With Obama In New York, Gridlock Examined

Whenever the president comes to New York City, traffic stops. This week, however with President Obama, the U.N. General Assembly and meetings on climate change, gridlock may be even worse.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

In New York City right now, there are those climate change meetings, the president is in town, the U.N. is in session. It all means traffic comes to a standstill. NPR's Margot Adler did the stupidest thing you can do on a day like this. Well, okay, we made her do it. She hailed a cab.

MARGOT ADLER: You'd think people would be happy when the president comes to town and the U.N. is in session. Not a chance. New Yorkers groan.

(Soundbite of radio announcement)

Unidentified Woman: 44th through 46th Streets will be closed between First and Second Avenue and starting today 49th Street will also be…

ADLER: First you hear the bad news on your television or radio like here on New York 1, although this is the first time we got a world-class apology. Here's President Obama on David Letterman last night.

President BARACK OBAMA: I know traffic is bad for New Yorkers, so I apologize in advance for that.

ADLER: But some New Yorkers are stubborn, some are stupid, some have no other choice. They still drive cars or take cabs or buses to get around town. So to embrace that reality, I got into a cab with a very nice driver from Ghana, Kwame Jose Korsi(ph).

Have you experienced any of the traffic this morning yet?

Mr. KWAME JOSE KORSI (Cab Driver): Absolutely, Park Avenue southbound is a nightmare. You can't really go anywhere. The passengers get very irritated and they get out. Most of the dignitaries are staying on Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue.

ADLER: And we are just approaching Park Avenue and there are barricades everywhere. There are police cars right in the middle of the street. That street is closed off. We're being directed. This cop is just saying go forward, go straight, go straight.

Mr. KORSI: Between 42nd Street…

(Soundbite of police siren)

Mr. KORSI: …and over to like 49th Street, it's totally shut off. It's closed.

ADLER: Now, I'm going to do the smart thing…

(Soundbite of police siren)

ADLER: …and get out of your cab and walk.

(Soundbite of police siren)

ADLER: There's also additional security today at subway stations and around Grand Central Terminal because of recent terrorism investigations and alerts. Out on 42nd Street, walkers are happy, but most people in cars are fuming.

Unidentified Man #1: Very bad, very bad.

Unidentified Man #2: Nightmare.

Unidentified Woman #1: Awful.

Unidentified Woman #2: Very crazy, awful.

Unidentified Man #3: Wonderful. I love wasting gas, stopping and going.

(Soundbite of honking)

Unidentified Woman #3: Stuck.

Unidentified Man #4: Terribly annoying. Gridlock all the way down 42nd Street and like an idiot, I took this road.

ADLER: So now I'm doing what most sensible New Yorkers would do at this point, I am walking. It cost $12 for that cab ride which went only from 50th Street and 6th Avenue to 42nd and Lexington, a mere 11 or 12 blocks. It may be the reason why the average Manhattanite is thinner than everybody else.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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