Why no one should ever replicate Afroduck's drive around Manhattan, and what the City of New York can do about it

Friends, Jalops, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Afroduck, not to praise him. And I come to bury the City of New York, too.

Last Wednesday night / Thursday morning I replicated (with one modification) Adam Tang's circuit of New York four times in an attempt to understand what he did, how he did it, and how dangerous it might really have been. The one modification? I ran the circuit legally, attempting to follow every federal, state and local motor vehicle law. You can watch the videos here, here, here and here.

Let me state the obvious โ€“ I STRONGLY do not advise doing what Tang, a.k.a. 'Afroduck', did. Very bad things can happen to you, and more importantly very bad things could inadvertently happen to innocent people because of your actions.

Anyway, it turns out that obeying motor vehicle laws while driving the 'Circuit de New York' is a very eye opening experience.

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I drove the exact route Afroduck took, at a similar time of day (I could not find the exact time; most reports said it was at '4am' but none were specific). I did four runs (links here, here, here & here), the first beginning at 12:30. My clock indicates 1:30 because I had not adjusted it for daylights savings. The car used was a 2004 Subaru STi with over 110k miles with the wing removed - I did not want to attract attention, and a beater vehicle would be less likely to raise the ire of my fellow road-users. I sent out three emails outlining my plans โ€“ to the NYPD, NYDOT, and Sammy Hagar. I did not hear back from any of them. Here are the stats:

Course โ€“ 26.5 miles around the island of Manhattan. Consisting of five major sections:

NOTE: My stats are cumulative over four separate circumnavigations. The Afroduck stats come from his posted video

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Me / AfroDuck

Average lap time: 45.32 / 24:07

Best lap time: 44.54 / 24:07

Number of vehicles passed: 1 / 142

Number of vehicles passing: 226 / 0

Number of pedestrians spotted: 6 / 4

Number of red stoplights (avg): 7.3 / 6

Number of hookers spotted: 0 / 0

The route consists of five sections, all of which are very different from one another:

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  • 1. FDR Drive South. A limited access road with a 40 MPH speed limit for its entirety. Roughly 9.5 miles in length from 125th Street to the end of Battery Park underpass at the southern tip of Manhattan (this is the brightly lit tunnel at the 6:50 mark on the Afroduck video). Afroduck's start line was at the 116th Street entrance. This section was the most heavily travelled, and it also saw the most blatant disregard to the posted limit. This section also had the worst roads, with some stretches being almost undriveable in the far right lane. There was not a lot of construction on this section, but there should be. There are also some important and confusing traffic patterns, especially around the Brooklyn Bridge, and quite a bit of exiting/entering traffic. Regardless, 40 MPH does not make a lot of sense on a limited access highway.
  • 2. Route 9A / West Street. For all intents and purposes this section consists entirely of city streets, though officially it is a state road. It has stoplights and pedestrian crosswalks. 25 MPH in sections, 35 MPH in others. Roughly 5.3 miles in length. This is the section with all the stoplights you see in the videos. The beginning of Route 9 (West Street) was where most of the drivers obeyed the speed limits - of course this being the only section with numerous stoplights this was to be expected. This is also the only section where one could reasonably expect to see pedestrians, and I did see six pedestrians along here over the course of four hours. Two other notable features of this section were the police presence (the World Trade Center is along this route) and the amount of construction, including one particularly tricky chicane briefly created by two different construction crews working on the same intersection.
  • 3. Henry Hudson Parkway. A limited access road with a 50 MPH speed limit for its entirety. Officially begins at 79th Street, but the limited access (and 50 MPH limit) begins at 59th Street. Roughly 4.9 miles in length. This was the most pleasant and deserted (at this time of morning, anyway) section. The speed limit of 50 MPH was not unreasonable, even in the wee hours, and much of the roadway had recently been resurfaced.
  • 4. I-95 (including on and off streets). Federal highway with a 50 MPH limit for the stretch through NYC, though there is a section of 30 MPH for the on-ramp and 25 MPH for the off. Roughly 1 mile in length (including the on and off roads). There are many merging interchanges on this section. This is an incredibly awkward section of the route, with multiple and confusing lane change requirements to merge onto the correct roads. The danger here is not only that the driver must have excellent situational awareness, but also that one is likely to encounter other very confused motorists. Multiple speed limit changes on the entrance/exit ramps makes this a very complex section.
  • 5. Harlem River Drive. Limited access road with a 50 MPH speed limit for its length. Roughly 5.6 miles in length. The twistiest part of the course. A few interesting interchanges that require knowledge of the route in order to be in the correct lane to stay on course. Along with the Henry Hudson, this was the quietest section with not a lot of traffic. That being said, this section becomes complex and dangerous where it transitions to the FDR.

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It is important to point out that the speed limits as set by the City and State of New York along this route are really, really stupid. I did not encounter a single car driving at or under the limit. Not one. I found this curious, so after completing my four strict adherence runs I might have performed one more at slightly more than the limit (Perhaps. I can't say with certainty. And I am admitting nothing. Nor was it recorded on video.) But I can say that I did not EVER see a single vehicle at or under the speed limit.

In fact one of the factors making this drive so dangerous is this lack of reasonable speed limits. I am quite sure there are people who believe that, as they are breaking the law anyway, they might as well do so at whatever speed they like. 80 to 90 MPH at this hour is not uncommon. If you drive at this time of night I guarantee you will be sharing the road with complete maniacs with very questionable driving skills.

Another consideration is the amount of construction and the impossibility of knowing exactly when and where it would take place. As you can see, over the course of my runs I came across multiple road works. The greatest risk of harming a pedestrian on this circuit does not come from wandering children and old ladies (there are none), but rather to civil servants โ€“ the construction workers and police: the very people who are enabling you to drive on these roads in the first place.

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So obviously these are not roads to "set records" on.

So what should be done to prevent morons from trying to 'beat' Afroduck's record? I have two suggestions: First is to arrange for an official 'Circuit de New York' time trial, and open it up to select group of rally teams. It would only last two hours, be held once every other year, and would set a time no street driver would even think of attempting. Sell the TV rights and make money off it.

Second, address and publicize a revision of the speed limits on the roads in question, especially the FDR drive. Perhaps have adjustable speed limits in consideration of traffic flow as they do in Germany. An elevated nighttime limit alone may be useful. Make those limits in accordance with standard practices for setting them, using the 85th percentile rule. Then enforce those limits.

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Unfortunately, neither of those suggestions are likely to be undertaken by the current administration of the city (which is making political hay out of motor vehicle accidents). Mayor DeBlahhhhsio (SP?) has a instituted a policy called 'Vison Zero' with the goal of having NO traffic fatalities in the city. While perhaps a noble (and wildly unrealistic) goal, the results are lower speed limits and much more enforcement. So when driving in, and especially 'around', NYC, be aware you are, for the time being, in a hostile environment.

Of course the best thing to do would be to allow for racing on the ring roads of Manhattan and establish 'Death Race 2000' traffic laws. But astoundingly this proposal may turn out to be even less popular that the options above. I'll have to see if I can get Stallone to give this a celebrity endorsement.


Notes:

[1] I only include vehicles passed / passing during the runs on the limited access sections. I do not count the vehicles passed on Route 9 / West street, although I did verbally count them during the first run.

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[2] I actually passed two - but one was texting on his phone at the time and proceeded to pass me back once he was paying attention to his driving again.

[3] I do not include civil servants (Police, construction, etc.)

[4] Just by my count. Video was unclear.