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Gridlock from pope, UN will keep Manhattan traffic at a crawl

Vehicles sit in traffic on 10th Avenue in

Vehicles sit in traffic on 10th Avenue in New York City on Nov. 2, 2012. Credit: Getty Images / Allison Joyce

Getting around Manhattan by car should reach new levels of difficulty for the next few days as the Big Apple welcomes Pope Francis and the United Nations General Assembly at the same time.

A Giants football game at the Meadowlands tomorrow night and baseball games at Yankee Stadium Thursday and Friday should add to the congestion.

Longtime traffic maven Samuel Schwartz, a former city transportation commissioner, said simply: "When the pope is moving, you won't be."

Street closings began Tuesday around the United Nations and on the FDR Drive and will continue through Oct. 2, although some streets closed during the day will be open to traffic at night.

Pope-related closings begin Wednesday in the area around St. Patrick's Cathedral in midtown and later in the day around the papal nuncio's residence on East 72nd Street.

There will be further closings Friday as the pope visits the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan and an East Harlem school. He then motorcades through Central Park on his way to Madison Square Garden, where he will celebrates Mass at 6 p.m.

The MTA said there could be crowds trying to board LIRR trains after the papal Mass and Long Island-bound riders might consider taking a subway from Penn Station to an LIRR stop outside Manhattan, such as Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, or Hunters Point Avenue or the Jamaica station in Queens.

The Long Island Rail Road will add eight extra westbound trains on the Babylon, Port Jefferson and Ronkonkoma branches on Friday to accommodate an expected increase in riders.

City officials are urging everyone to use mass transit, but public buses will fare no better than other vehicles on gridlocked streets, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it plans to change 25 bus routes in affected areas.

"The only reliable public transportation will be underground, the subways, the LIRR and Metro-North," Schwartz said.

On the west side of Manhattan, there's also the PATH trains that can be used between Christopher Street and 33rd Street, he added.

Officials said people using subways and commuter rail lines should buy round-trip tickets or Metrocards in advance and expect some crowding. The officials said they would adjust train operations if needed at stations near papal events and would have additional customer service representatives on duty at those stations.

One thing transit officials cannot plan for is what Schwartz calls, "a Gorbachev moment," a reference to the 1988 visit of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who jumped out of his limousine twice in Manhattan, halting his 45-car motorcade and snarling traffic behind it. It was, for a day, "Gorbylock."

"This is a very popular pope, and everyone expects him to pull a Gorbachev at some point," Schwartz said.

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