the city study this problem since Hudson Street was blocked off for buses ten years ago after September 11th. He proposed a resolution that would submit a request for a formal report from the DOT as to whether or not a designated bus route would solve the safety and pollution caused by the buses sitting idlly
His hope is that the DOT will recommend a designated bus lane on Canal. “From strictly a logistic point of view, the sweep onto Canal from 6th Ave is far less degrees than that onto Watts,” said Bergman.
He believes that this would not only lessen congestion going into the tunnel, but that it would also make it safer for residents and pedestrians along Watts. During the meeting, there was a consensus that Canal Street’s lack of residents makes it a logical solution, but that no vote would be had until the report came back.
“Creating a bus lane all the way into the tunnel would also encourage the use of public transportation, which should have already been established city policy. Community Board Two prefers a bus route that keeps buses on wider commercial streets,” said Bergman during the meeting.
Currently, buses end up in the right lane of the Holland Tunnel because of the difficulty in crossing Varick. But trucks coming from Canal Street end up in the left lane, increasing the chances of two large vehicles running side by side in a tunnel not wide enough for such to be safe. As drivers of the buses and trucks attempt to maneuver narrow lanes, traffic is further slowed.
“I am not asking for implementation, but for an evaluation. Now is opportune with the newest toll hikes, which has drastically changed the traffic dynamic. We are not trying to move the problem from one street to another,” said Bergman.
When asked whether this was really going to solve the problem of congestion, Bergman replied, “Traffic is what traffic is. There’s no promise to lessen traffic, but let’s just get the buses safely through.”