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Nightmare Commute as New Yorkers Head Back to Work After Hurricane Sandy

By DNAinfo Staff | October 31, 2012 11:28am | Updated on October 31, 2012 5:12pm

NEW YORK CITY — New Yorkers found themselves locked in a traffic nightmare Wednesday in the wake of deadly Hurricane Sandy, with jam-packed buses bypassing stops, nearly empty cabs driving past stranded New Yorkers and streets crammed to the gills with motorists.

Those who could get out of their houses to head to work, or just to pick up supplies, discovered chaos on the streets as the subways remained shuttered and bus service was limited, leaving them with hours-long commutes, especially in Brooklyn and Queens.

Despite the voluntary cab share program that Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted during the storm, commuters had to jockey for limited space. In some cases, cabs that only had one passenger passed by those looking for a ride.

Several crossings into Manhattan, such as the Midtown and Battery tunnels, remained closed because of flooding, creating bottlenecks on the East River Bridges. And a large swath of lower Manhattan, which lost power during the storm, remained without traffic lights Wednesday, creating confusion at intersections.

Even the bike lanes on the bridges into Manhattan were hit with traffic jams.

“During the 1980 transit strike, we saw that, but not since. It’s been 32 years since we’ve seen anything like this," said traffic guru Sam Schwartz. "It’s unprecedented. That word has been over used recently, but what other word do we have.”

Inanc Uyar, 41, who lives near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, spent two-and-a-half hours getting to the furniture design business where he works in Tribeca — a trip that normally takes 35 minutes.

After waiting 45 minutes, he was finally able to get onto a bus. When he got to downtown Brooklyn, he encountered a traffic nightmare and decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

"I have my bike at the office and I'm going to ride that home," he said.

The odyssey for Nita Halim, 52, began at 9 a.m. when she tried to get to her job at 53rd Street and Madison Avenue from her home in Park Slope.

After walking 20 minutes from her house, she caught a bus to downtown Brooklyn, spent 40 minutes walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and then hopped on an M5 bus to Midtown.

"I was here for September 11 and I was here for the blackout so I know the commute very well," she said. "It takes patience and perseverance and the will to go to work."

On the Upper East Side, side streets and the avenues were jammed in the 80s. Buses were locked bumper-to-bumper for blocks on Second Avenue, unable to move and emergency crews were unable to get in to help manage the situation.

"It was crazy," said Andy Sze, 29 of his commute from Corona, Queens, to the cafe where he works on the Upper East Side. He said the trip that usually takes half an hour at 6:30 a.m. took three times as long. "The bridges are all packed."

Rohan Suresh said he spent 15 minutes on a bus going one block, from East 81st to East 80th streets, attempting to get to his IT job downtown.

"It took forever to cross one street," said Suresh, who decided to get off and walk to Lexington Avenue to try to catch a bus there instead.

When he realized it was no better, he took off walking. "It'll probably be faster."

A number of people decided to do the same, with several Midtown workers hoofing it in from Astoria.

Some bus riders in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said that they waited for hours for a bus while others ditched the trip to work entirely.

Jamie Alvarez, who lives in the neighborhood, said that he waited for the B56 for two hours on his way to downtown Brooklyn, where he works, bumping his half-hour commute to three hours.

"I had to take off of work, because I just can't do this everyday," he said. "I'm losing money, and the government isn't going to help me. I haven't been able to work all week. It's not fair to us."

He also said that a livery cab ride to work, which normally costs $15, was out of the question because it now cost $35.

Under the city's voluntary cab share program, the suggested fare for travel within the boroughs is $15 and $25 for between boroughs.

TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said that it’s up to individual drivers and passengers to decide whether they want to pick up additional passengers.

“Some are, some aren’t,” he said. “It’s not mandatory, we’re strongly encouraging.”

In the Village, where there were no traffic lights because of the power outage, more than a dozen people waited for the M5 bus Wednesday morning, but the crammed buses didn't stop.

Rebecca, 26, a Lower East Side resident who had walked more than a mile to try to take the bus to her advertising office, grew frustrated with waiting.

"It's just s--t," she said. "There needs to be more buses, clearly."

Jiggers Turner, 45, a Village resident, watched five full buses pass, but was still hoping to find one to take to Lincoln Center, where he works for the New York City Ballet.

"They've all been full, packed, not even stopping," Turner said.

He said he didn't have to go to work on Wednesday, but didn't want to sit in his freezing apartment with no electricity. He said he'd wait for a bus for as long as it took.

"I've got nothing better to do," he said.

Said MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said that buses not stopping because they were too full was not unprecedented.

"We have no subway trains. Subway riders are also riding on buses," he said. "Buses are going to be extremely crowded. Buses are also going to be extremely slow because [of] detours."

Buses were running on a weekday, closed school schedule and service would likely be ramped up Wednesday, Seaton added.

Schwartz was worried that the "worst is yet to come" after the power is restored because of an increased number of commuters trying to get to work with limited mass transit options.

"If the electric gets turned back on some time Thursday or Friday you’ll have far more people trying to get in on those days than you see today,” Schwartz said.

“You’ll have the equivalent of a transit strike with three of the five tunnels to our business district closed.”

But the commuting nightmare also brought out the best in some New Yorkers.

Mindy Darvish, of Park Slope, was offering people rides on her scooter.

"Does anybody need a ride?" she asked a crowd of people waiting for a bus on Chambers Street as she rolled by. "I even have an extra helmet."

No one took her up on the offer, but Darvish said that she would keep trying.

"My toes are numb, but it's worth it," he said. "I hope to give someone a ride home too."