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Subway Dysfunction & Unplanned Bridge Closures Spark Chaos For July 4th Revelers

Heavy crowds at East Broadway
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Heavy crowds at East Broadway Courtesy of Angela Stach

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers packed into waterfront locations in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn last night for the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show—the country's largest, and proof that staying in town during the holiday is great. But after 70,000 aerial shells were set off majestically into the night, a whole lot of people had to get home. This proved less great.

After a couple of summers in Midtown, Thursday night's show was the first since 2014 to launch fireworks off the Brooklyn Bridge. As was the case that year, the relatively low-capacity stations at York, High and Clark Street were no match for the post-fireworks crowds. But at least you could catch some of the show from the line?

Of course, a certain level of July 4th logjamming is to be expected. But a cocktail of unplanned subway dysfunction and unannounced bridge closures brought heightened chaos to much of the city.

Thanks to some ill-timed signal problems on the A train, riders were left stranded downtown on packed, hot platforms (MTA guidance: "For uptown service, take a downtown A train"). And as levels of overcrowding reached "critical" levels at Fulton Street, an unauthorized person on the tracks gave the MTA no choice but to cut or severely slow service on the F, M, N and 7 lines.

"Everybody please stay right here, we have a crowd condition," one conductor at the East Broadway F station offered apologetically.

Angela Stach, a 52-year-old resident of Jackson Heights, told Gothamist that the situation was made far more frustrating by the inexplicable decision to bar cyclists and pedestrians from using the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges beginning at 2 p.m.—five hours earlier than the Department of Transportation had promised.

"If I had been able to bike, I would not have added to the millions of people trying to board the train," she said. "I want to know from the mayor and the NYPD commissioner what the security or logistical rationale is for allowing cars on the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges all night, on the latter of which car traffic came to a complete stop, while barring bike traffic, thereby contributing the dangerous overcrowding on the subway."

It's unclear why the police barred non-motorists from the bridges, and inquiries to the NYPD and the DOT were not returned. The MTA also did not respond to Gothamist's request for comment.

Lesson learned: beat the crowds by hopping on the train before the festivities even begin.

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