Saturday, January 31, 2015

How To Escape From New York

As usual the National Weather Service got it wrong and New York City was not hit with a snowmaggedon, but I've been in New York during 2 of the biggest snowstorms of the last hundred years in 2010 and 1996 and it wasn't pretty. I lived in upper Manhattan from 1993 - 2000 and while I was there I became a little obsessed by the idea of how to escape from the island after an emergency. The first attack on the World Trade Centre and the attack on the Tokyo Subway System convinced me (and eventually my more skeptical girlfriend) that New York was going to be struck again by either a natural or man made disaster and we needed a way off Manhattan if the public transport system went down. Manhattan has a resident population of 1.6 million and with commuters that rises to 3.5 million people on any given day. There is enough food on the island to feed these people for about four days. In a medium or long-term emergency then you better be ready to get off the island if you want to eat. If you've seen Independence Day or Godzilla or Cloverfield or if you've walked around the city during a hurricane or snowstorm you'll know that driving off Manhattan is going to be next to impossible. Traffic is bad at the best of times and in an emergency there is gridlock. Biking however is another story and my plan was to bicycle up to the George Washington Bridge from 122nd Street and escape over the Hudson into New Jersey. I bought a two man tent, a couple of bikes and waited for the disaster that didn't happen. We left New York for good in 2000, but only a year later 9/11 happened and after the initial evacuation they did indeed close the bridges and tunnels to allow emergency vehicles in. During the 2003 blackout gridlock ensured people could not get off Manhattan for a long long time but crucially the George Washington and Brooklyn bridges were open to foot or bicycle traffic so you could walk off if you wanted. 
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The best thing to do if you really want to be sure of getting away from Manhattan is to cross the Harlem River in a kayak. The Harlem River connects to the Bronx which is on the North American mainland and from there you can walk to just about anywhere. This is a better route than the Hudson River which is very wide and tidal and if the tide is going out you'll get exhausted trying to cross. The Harlem River is also a better route than the East River which leads to Brooklyn and Queens which are on Long Island (why escape one island only to be trapped on another?). That's all very well you're thinking but how do I keep a kayak in my tiny apartment and transport it to the water? The answer to that is that you go to the nearest REI (or ebay) and buy yourself an inflatable kayak that fits into a bag. You put it in a rucksack and walk or cycle to the water and inflate it with a footpump or a small mobile compressor (the kind you use for inflating airbeds). A collapsable paddle completes this arrangement. The Harlem River is about 150 - 200 yards wide for most of its length which you should be able to kayak across in about 8 minutes. Once you're in the Bronx you can walk out of the city on any of a dozen roads but if you take Broadway and keep heading north you can walk all the way to Montreal if you want. (Trust me I've researched this.)