Stuck in Traffic? Help Is on the Way

Relief is coming to a few of New York City's notorious traffic trouble spots.

Hoping to eliminate the backups that snarl commuters at the Henry Hudson Bridge linking the Bronx to Manhattan, the MTA said this week that it would eliminate cash tolls on the span. The agency also announced steps to rectify a major gap in the transit system - reliable access to LaGuardia - with plans for new bus-rapid transit routes to the airport from three boroughs.

Both of these changes are linked to longstanding RPA initiatives.

Jeff Zupan, RPA's senior transportation fellow, proposed in 2001 that the city move to a system of boothless tolling at all its bridge and tunnel crossings to alleviate congestion, shorten commutes and reduce auto pollution. Similarly, RPA's influential 2011 report on the New York region's airports recommended creating a dedicated lane for buses on 125th Street and over the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly Triborough) Bridge.

The elimination of cash tolls at the Henry Hudson Bridge will run as an experiment for about a year, after which the system could be expanded to the MTA's other river crossings. Under the cashless plan, drivers can either pay the toll using their E-Z Pass or receive a mailed bill linked to a photo of their license plate. Most drivers crossing the bridge - around 87% -- already rely on E-Z Pass, and the MTA hopes that the steep discount for E-Z Pass users ($2.20 vs. $4 for mailed bills) will encourage others to adopt the electronic devices.

The city and the MTA said they are considering three rapid bus routes to LaGuardia Airport: one from the Bronx; one from within Queens; and one that would convert the M60 route from the airport to Manhattan across Harlem's 125th Street. The faster buses, known in New York as Select Bus Service, typically run on dedicated lanes, require curbside fare payment and allow passengers to board at rear as well as front doors. The adoption of SBS on the M60 line will benefit non-airport riders as well: Along the famously sluggish 125th Street corridor, buses sometimes travel at walking speeds.

While engineering dedicated bus lanes is complex, travel delays could be cut down in the meantime with the adoption of curbside payment and limited stops. That would spare buses from having to idle at the curb while each boarding passenger dips a MetroCard.

Both initiatives reflect the New York region's gradual adoption of modern technology that speeds transportation, makes commuting less stressful and increases operating efficiency. Around the world, electronic tolling is becoming the norm; in many places, drivers cross tolling areas without needing to slow down. Many of New York's peers have abandoned on-board payment for buses, and linked their airports to city centers with fast rail and bus service. With the latest initiatives, New York is taking another step toward making its transit system worthy of a world-class city.