Thanksgiving weekend is rapidly approaching, and with it, New York’s highest traffic days of the year.
The state was expected to set a record in 2022 for the number of travelers over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period, according to a AAA and IHS Markit forecast. That includes more than 3.5 million travelers – and 60,000 more than last year — which would be the highest number recorded since tracking began in 2000.
Traffic expert “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz told Gothamist on Monday that drivers better be prepared heading into the holiday weekend as car traffic in the metropolitan area is officially back to pre-pandemic levels. What’s worse, he said, is that truck volumes were recorded at 10% higher than what they were in 2019.
“So it’s as if we have 105 to 110% of the traffic that we had back in 2019,” Schwartz said.
For those who can’t avoid traveling by car, Schwartz said New Yorkers should expect a “wild week in traffic.”
Here’s what Schwartz said those who can’t avoid car travel this week should know:
Tuesday and Wednesday are both ‘gridlock alert’ days
Escaping the city before Thanksgiving may have been easier to do on Tuesdays in the past, but Schwartz said that enough people have since changed their patterns so that both days are likely to experience gridlock.
He said city drivers should expect three-to-five-mile backups at the George Washington Bridge, and backups on all roads leading to airports.
“Tuesday has become the new Wednesday when it comes to getaway during Thanksgiving week,” Schwartz said. “If you’re catching a plane … allow an extra 45 minutes to an hour to get there. Especially if you’re going in the afternoon.”
The city also included Tuesday and Wednesday’s dates on its “gridlock alert” days calendar, set aside for the busiest traffic days of the year.
Wednesday remains the biggest traffic day of the year, whether you’re coming or going from NYC, he said.
“What’s unusual about Wednesday is, as many people are leaving New York as they’re coming into New York. So you get it both ways,” Schwartz said. “We don’t have a single-direction rush hour — it’s a rush hour in all directions.”
The AAA and IHS Markit forecast said that 89% of New Yorkers were expected to travel by car in 2022.
Thanksgiving Day Parade street closures Wednesday and Thursday
Street closures in Manhattan for the Thanksgiving Day Parade begin Wednesday for balloon inflation, and continue through Thursday afternoon. Find a full list of the streets that will be closed here, and a map of the parade route here.
Schwartz said Thursday morning is a good time to drive — unless you’re around the parade. Around noon, avoid the Lincoln Tunnel at all costs, he said. Then in the afternoon, things should let up again.
“There is an unusual time on Thanksgiving when it’s okay to drive, and that is between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” Schwartz said. “That’s because everybody’s having dinner then. So if somehow you could. From grandma’s house between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., do so. You’ll have a much easier time.”
And as for the day after the holiday, Schwartz said Black Friday is the biggest day of the year for parking tickets in the city since many people think its a parking holiday, many unknowingly park illegally.
The best way to avoid the gridlock is public transportation
With the roads clogged up and the airports bustling, Schwartz said it might be smart to stick to public transportation.
“This is, it’s a wonderful week to be a New Yorker, but if you could be a New Yorker who takes the subway, you’ll be much better off,” Schwartz said.
To relieve some of the burden of holiday travel, NJ Transit said it was adding additional service this weekend, and allowing kids to ride free.
Find service MTA service changes here.
How to avoid the post-holiday stand-still
Saturday is a good day to fly and drive, and Sunday, is just the reverse of Wednesday, Schwartz said.
“People are coming back to the city and people are leaving the city,” he said. “And we have a football game at MetLife Stadium at 1 p.m. but it ends at about 4:30 p.m. So beware if you are coming back, avoid Route 3.”
Other tips, he added, included avoiding the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge, especially between 4 and 6 p.m. to stear clear of football game traffic.
“And if you think we’re through with gridlock, forget about it,” he said. “Nov. 30 is the [Rockefeller Center] tree lighting.”