‘We’re just not gonna let you in’: Normal, for now, means fewer cars in the city

Bloomberg in City Hall on Wednesday. (Kristen Artz via Flickr)
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"We are on our way back to normal," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg mayor Wednesday afternoon.

When a reporter asked him if he thought the city would achieve normalcy by Monday, he responded, "Do you believe in crossing your fingers? I hope so."

There were certainly signs of forward movement yesterday afternoon, even if some were only symbolic.

For the first time since the storm hit, Bloomberg spoke to reporters from City Hall, not Office of Emergency Management headquarters in Brooklyn.

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Limited subway service had just begun, all the East River bridges and the Lincoln Tunnel were open, and nearly half the city's senior centers are scheduled to open today.

But in most other ways, normalcy is scarce and the road back to it will be a long one.

Yesterday, in an effort to alleviate the crushing gridlock on streets in post-Sandy Manhattan, Bloomberg instituted new driving restrictions.

Through Friday, from 6 a.m. to midnight, only cars carrying three or more people will be allowed to cross the four East River bridges into Manhattan.

The governor instituted the same restrictions on the Triborough and Henry Hudson bridges and in Lincoln Tunnel.

"The streets just cannot handle the number of cars that have tried to come in," said the mayor.

The penalty for disobeying the order is public humiliation.

"We're just not gonna let you in … that's even worse than a penalty," said Bloomberg, adding, "Everybody's gonna be driving by and honking at you, I assume."

The city is also establishing bus lanes on key corridors.

Subway service beneath the East River could maybe resume this weekend, at the earliest.

"If they could do that, I think that would be amazing," said the mayor. "It may stretch a little longer."

The Queens Midtown, Battery and Holland tunnels are still closed.

About 640,000 households have no electricity, and Bloomberg said power restoration will "take days."

A good number of those households are in lower Manhattan, and to make the darkened streets seem a bit less dangerous, the mayor said the NYPD would have about 180 light towers south of 34th Street, river to river, up and running by yesterday evening.

Most residents in low-lying Zone A remain under mandatory evacuation orders until the city's buildings department can ensure that their residences are safe.

Bellevue Hospital is being evacuated, thanks to 17 million gallons of water in its basement.

The crane boom on West 57th Street continues to dangle, schools are closed through the end of the week, parks are closed, beaches are closed, the mayor sternly warned New Yorkers to dispose of any food that came into contact with flood water, including packaged food, and to refrain from using generators or grills inside their homes, for fear of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also, that Knicks-Nets game scheduled for tonight, the one the mayor had apparently really been looking forward to? Canceled. 

"I was personally going to take my daughters and Diana," he said, referring to his girlfriend.

The mayor announced a package of emergency loans and temporary office space for businesses.

Asked again about man-made climate change and its role in causing this storm and Hurricane Irene, the mayor said it was unclear what precisely is causing all these erratic weather patterns.

But, he also said that, like Pascal's Wager, it's better to believe in it than not.

"The argument that we're damaging our planet is simply, let's assume that we decide that we're not damaging our planet and later on find out that we were. It literally could be too late.

"The consequences of making a mistake in one direction are pretty severe," he said.