How to avoid traffic in NYC?
December 9, 2011 8:22 PM   Subscribe

What is the optimal time for driving in New York City without hitting traffic?

I live in Another Big City and inbound traffic is a horrible, infuriating, stressful ordeal (think the opening scene of Office Space) from 7:30 am to about 10:00 am, after which it pretty bearable until about 3:00 pm. I would tell out of town folks to avoid driving to the aforementioned City until 10 or 11 am, and to stay away from the tollway and highways from 2:30 pm to 6:00 pm. I'm looking for similar advice for the Big Apple. Driving from Long Island (Oceanside) to Manhattan next week. What times/routes should I avoid? Please help me, New Yorkers!
posted by gardenbex to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (16 answers total)
avoid 7.30 AM to 9 PM. roughly.
posted by entropone at 9:17 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

park in oceanside. Get on the LIRR, you're at NY Penn Station in less than an hour.

Where in NYC are you going?
posted by Mad_Carew at 9:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am not a morning person at all, and not a New Yorker, but following some sage counsel, I once drove out of Manhattan via the GW bridge starting at about 6:00 a.m. It was great—I hate driving in cities, but at that hour it was entirely manageable. Of course I had the advantage of traveling outbound while the majority of traffic was inbound, but I would say if you can get in ahead of the morning rush hour and then kill time until whatever event takes you to NYC, it's a good plan.
posted by Orinda at 10:28 PM on December 9, 2011

Driving from LI on a holiday week when there will be a grid lock alert in NYC is going to be infuriating at any time. I would either leave at 5:30am or maybe take the midday shot from 11:00 to 12:30. On the other hand, if you can handle rush hour traffic, I would leave at 9:00am I commuted by car from LI to NYC for about a year (many years ago.) If you accept that you are not going to get there faster by switching lanes or honking or pounding on your steering wheel, it can be oddly relaxing listening to your radio in traffic. Figure from Oceanside about 90 minutes to the other side of the tunnel or a bridge.

Happy Holidays!
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:38 PM on December 9, 2011

Seconding what Orinda said.
posted by bardophile at 12:11 AM on December 10, 2011

Seconding JohnnyGun, I used to commute into NYC via car and 6am will be too late. By 530am be on the road en route to the city.
posted by mlis at 12:26 AM on December 10, 2011

Depends on when you actually need to be in Manhattan. If it's morning, then yes, go very early. Bridges and tunnels into the city get packed quickly, and as mlis says, the traffic starts at 6:00 a.m.

If you're coming in later, you will still hit traffic between 10-3, but it may not be awful.

One accident can block traffic for miles (and hours).

If you're coming into town in the evening, just avoid rush hour from 3:30-7:00 p.m. and you may be OK. Cars still use alternate routes out of the city, even if they seem like they're heading into the city, so the myth of going against traffic does not apply here.

If you're going crosstown, 17th St. westbound is a gem. 39th St. westbound is also good except on weekends. 42nd, counterintuitively, is actually great except right by Grand Central, most of the time.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:23 AM on December 10, 2011

I live by Oceanside (Long Beach) and take LIRR unless it's going to be before 6am or after 9pm.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:02 AM on December 10, 2011

Some ground rules:

1) After 8pm is usually OK.

2) 10am to 3pm is a lot better than rush hour, but you could still hit traffic. The odds of this tend to increase the later you get - probably the best daytime hours are between about 10am and noon.

3) You could do the waking up super-early thing, but I'd rather sit in some traffic that get up at 4:30 in the morning. I just hate getting up when the sun isn't out yet. YMMV.

4) Check a map and find some good surface streets along your route, in case you hit truly monumental traffic. Surface streets in NYC get backed up, but they generally do not have the kinds of epic traffic jams that can snarl up the highways for hours.

5) Whatever time you go, odds are traffic will be worse than usual because of the holidays.

6) Unless you have a reason to drive, consider the LIRR.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:04 AM on December 10, 2011

Also, my advice about the surface streets applies to the outer boroughs only. Manhattan is nearly all surface streets, and in Manhattan, all bets are off.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2011

I lived in Long Beach for a while and drove in and out frequently, under every stripe of stressful NYC-commute circumstances. If you are on the road at 6 a.m., you'll be fine. Leave Manhattan by 3 p.m., the latest, or wait until 8 p.m. for your return trip. I'd say LIRR, but gawd, Penn Station is the seventh circle of hell these days.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:50 AM on December 10, 2011

To clarify, Long Beacb is just down the way from Oceanside!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:52 AM on December 10, 2011

Sorry all, I'm multitasking, I should have gathered my thoughts a bit before posting! If you left Oceanside at 6 a.m., you'd be in Manhattan before 7 a.m. (barring anything truly unusual...), which is kind of a lovely time to arrive, it's almost sleepy! If you left Oceanside at 7 a.m., you'd be in the city by 8:30 or 9, and you'd be crawling in traffic, inching across intersections, fighting for parking, being nearly crushed by buses -- that 45 minutes makes a huge difference. Going back, if you get into your car to leave Manhattan at 3 p.m., you'll be back in Oceanside by 4:30 (not counting Fridays, a whole other conversation). One minute after 3, and, well ... if you can hang around until 8 p.m., it'll take you an hour or so to get back to Oceanside.
posted by thinkpiece at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2011

Whatever you do, avoid the Van Wyck at all costs. Seriously. Particularly around Jamaica, I've never been on it at any time of day and not been in horrible traffic.
(also the BQE)

In terms of the LIE/27, after 9pm (10pm on a Friday), you will not hit traffic unless there is road-work or an accident or if it's the day when all the schools get out for Christmas and everybody is driving to Long Island for vacation.

I'd be wary driving during mid-day if you absolutely have to be in the city by a certain time. The highways tend to either be empty or totally backed up (with little rhyme or reason) as you get closer to Manhattan.
posted by ooklala at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: So the answer I'm getting on getting free flowing traffic in NYC during the day is . . . foggetta bout it! (barump bump)

Thanks, everyone! :)
posted by gardenbex at 10:40 AM on December 30, 2011

Technically, it's FUGGEDUHBOUDIT!, I think.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:58 AM on December 30, 2011

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