Vehicles wait for a light to change on West 42nd...

Vehicles wait for a light to change on West 42nd Street in Manhattan in 2018. Credit: Charles Eckert

Planning to spend some time in New York City this holiday season?

If you're driving, beware. The New York City Department of Transportation has 11 "gridlock alert days" listed and strongly suggests considering the use of  mass transit.

Gridlock alert season began with U.N. Week in September. The next two days on the list revolve around the tree-lighting ceremony Wednesday evening at Rockefeller Center, followed by nine days in December — starting with Friday.

"We strongly encourage New Yorkers and those in the region to travel by transit every day of the year — but it's especially important during Gridlock Alert days," NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said in a statement when the list was issued.

Daily ridership data tracked by the MTA shows a very minor uptick in ridership on the railroad and subways during the most recent gridlock alert days, although those numbers can be impacted by weather and large events in Manhattan, officials said.

The term "gridlock" applies to traffic blocking the grid — the center of an intersection — and therefore disturbing traffic flow through those intersections, causing traffic jams and delays. It was first used in the 1970s and is credited to former NYC DOT chief traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, who went on to become known as "Gridlock Sam."

The term first appeared in the New York media during the 1980 New York City Transit strike.

When gridlock alert days were first introduced in the early 1980s, Schwartz said he measured the impact on traffic and found that roughly 40,000 fewer vehicles came into Manhattan, or about a 5% traffic drop.

"The more generic gridlock alert days of today, without any explanation, probably have much less impact on driving or traffic congestion," he said Monday.

On Monday, the NYC DOT said some gridlock alert days are tied to planned events while others are determined based on historic data indicating days when traffic has moved the slowest on city streets.

 That is, the "NYC DOT designates the busiest traffic days of the year as Gridlock Alert Days," the NYC DOT said on its website, adding: "Whether traveling for work, errands or for recreation, please consider walking, biking or taking public transportation whenever possible."

The remaining gridlock alert days for 2023 are: Dec. 5 through 8 and Dec. 12 through 15. 

With Robert Brodsky

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