Today's Thursday. I'm working at a desk. It's 11:30 AM and I'm bored. This firm is paying me $20 an hour to run through all the old paper files, separate the dead files, categorize and repair the folders so that they're easier to access, manipulate and mine for data, at a rate of about 100 files a day.
But I'm waiting for the emotional high of rush hour. NYC, at rush hour, finds that plans made for effective traffic flow come to naught when more traffic is flowing than they planned for. That's basically the problem: everyone wants a ride or is walking.
About 1.7 million people will get on the Subway tonight. Roughly 1 million of them ride between 5 and 7 PM. 200,000 more will rush to Grand Central (GCT) for the Harlem, Hudson and New Haven trains home. Another 120,000 will hurry to Penn Station for the LIRR and NJT trains. And another 150,000 will hike to Port Authority for their buses. These three terminals are not lined up with each other, which makes for confusion and traffic hell. Getting from Penn Station to GCT can take an absurdly long time in a car. 25 minutes' ride is not uncommon, after a 25-minute wait for a taxi. 50 minutes to go less than a mile!
You see, Midtown Manhattan has three basic problems at 5 PM.
1. Thousands of people scoot out of their offices and either hire limos or drive their own cars out of garages headed for the bridges and tunnels off this island. This clogs Midtown streets by 5:10.
2. A million people -- literally a million -- come out of the skyscrapers and start walking. There have been no pedestrian rules since 2000 AD (thank you, Giuliani), so people walk in the street, between cars, in the bike lanes, against the light, ...and every single one of them slows motor traffic by some percentage. That percentage adds up when multiplied by a million. Last I read, for 1996, the average Midtown car speed was something like 6.5 MPH, about where it was when vehicles were pulled by horses. And that was before the pedestrians had cell phones.
3. Yellow cabs change shifts at 5 PM. This pulls professional drivers from the system, right about the time when unprofessional drivers--old guys slowly cruising in sedans, young hotshots honking and screeching in SUVs--wreak havoc on the streets.
Midtown's side streets shortly become inefficient single-lane roads. Imagine a 19-foot-long car with one person in it, keeping a 6-foot distance from the car ahead. That's 25 feet. Between 5th and 6th Avenues, 43rd Street is 600 feet long. At one car per every 25 feet, that's 24 cars, or 24 people, waiting in a 600-foot line. To their right and left are about 5 feet of open space, not quite enough for cars to maneuver into or out of, with parked cars taking up the rest of the 30-foot space from curb to curb. The car ahead blocks the view of that open space, so most don't dare getting out of line; they might miss their chance when the line moves up. The fear is, "What if someone's double-parked ahead?"
That's why I love rush hour. I use the five-foot space between moving and parked cars. When I come up to the inevitable double-parked limo, I use the space between moving cars to slip across to the other side, then shoot forward again, passing car after car after car. Traffic jams can be exploited. Imagine sitting in a little vehicle that passes all the big vehicles.
My pedicab averages about 8 MPH, 2 MPH faster than the traffic average. I usually carry two adults from the corner of 42nd & Vanderbilt to Penn Station in about 11 minutes. In fact, a guarantee is posted on the side of the trike: if I don't get you across Midtown in 10 minutes, the ride is free. (Penn is actually a block outside of Midtown.) People like and trust the written guarantee. Yes, it costs more to ride in a pedicab than a taxi. Typically, I charge $20 for one person and $25 for two. Though that's a lot for just getting across midtown, the rate is coupled with a guarantee that they'll get from Grand Central to Penn Station in 11 minutes. They hop right in. They feel the need: the need for speed.
To recap, I'm going to make about $150 sitting here for eight hours. Then I'm going to make $100 more between 5:30 and 8, while getting to meet people and proudly show them my town.
That's why rush hour is wonderful. I become the fastest guy in town, and people need my services.