Throngs of New York commuters rush home as blizzard intensifies

Throngs of New York commuters rush home as blizzard intensifies
Pedestrians walk through heavy snow in the midtown section of New York. (Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

As a powerful blizzard barreled toward the Northeast, commuters were learning the hard way that it was becoming more difficult to get anywhere from here.

For a region that lives on its roads and mass transit, the late afternoon and evening hours of Monday meant an early rush hour in the hope of beating the worst of the storm's impact. It also meant long lines at commuter centers.


Scores of commuters lined up at the Port Authority for buses to New Jersey, some waiting for hours.

Jenna Freed, 28, a senior social media strategist, had planned ahead. Instead of parking and riding the train back to Montclair, she wore heavy boots and bought a bus ticket that took her closer to home to avoid driving. She left work shortly before 3 p.m. but ended up stuck in line for more than an hour.

"I'm trying pretty much any way to get home," she said, noting she had already missed two conference calls while waiting with no cellphone reception in the terminal, which was packed with commuters.

"They're running the regular schedule, but there's three times as many people," she said of the bus company. "They're telling people get out early, but you can't."

When snow began falling Monday, Northeastern states quickly moved to put equipment into place. Snowfall picked up speed as the evening wore on and forecasters predicted anywhere from 1.5 to 3 feet of snow. Winds of 60 to 70 mph threatened to turn the accumulation into sizable drifts.

As states of emergency were declared from New Jersey to Connecticut, from New York City up to Boston, officials all offered similar advice: Leave work early, get home and stay home in safety and warmth.

"Use today to prepare," Rhode Island Gov. Governor Gina Raimondo offered at a televised news conferences, echoing messages from capitals across the region.

"The snow is coming. The storm is coming. It's going to be the most severe storm that we've seen in years, maybe decades, and I need you to keep yourself safe and keep your loved ones safe," she said. "We have today to prepare, so hunker down."

All states imposed travel bans designed to keep non-emergency vehicles out of the way of plows and salt-spreading equipment. Key arteries, including the Long Island Expressway, Connecticut's roads and elsewhere were to be closed so commuters had to make it home before the night hours or face the possibility of being stranded.

They could also face misdemeanor charges in New York and elsewhere for violating travel bans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of New York City’s subway and bus system as of 11 p.m. Monday because of a snowstorm, the first such closure since Superstorm Sandy hit the region in 2012. The New Jersey bus system into New York was to close at 10 p.m.

Despite the wait, Jena Freed made it onto the bus, which was standing room only, and sped out into the dusk where snow was falling fast and thick.

Her office will be closed tomorrow, with everyone working from home.

"We're very bridge and tunnel, so it would have been a skeleton crew," she said.


The Monday snowfall so far did not worry Freed, who has lived in the area for more than a decade. She remembered a winter storm in 2003, when snow piled up in front of her apartment and she had to dig her way out the front door.

"This is pretty much par for the course," she said. "Tomorrow will be the big thing when tourists wake up and can't get out, if it's the storm they say it will be."

Isidro Sepulveda, 33, was smoking outside Port Authority at 3:30 p.m. as commuters streamed in, watching the snow intensify and preparing to try to catch the subway to Bushwick in Brooklyn before it shut down.

Sepulveda, who is looking for a job in advertising production, grew up in Arizona and moved to the city eight months ago.

"This is my first big storm," he said as cabs streamed by. "I love it!"

He had just come from a job interview, was planning to check job postings online Tuesday but didn't have any more interviews scheduled until Friday.

"I don't think anyone's going to be doing interviews tomorrow," he said, eyeing the slushy street.

Times staff writer Tina Susman contributed from New York. Hennessy-Fiske reported from New York and Muskal from Los Angeles.