Road-Tested Routes

Illustration by L-Dopa

When driving or cabbing it to the airport, you need to master two things: the fastest route, and how to beat it when it’s jammed. Kevin Sullivan, a chauffeur at WeDriveU, gives his classic option for when the city’s traffic-free, and a sheaf of contingency plans for all the times it’s not.

Classic Route: Enter the FDR at 96th St., drive north 1.3 miles to the Triborough Bridge; merge onto I-278 W, toward Queens, which after 2.9 miles becomes the Grand Central Pkwy.—delivering you to the airport at exits 5, 6, and 7.
Alternatives: If the northbound FDR is bad (or if you hear the Triborough is snarled), turn around and head south to the 59th St. Bridge. Take the Northern Blvd. exit northeast to I-278, which leads to the Grand Central Pkwy.

Classic Route: Take 14th St. across town, Third Ave. up to 36th St., and the Midtown Tunnel to the L.I.E. Shoot east to exit 22 to the Grand Central Pkwy. westbound, then you’re at LGA in 4 exits.
Alternatives: If the L.I.E. is backed up, jump on the BQE just out of the tunnel; the BQE reaches its northern terminus at Grand Central Pkwy. If you hear that Grand Central is crowded, don’t get on the BQE. Instead, take Jackson Ave. northeast from the tunnel to Northern Blvd. and head east to 94th St.—ridden with traffic lights, but a straight shot to LGA. If midtown is jammed, forget the tunnel. Instead, take the FDR south and hop on the Williamsburg Bridge to the BQE. Warning: For the 2 exits until you meet up with the L.I.E., there are no good backup options.

Classic Route: Take Flatbush Ave. west to the BQE eastbound. Drive 4.2 miles to exit 35, and get on the L.I.E. eastbound for another 4 miles until it crosses Grand Central Pkwy. (exit 22A–E), which takes you northwest to LGA.
Alternatives: If Flatbush is bad, take Carlton 6 blocks north to Atlantic Ave., which brings you west until it dead-ends at the BQE. If you hear the BQE is horrendous, take Atlantic east to Jackie Robinson Pkwy., which carries you northeast from Brooklyn into Queens and eventually meets Grand Central Pkwy.—out of your way, but maybe your only hope.

Classic Route: Take the FDR north from 96th to the Triborough; stay on I-278/Grand Central Pkwy. for 6.3 miles to the Van Wyck Expwy. south (exit 13), a direct, 6-mile shot to JFK.
Alternatives: If you’re on I-278 en route to the Grand Central and things are bad, you have two options: 1. Get off at exit 45 to Steinway St. and take it south, bearing slightly left on 39th St. and following that to Queens Blvd., which you can take east all the way to the Van Wyck. 2. If you’ve passed Steinway, get off at 94th St. (exit 6) and take that south 4 blocks to Astoria Blvd. Take Astoria east to the Grand Central. Or, to bypass Grand Central, take 94th St. south until it turns into Junction Blvd., which hooks up with the L.I.E. at exit 19. Follow the L.I.E. east 2 exits to the Van Wyck (exit 22A), and you’re golden. If you’re already sitting in a Van Wyck parking lot, you can try your luck at Lefferts Blvd. To get there, get off at Atlantic Ave. (exit 5), and take that west 14 blocks to Lefferts, then take that southeast to the Belt Pkwy., which skirts JFK’s northern boundary.

Classic Route: Cut across and uptown (14th St. to Third Ave. to 36th) to the Midtown Tunnel, which feeds you right onto the L.I.E. Head east for just under 8 miles to the Van Wyck Expwy. (exit 12), leading you 6 miles south to JFK.
Alternatives: If midtown streets are jammed, take Third Ave. south to the Williamsburg Bridge, which spits you out onto the BQE. Go north 2.5 miles to the L.I.E. (exit 35), and take that directly to the Van Wyck. If you hear the L.I.E. is bad, get off the BQE at McGuinness Blvd./Humboldt St. (exit 33), and take Humboldt 8 blocks south to Metropolitan Ave., which can carry you 6 miles east to the Van Wyck; if Van Wyck looks slow, exit Metropolitan after 3.2 miles on Woodhaven Blvd., and take Woodhaven south to the Belt Pkwy., which drops you at JFK.

Classic Route: Jump on Atlantic Ave. east for 5.1 miles until it crosses South Conduit Ave. Turn right, and follow Conduit southeast until it merges with the Belt Pkwy., just east of the Aqueduct Race Track.
Alternatives: If Atlantic is bad, take Flatbush Ave. south directly to the Belt Pkwy. (18 miles). If Flatbush is slow, get off at Linden Blvd., head east for 5 miles until it merges with South Conduit, which in turn will merge with the Belt Pkwy.

Classic Route: Barring catastrophic congestion, there’s no avoiding the Holland Tunnel—take the left exit out of the tunnel to U.S. 1-9, which zips 7.4 miles to the airport.
Alternatives: If you come out of the Holland Tunnel and the 1-9 looks bad, opt for I-78 W for about 8 miles, until you merge on 1-9 for the final mile. If there is indeed catastrophe at the Holland, head 2 miles up the West Side Hwy. to the Lincoln Tunnel. Take it to the Jersey Tpk. and head south 15 miles to the airport. If the pike looks unbearable, exit the Lincoln onto the slower 1-9, which deposits you at the airport after 10 miles. Note: It can be tempting to bail from the major roads once the airport is in sight, but don’t. Newark is ringed by an industrial area clotted with dead ends and factory roads.

Classic Route: On Sunday mornings, you just might be able to zoom south on the FDR to Canal St., and cut west to the Holland Tunnel.
Alternatives: If transversing Manhattan is suicidal, trek north up the FDR to the George Washington Bridge, and take the Jersey Tpk. 21 miles south to the airport. Once you’re over the bridge, you can hook up with the 1-9 (via Rt. 46) if the turnpike looks bad.

Classic Route: Take Atlantic Ave. west to the BQE, which you should take west to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Continue on what’s now Rt. 278 across Staten Island to the Goethals Bridge, then take the pike one exit north to 13A.
Alternatives: If the turnpike is bad, stay on 278 after the Goethals; it will take you to the 1-9, straight to EWR. If you’re still in Staten Island and the Goethals looks packed, get off 278 at the Bayonne Bridge. That will take you to the airport via 78. Or if you must skip Staten Island, cut through Manhattan via the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, West Side Hwy., and Holland Tunnel.

Road-Tested Routes