Eyes on Canal Street

- August 29, 2019

Canal street is an interesting place to say the least. At over 100 feet wide in some sections, it’s one of the largest roads in Manhattan. Flanked by the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, it’s a major arterial road used by commuters and commercial vehicles traveling to and from New Jersey. Approaching the Holland Tunnel, some lanes are wide enough to fit two passenger SUVs side-by-side with room to spare.

Every year, just over 15 million cars and trucks travel Eastbound through the Holland tunnel to NYC(1). Given that the New Jersey bound journeys are not tolled, and seemingly stuck in perpetrual gridlock, an assumption can be made that traffic traveling to New Jersey is far higher than the NYC-bound counts. This traffic is dangerous and unsustainable.

Vehicles blocking the crosswalk during the rushhour crawl. Photo by Joe Rodriguez
Vehicles blocking the crosswalk during the rushhour crawl. Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Many large commercial vehicles traveling this route idle in stop-and-go traffic, sometimes for over an hour, just to travel a mere half-mile to the Holland Tunnel. This is not only terrible for the air-quality of people living and working in the area, but is also dangerous. Many of these vehicles have massive blind spots and are not built to safely traverse a dense urban environment. Passenger vehicles are just as much at fault for the danger though. It is not uncommon to see many drivers playing games or watching videos on their phones even as they creep into crosswalks against the light and force pedestrians to maneuver twentry feet out of the crosswalk just to cross.

Pedestrians are forced out of the crosswalk to cross the street. Photo by Joe Rodriguez
Pedestrians are forced out of the crosswalk to cross the street. Photo by Joe Rodriguez

Since 2011, there have been over 4,750 crashes just on the 3/4 mile stretch of Canal street between the Manhattan bridge and the Holland Tunnel entrance on Hudson street(2). That averages out to nearly 2 crashes per day, on a stretch of road that is less than one mile in length. Nearly half of these crashes have resulted in injuries or deaths of pedestrians and cyclists.

Crashes on Canal street. Source: crashmapper.org
Crashes on Canal street. Source: crashmapper.org

The contributing factors stated for many of the crashes are sobering. Driver inattention, Driver inexperience, Failure to yield, and Traffic control disregard are just a few of the top causes of crashes given that resulted in pedestrian or cyclist injuries and death. It’s clear that this street is inhospitable to anyone not surrounded by several tons of metal and a dozen air bags.

This situation is entirely unfair to anyone who has to experience it. Pedestrians and cyclists are pushed to the margins and remain in perpetual danger of being hurt or killed by inattentive or hostile drivers. Residents are forced to endure incessant honking and pollution from thousands of idling trucks and cars. Workers in the area are stuck waiting hours for delayed deliveries. I can list a thousand reasons why things are not working on Canal street, but all it takes is one visit to see that the status quo on Canal street is not working.

Transportation Alternatives has been working to raise awareness of the issues plaguing Canal street through petitioning and advocating for change, which you can follow through the #FixCanal hashtag on Twitter.

Canal street has been a dangerous traffic sewer for far too long. The time to fix it is now. Please sign the petition.


(1) 2018 PA of NY & NJ Bridge/Tunnel Stats

(2) Crashmapper