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Clusterf*ck on Varick Street

July 25, 2014

It’s said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. It’s also the definition of New York City traffic.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, my office is located just above one of the most gridlocked intersections in Manhattan, if not the entire city: an oddly angled spot where 7th Avenue South becomes Varick Street and Clarkson turns into Carmine. This intersection is also located about eight blocks north of the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. And while that vital connector to New Jersey is actually named for Clifford Milburn Holland, the chief engineer on the Hudson River Tunnel Project, I like to think it’s a cruel joke, meant as a poke in the eye to all those who understand New York City’s shared heritage with the Netherlands and the vastly different approaches both places take to streets and automobiles. This isn’t Amsterdam, that’s for sure.

Each weekday, starting at around 4 PM — but sometimes as early as 3 or even 2 — the traffic funneling to the tunnel begins to back up. The streets soon grind to a halt, and intersections like the one just under my office become moats of steel and exhaust, impassable for all but the most intrepid of pedestrians. Anyone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller is mostly out of luck and either has to take their chances in the narrow trenches between grills bumpers or detour a block or two out of their way to get safe crossing. Drivers, obviously not respecting signals and only interested in filling up any space that opens before them, don’t tend to care much that people may be crossing or that crosstown traffic also needs to get through. Emergency vehicles? Forget it.

The Hudson Square BID employs pedestrian safety managers at intersections along Varick Street, and they do an admirable job keeping the intersections clear, but their northern border is just one block below the 7th Avenue South/Varick/Clarkson/Carmine tangle. In my two-and-a-half years in this location, I’ve never seen an NYPD traffic enforcement agent assigned to this or any other intersection on 7th Avenue South. Community Board 2 is aware of the issue and has spoken to the NYPD about it, yet the situation continues. And you can see the consequences on a daily basis. Both of the above videos were shot within the last hour of this posting.



  1. July 25, 2014 4:49 pm

    I can hear the honking from my office a few blocks away, Doug. And yesterday I had to go to an appointment at 5pm at Bleecker and Broadway and had to cycle across that intersection in rush hour. The gaps between the vehicles were minuscule. The big question is why people persist in driving through the tunnel every day. There are other ways to and from New Jersey. It’s genuinely baffling that people put up with this.

  2. Anthony permalink
    July 25, 2014 4:57 pm

    Hey we’re almost neighbors! My office is further south at the super-crazy intersection of Canal St. & Ave. of Americas. This is slightly over from Varick and super close to the Holland Tunnel entrance. My corner does have NYPD traffic cops on it – as many as 6 sometimes, plus they’re on all the nearby corners approaching this intersection. They do a good job managing it. Still, I can tell it’s Friday afternoon by the sound of the rising noise of chaos outside, without looking out the window. We find it amusing to watch from our office windows.

  3. July 25, 2014 6:55 pm

    Send the stuck firetruck to Marcia Kramer stat! We know how much that kind of reporting means to her – it means we should rip out the bike lane!!! (Oh wait, there’s no bike lane to blame???)

    • Rob permalink
      July 28, 2014 10:04 am

      Well said! That was my first reaction, too!

    • Marcia, Marcia, Marcia permalink
      July 28, 2014 1:56 pm

      Of course there’s a bike lane to blame; you just have to broaden your field of vision. If that green paint on Carmine hadn’t been put down, none of this would have had to happen. That space has been taken away from loyal ‘merican motorists wanting to complete their three point turns from the crosswalk. Damn bike lanes.

  4. July 28, 2014 2:05 pm

    I got stuck at this intersection(driving) on Sunday while running errands, and two things come to mind:

    1) The traffic jam is bad, but the intersection design is worse. The long distances, odd angles, and lack of physical separations makes visibility and navigation impossible. There could be huge improvements if DOT put some focus on this intersection.

    2) All the traffic from the westside highway toward the east-river bridges could avoid Varick and Canal, and take the Battery Tunnel to the BQE instead, but they’re being paid not to. The presence of a toll on the battery but not on the east river bridges is pushing cars off of the west-side highway and onto local streets. Instanity!


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