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View from a transit bus as a Sandy-immobilized New York gets going

Many New Yorkers ventured back to work two days after the city was yanked to a standstill by hurricane Sandy. But normal patterns of travel remain disrupted, as the Monitor's own reporter can attest.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / October 31, 2012

Commuters cross New York's Brooklyn Bridge, Wednesday, Oct. 31. The floodwaters that poured into New York's deepest subway tunnels may pose the biggest obstacle to the city's recovery from the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history.

Richard Drew/AP

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New York

New York began Wednesday to crawl toward normalcy after being immobilized for two days by hurricane Sandy. The stock market opened on time. Two of the area's three airports – JFK International and Newark (N.J.) International – resumed flights, although on very limited schedules. Bridges connecting Manhattan with Queens and Brooklyn reopened. And, after days of reporting from a makeshift home office, your Monitor reporter decided to make the 2-1/2-mile trek to the newspaper's Midtown office. 

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This is usually a relatively fast and hassle-free affair: two subway rides and, 20 minutes later, I’m there.

But on Wednesday, the first day that "the city that never sleeps" has stirred since Sandy came ashore on Monday, forgetaboutit.

The subways are still closed, as the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) continues to pump water out of flooded underground stations. Instead, the MTA is running free buses. Yes, there is a route only a few blocks from my apartment on the Upper West Side.

Ordinarily, bus service is slow but reliable. The fleet of 5,600 buses usually carries 2.5 million riders a day, says the MTA.

Could I be one of those Wednesday morning? Only if I can manage to squeeze onto a bus already crammed with other West Side residents. But, hey, the back door of the bus is open, and look, a few unoccupied square inches!

This ride from the West Side to Midtown usually takes about 30 minutes. On an express bus, it can be less than 20. But we are barely inching down Broadway. Why so slow?

Ah-hah, the West Side Highway, which moves cars to lower Manhattan, remains closed. And because the subway service is suspended, many New Yorkers have apparently decided to drive – via Broadway – to get downtown. 

Not only are drivers being funneled to local streets, but once there, they discover that Seventh Avenue, another major downtown throughway, is closed because of the damaged crane still dangling from the top of a skyscraper under construction. The company building this condo high-rise – mainly for billionaires – has to figure out how to get the crane down safely.

New Yorkers driving their cars to work are a relatively rare sight. The city has the lowest per capita ownership of vehicles in the nation. Over half of New Yorkers don’t even own cars, according to the US Department of Transportation in a 2001 study.

But judging from the traffic, all those who do have vehicles are on the streets Wednesday morning. And then there is the debris. A tree had come down, and its limbs closed off one lane of southbound Broadway. Traffic, and my bus, detour around it and other detritus. 

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