In New York, more traffic - but less attitude

Ever since Sept. 11, David Morales, a doorman on Manhattan's Upper West Side, has kept to an earlier schedule than usual.

The Guttenberg, N.J., resident is out the door by 5:15 every morning - not because his job demands it, but because, under new restrictions, he must reach the Lincoln Tunnel before 6 a.m. After that, only cars with two or more passengers are allowed through.

For now, he says, the inconvenience doesn't bother him. "As long as we're safe, that's what counts."

Amid the many signs of a newfound civility in New York, one of the most revealing is the traffic - or, more specifically, people's lack of reaction to it.

For days following the terrorist attack, the city experienced a strange silence, as cabs and buses sat in gridlocked intersections for minutes at a time, without honking.

On crowded subway platforms, people are actually stepping aside to let others get off the train. Some have staggered their commuting times, to keep the system from being overloaded.

Perhaps most unusual, the roughly 1 million people who drive into the city each day are cheerfully submitting to things like security checkpoints, and have even taken new carpooling requirements into stride.

"New Yorkers are a very hearty, cooperative group when there's a crisis at hand," says New York Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall.

After Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced last week that passenger cars with only one person would no longer be permitted to cross bridges and tunnels below 63rd Street between 6 a.m. and 12 p.m., this city of individualists obediently doubled up. Initial data showed a 30 to 40 percent reduction of traffic crossing the East River last Friday.

Even the truckers, who now face inspections every time they enter Manhattan, aren't complaining much. "I've only been cursed at, like, five times," laughs police Sgt. Canavan, as he examines trucks near the Queensboro Bridge, looking for hazardous materials. Some trucks roll through the checkpoint with hardly a glance, while other drivers must get out and roll up the truck's back door.

"We use our own judgment," says Caravan, who jokes with many of the truckers. "If the truck says 'furniture,' and the driver says he's carrying fruit, we'll check."

Still, the slowdown is taking its toll on many trucking companies, who report delays of up to several hours. "It's been very difficult," says Darin Suarez, the harried dispatcher at TFL Transport Inc., a trucking firm based in South Kearny, N.J.

And individuals who drive into Manhattan daily - about 10 percent of commuters, according to John Kaehny, executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives - are finding they must change their routes, their hours, or find someone to carpool with.

Commuter Link, a group that helps commuters hook up with potential carpoolers, says the number of people calling for its service more than quadrupled last week.

"We've been in business for 12 years trying to do this," says Jennifer Covello, the organization's marketing manager. Like many environmental and urban planning groups, Commuter Link is thrilled with the enforced HOV rule. "Even if the carpooling requirements are lifted next week," says Ms. Covello, "I think a lot of people are going to say to themselves, 'This isn't that bad. I'm saving money, I have someone to talk to, it's not as stressful.'"

Others are less optimistic. "This is not the magic bullet," says Mr. Kaehny of Transportation Alternatives. "It's not a change in philosophy or orientation - it's an emergency measure."

Mr. Giuliani's original plan, Kaehny notes, was to put all streets below 63rd Street - not just the bridges and tunnels - off-limits to single drivers. That he backed away from it "shows you how powerful the motorists who drive by themselves are perceived to be."

At this point, Giuliani has said the driving restrictions will be in place indefinitely, and New Yorkers' willingness to cooperate and rearrange their schedules may be tested in the weeks and months to come. Experts also say the mass-transit system may need some tweaking to handle an influx of passengers. While Giuliani has asked businesses to stagger employees' work schedules, for instance, the subways and buses haven't announced a corresponding increase in nonpeak-hour schedules.

"The systems right now are really at capacity," says Rae Zimmerman, director of the Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems at New York University's Wagner School. Areas like Grand Central Terminal and Times Square are already struggling to serve the high volumes of people who pass through, she notes, and she's concerned about the parking capacity at commuter lots around the region and congestion for commuters driving to those lots.

So far, however, the real surprise seems to be how smoothly things are going. Traffic is still rough at times, but New Yorkers, famous for rudeness and speaking their minds, are calmly adjusting to life with checkpoints and carpool buddies. "A lot of people have been looking to contribute something to the city," notes Covello. "For many people, this might be their only contribution."

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