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NYC prepares for subway crowds, jammed roads if LIRR strike happens

LIRR riders board a train during rush hour

LIRR riders board a train during rush hour at Penn Station on Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The MTA and the LIRR unions are preparing for a strike that could begin at 12:01 a.m. on July 20. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

New York City officials bracing for clogged roadways and jam-packed subways in the wake of a possible LIRR strike are preparing to increase police patrols for crowd control, help arrange group taxi rides and suspend alternate-side parking rules, among other measures.

Mayor Bill de Blasio hedged Wednesday night during a taped interview on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" on whether the threatened strike may alter his plans for a 10-day family trip to Italy starting Friday. When host Stephen Colbert raised his travel plan, de Blasio said, "Well, we'll see. We will see."

Asked whether he would call off the trip, he said, "Well, right now we are hopeful that everything's going to go well and there will be a resolution."

The city's formal contingency plan is to be released Thursday, but the Office of Emergency Management Wednesday said it would also expand high-occupancy lane hours, in which a minimum of two people per vehicle is normally required for using a designated lane, and increase the HOV lane minimum to three occupants.

Manhattan-bound HOV lanes for morning rush hours are available on the Manhattan Bridge, Long Island Expressway near the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, the Gowanus Expressway near Hugh L. Carey (formerly the Brooklyn-Battery) Tunnel and the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.

As for an alternate-side suspension, how wide an area would be covered hasn't been determined. The aim is to spare motorists from having to move their cars for street cleaning so they won't further clog streets.

Amid concern about LIRR commuters adding to the rush-hour crush on subway trains and platforms, an increased law enforcement presence can be expected, OEM spokeswoman Nancy Greco said.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is ready to establish a ride-sharing system, she said.

City emergency management officials met Wednesday with Nassau and Suffolk officials on preparations for a potential strike, which is set to begin 12:01 a.m. Sunday if there is no settlement or postponement. OEM is coordinating efforts among the NYPD, the city Department of Transportation, the TLC and others.

OEM officials would begin monitoring the strike's impact from their situation room very early on Monday morning.

Real-time information would be disseminated through the OEM's Notify NYC emergency alert system and through social media, the spokeswoman said.

The MTA's contingency plan includes providing shuttle buses to take erstwhile LIRR riders to subway lines, adding to the regular crush. The agency is expecting increased ridership on the 7, E, A, J, Z, M and R lines, and warned riders to stay away from the already "heavily utilized" E and F lines in Queens and instead try the J and Z.

De Blasio said on Monday that while he was away he would leave the "exceedingly able" Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in charge. He said a strike impact would be manageable because many commuters vacation in July and others can work from home.

For the sake of appearances, de Blasio may want to stay in New York and send his family ahead to Italy, said Bill Cunningham, former communications director for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "In addition to getting credit for being on the scene, you might get sympathy from people because you had to forgo or delay or break up the family vacation," Cunningham said.

Christina Greer, a Fordham University assistant professor of politics, said a disaster at home while de Blasio is away would deliver a hit to his reputation, "but it depends on how quickly he gets back here and how he navigates it."

With Matthew Chayes

and Dan Rivoli

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