Help us avoid a traffic nightmare in NYC
May 7, 2008 8:15 PM   Subscribe

NYC filter -- We are flying into JFK airport and then driving to New Haven CT at the worst possible times - we land at 4:00 pm Friday of Memorial Day and need to back at the airport no later than 6:30 Monday night. What is the best route to avoid total traffic jams?

My travelling partner gets very uptight in stop and go traffic - if we can manage at least 25 mph everyone in the car will be much happier. Obviously traffic will be bad at rush hour on a three day weekend. So what would be the best route between JFK and New Haven? We are willing to drive a little further out of way (even if takes longer than the shorter, traffic clogged route) if we can be confident we won't be stalled in traffic.

Also, how long should we allow for the trip back to the airport. Our fight leaves at 8 pm so we want to be there absolutely no later than 6:30 so we can return the rental car and get through security.
posted by metahawk to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Van Wyck to the Whitestone bridge to the Hutchinson Parkway to 95, just like Google Maps will tell you. I wish there were a reliably faster way, but that's about it - you can stay on the Hutch up to the Merritt Parkway, but you're just as likely to hit traffic there at that hour.
posted by nicwolff at 8:41 PM on May 7, 2008

Best answer: Actually: AirTrain (15 min) to LIRR (35 min) to Penn Station, Amtrak to New Haven (90 min) - almost certainly much faster than driving at rush hour on Friday of Memorial Day weekend. There's a Hertz office in New Haven a few blocks from the train station if you want a car to get around New Haven.
posted by nicwolff at 8:53 PM on May 7, 2008

(Uh, those times are per-leg not cumulative, so the whole trip should take 2½ hours or so.)
posted by nicwolff at 8:56 PM on May 7, 2008

I second train as well, it would be much more convenient. But as far as I know, only Metro North works in New Haven area, not Amtrak.
For the train schedules, click here..
posted by caelumluna at 9:04 PM on May 7, 2008

Amtrak most assuredly goes to New Haven, and will be far more convenient then Metro-North or driving.

Taking Metro-North would involve two subway in addition to the train legs as you would need to get from Penn Station to GCT, although it would be cheaper then Amtrak.

Memorial Day traffic on the Van Wyck (which is always awful) and 95 will be terrible.

If you are nervous about making your flight at 8 I would say 6:30 to return the rental car will be cutting it closer then you might want. You don't return rental cars at the Terminals, but rather on the outskirts of the airport and then take the AirTrain to the various terminals.
posted by JPD at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2008

The other option is to cut out the island a little, and take the Port Jefferson-Bridgeport Ferry, then 95 the rest of the way to New Haven - may not save any time, but it's not sitting in traffic either - you can get a snack or a drink and watch the waves instead of the taillights ahead of you. This or the train is probably better than sitting in traffic.
posted by pupdog at 10:28 PM on May 7, 2008

Also, Metro North will probably offer more trains to New Haven, but Amtrak would be the more convenient, at least until the East-side access is finished in a couple years.
posted by pupdog at 10:32 PM on May 7, 2008

I thought of the ferry too pupdog but I'm pretty sure that driving 50 miles across Long Island at rush hour on Friday of Memorial Day weekend could be nothing but traffic - like five or six hours of it.
posted by nicwolff at 10:52 PM on May 7, 2008

True, it could be bad, the alternative is a LIRR train from Jamaica to Port Jeff, then walk on the ferr, then switch to Metro North for the ride to New Haven - just a matter of logistics, seeing what lines up better schedule-wise, Amtrak vs. the MTA and all...
posted by pupdog at 11:01 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Will you be staying with family/friends in New Haven or will you be by yourselves in a hotel? If it's the former, I wouldn't rent a car at all and just take public transport there and back. If you absolutely need to rent a car, you can return it in New Haven and then take the train back. I did something similar with Hertz last month in Virginia--renting in Williamsburg, returning in Richmond.
posted by brujita at 11:27 PM on May 7, 2008

If you do decide to drive, definitely take the Hutchinson to the Merritt- do NOT take 95. While traffic might be heavy on both, that stretch of 95 is an absolute nightmare of construction and ugliness and closed lanes and ginormous trucks everywhere. The Merritt will be much less stressful regardless of traffic. And actually, it's kind of counterintuitive but I can think of at least six times in the last year when I was on the Merritt around 6 or 7pm and it was just ticking along, while 95 was gridlocked. And when the Merritt ends and you switch onto 95, it'll be a breeze from there to New Haven- I usually do that stretch at about 90mph.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:01 AM on May 8, 2008

I hadn't thought of the LIRR to the ferry, pupdog, that's a nice idea! Much easier to get on the ferry without a car too. 15 min on the AirTrain, about 1½ hours from Jamaica to Port Jefferson, about 1¼ hours on the ferry, ½ hour on Metro-North - 3½ hours in transit (not counting waits at connections) - not bad, and the ferry ride could be nice on a sunny day.
posted by nicwolff at 11:43 AM on May 8, 2008

Best answer: metahawk, I started commuting from CT (not near New Haven, though) to an office close to JFK about six months ago. I'll share with you the fruits of my traffic-fighting education thus far.

First- there's no good way to do this. The traffic will be brutal on every route from 3pm until long after dark on that Friday, and probably on Monday for your trip back, too. Even when traffic is moving, you'll be on your brakes constantly.

Google Maps will tell you to exit JFK on the Van Wyck (I-678 N), cross the Whitestone Bridge and use the Hutchinson River Parkway to connect to I-95 the rest of the way to New Haven.

The Van Wyck is always terrible. The Throgs Neck Bridge has less traffic in general than the Whitestone. The Hutchinson/Merritt route generally parallels 95 and has the great advantage of not allowing trucks, and the disadvantage that they're outdated 4-lane parkways that back up like crazy for any accidents. When you're sitting in traffic on the parkways, at least it's a green, parklike setting and there are historic overpasses and things to look at. And did I mention no trucks?

So all things being equal, here's what I suggest: Exit JFK on the JFK Expy (instead of the Van Wyck) to the Belt Pkwy East to the Cross Island Pkwy, across the Throgs Neck. You'll be on the Bruckner Expy after that and can exit for the Hutchinson or continue on 95 from there. Unless 1010 WINS or 880 WCBS warns of a big accident on the Hutch or the Merritt, go for the Hutchinson exit. (It's only a mile or two after you get off the bridge.) Here's a Google Map of this route.

For your return trip- if it were my family I'd insist we leave at 2pm. Don't forget, the airport is going to be packed, too. Check-in and security lines will be longer.

Hope this helps, and feel free to MefiMail for specific questions.
posted by gazole at 8:13 PM on May 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For the record, we followed gazole's advice. The trip took 2 1/4 hours Friday night (5 pm - 7:15 pm) and just under 2 hours on Memorial Day (3:20 to 5:15 pm.) Traffic was a little heavy but moving on Friday. Monday's traffic was lighter, generally at the speed limit until we got to Long Island. The custom Google Map was great. THANKS!!!!
posted by metahawk at 6:44 PM on May 27, 2008

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