New York: A “Drivers’ Paradise”

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Move over, biker babes. A presumably tongue-in-cheek article in the Observer heralds the "Californication of New York," thanks to the proliferation of automobiles in "young, lifestyle neighborhoods" like Williamsburg, Astoria and Inwood.

According to the piece, a growing number of suburban transplants see auto reliance as a comforting reminder of home.

"I didn’t realize how much I missed the car until I had it here," said Lauren Robinson, a 25-year-old dietician with pixie-cut brown hair, a fetching dimple, and a bearded beau who was dutifully loading groceries into her Honda CR-V. The Honda was a relic of her youth in upstate New York, but she had recently brought it to the city after moving from car-hostile Manhattan to auto-friendly Brooklyn. She didn’t really need the vehicle, and, theoretically, she could have grabbed a bus to Fairway. But, as she explained, "It’s just so easy to jump in and drive somewhere."

"I don’t think you need a car," she said, "but I think it’s definitely a plus. And it definitely makes me feel more" — she paused to search for the word — "well, not like such a city person."

The article says the relative ease of keeping a car almost anywhere outside Lower Manhattan, due in part to auto-centric development and plentiful parking, makes the city a "drivers’ paradise." It even gives a wink to that most heartwarming ritual of suburban youth: drunk driving.

Perhaps the real sign of the car culture apocalypse — the hint that, when it comes to wheels at least, Williamsburg and Winnetka might not be so different after all — is the sobriety check that cops have set up on Meeker Avenue, near one of the on-ramps to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway … A floating barricade of police, batons and breath-a-lizers, just like back home!

And what of the costs, environmental or otherwise, of bringing a "four-wheeled friend" to the city?

"It just seems to me, if I stop driving my car, I don’t think that’s doing anything about the real issue," said Hans, a 31-year-old Williamsburg media guy (and musician, of course) with a receding, Jack Nicholson hairline and Chattanooga drawl, as he eyed his silver Elantra. "I know I’m contributing to it, but the end of the day, I obviously don’t feel bad enough about it to not drive my car."

Photo: Love_is/Flickr

  • Gizler

    The article is correct in that there has always been more of a car culture in NYC than we would care to acknowledge, especially in the outer boroughs. What is most galling to me dimension of suburban transplants trying to replicate their lifestyles here. You mean the WHOLE REST OF THE COUNTRY is not enough?

    Also, there is no excuse for driving drunk in NYC. Anyone who does is a cretin.

  • Larry Littlefield

    These folks must live in some other Brooklyn.

    We’ve had a car since we’ve had kids, and while it’s great for camping and visiting relatives out of the city, the cost is higher than expected ($450 per month plus in today’s dollars for an inexpensive Saturn bought new and kept thus far for 10.5 years) and so is the inconvenience.

    Parking is getting tighter and tighter, as non-driving seniors are replaced by folks like those in the article. It’s a killer on Sunday night, when the car has be located on the correct side for alternate side.

    Parking is also difficult at many Brooklyn destinations, particularly in areas built before (say) 1920 like Brownstone Brooklyn. I almost never do it, but driving in Brooklyn during a weekday is hell, particularly in those pre-1920 areas, where even four-lane streets can be blocked by a combination of a double-parker and a left-turner.

    Depending on the cost and availability of rental cars at the time, the buy vs. rent as required(plus car service and additional transit) calculation may come out a little differently once the Saturn wears out.

    The only reason to keep a car I can see is to have a vehicle that my children can use to learn to drive, given that they are Americans. Is that necessary? Perhaps that should be a discussion here.

  • adam

    “Oh, I hope New York’s not becoming L.A.-ified, because I moved to New York to get away from L.A.,” gasped Laura Allen, 24, a giggly SoCal native, right before she hopped into her boyfriend’s white Jeep Cherokee and turned its muscular tires onto the smoothness of Williamsburg’s North First Street.

    I threw up in my mouth a little bit when I read this.

  • MrManhattan

    I remember back in the early 80’s we came to New York to escape the suburbs!

    These kids today…..

  • Brooklyn

    Getting around NYC — when systems like the subways and the highways work as they should –can be breathtaking. The expense is onerous but that’s part of the choice. Going home on a late night in 20 minutes instead of an hour will tempt you never to be carless in this city again.

    The city shrinks, and vast swaths become suddenly accessible.

  • steve

    Let the suburbanites come. The city has always been large enough to accomodate a broad range of views and lifestyles, and vibrant enough to transform the bulk of the transplants into “real” New Yorkers. Folks who attempt to replicate a suburban lifestyle in New York will find themselves paying a lot of money to do so (including sales and income taxes and, hopefully, congestion fees), and those with urban savvy and insight/foresight will continue to make sure that money is spent to keep the city as it should be.

  • Gizler

    They seem to have no inkling that by bringing the suburbs with them they degrade the qualities that drew them here. Or else are narcissistic enough not to care.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Please, “Brooklyn,” I’d rather spend an extra forty minutes waiting for a subway (as I did last night) than deal with the hassle of driving a car around NYC streets. Not tempted. Sorry.

  • Spud Spudly

    I can’t stand any news story about young out-of-towners finding their way in the big bad city.
    Parallel parking is a dread experience??? Puh-leeeeze! Anyone from a place where you don’t have to parallel park during your road test to get a drivers license should be banned from driving in NYC altogether.

  • Felix

    There’s also the occasional (or frequent) car service. A lot cheaper and more convenient than owning one.

  • Mark Fleischmann

    In the West 90s of Manhattan, where I live, the amount of non-rush-hour daytime traffic has tripled over the past three decades as the neighborhood has become more affluent. What bothers me most — even more than the added congestion and air pollution, which are bad enough — is the constant honking. As hard as this may be to believe, very few people honked in this neighborhood when I moved here many years ago. Now I hear it all the time. I can’t go four blocks to the supermarket without hearing a dozen honks. And it doesn’t happen just at busy intersections. It happens everywhere. They come here, they bring their cars, and then they get mad because the city isn’t designed for their cars. Someone above said “let the suburbanites come.” I say let them stay home. If they must here, then they must be given some strong disincentives to car ownership. Congestion pricing and tolling are not enough. Let’s charge them a $1000 tax per vehicle per year, radically reduce the amount of on-street parking, and close 50 percent of the parking garages. And let’s give our car-driving neighbors a hefty dose of the open mockery they so richly deserve.

  • Dave H.

    Brooklyn and Angus – or you could occasionally take a cab – I understand not liking to wait around in some dingy subway station (especially since one never knows how one has to wait) and it’s likely much cheaper than having your own car.

    Or ride a bike.

  • lee

    heh, i remember when i couldnt parallel park.

    there are too many goddamned cars in this city.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    You’re absolutely right, Dave. Last night I happened to have temporary health conditions that made me decide against riding my bike, but there were several empty cabs that went past as I was walking to the train.

    This is just a personal thing with me: I feel very uncomfortable in cabs and car services. I can’t really explain it. I use them when I have to, and I support other people using them, but unless I’m really pressed for time I’d rather take a subway or bus, or walk or bike.

  • KoKoschKa

    I moved from FL 2 years ago to escape from suburban lifestyle. I brought my automobile with me and rented a parking space on my building. I resisted to used it even during the weekends but in the past few months I decide to start driving again because the service of the subways from friday night to monday early morning is a complete disaster. I still use the subway or walk for all my activities during weekdays.

  • lee

    mark, i agree with you. i spent 30 mins looking for a parking space in park slope today (with a borrowed car) I’ve read about it on streetsblog many times but ive never actually experienced it. Everyone uses the street to store their cars. It should either be more expensive (tax or fee) exclusive (resident permits) or there should be less curb space for all these people to put their cars for a rainy day.

    The only reason I had a car was because it was given to me for free five years ago. now that its dead i see no reason to buy a new one.

  • steve

    Mark, I grew up on W.93rd in the ’70s and I agree with you on the honking. Back then, though, I was much more concerned about getting mugged if I walked east than with excess noise.

    The new affluence of the UWS and other neighborhoods brings both bad and good. Part of what makes New York City such a draw is the sense of limitless possbility. Of course that is an illusion; we face limits everywhere, on space, public services, other resources. If people want to come to the city with their cars and attempt to articulate a suburban lifestyle, I say, let them come, and let them pay (and a bit of mockery couldn’t hurt too much, either).

    And Brooklyn and KoKoschka are of course right that having a car in the city at night can be great fun. It’s the other 16 hours a day that stink.

  • “This is just a personal thing with me: I feel very uncomfortable in cabs and car services. I can’t really explain it.”

    We should start a support group. I don’t take cabs much because more often than not I regret the trips I do take in them. There’s nothing luxurious about the slamming starts and stops, drivers talking on the phone, horn honking, and worst of all their menacing of pedestrians. Of course you’re supposed to be able to rein them in on all that, but personally I don’t want to be a barking taxi cab manager for ten minutes, and pay for it, and decide the employee’s under-the-table “bonus.” Public transportation, please!

  • Not a Car Fan

    So long as they pay for the privilege, I’m OK with it.

    And if I need to hail a cab or hire a man with a van to lug the occasional heavy objects (such as items bought on craigslist) every once in a while, so be it.

  • Dave H.

    “So long as they pay for the privilege, I’m OK with it.”

    That’s precisely the problem – they don’t. A substantial number of negative externalities are not captured by the price paid by drivers. The market price of driving does not reflect its true social cost.

  • As a NY native, it annoys me that people come to the city for the “experience” and yet they want to drive, they want their Applebee’s and Pizzeria UNO’s etc, and make fun of people with “Noo Yawk” accents.

    You know what you have when you have to drive to go to the grocery store, can only go to chain restaraunts with fake-chipper wait staff, and have those neutral SLC accents, in NYC?

    A crowded suburb.

    Is that really why people came here?

    I really look forward to the city gov’t getting rid of allot of the free parking on the avenues, which supposedly is part of Jan Gehl’s “formula”.

    If you want to /”have to” drive, fine. Just don’t expect a space to be easy to come by or cheap.

    -j

  • KoKoschKa

    I totally agree with most of the participants. I’m not a car fan and that’s the reason why I moved to NYC to be car free and use mass transit. I don’t understand why there are a lot of people that move here but refuse to abandon their previous suburban life, but what I think it is the worst situation if the amazing amount of people that never change their license plates and insurance but abuse of the NYC road system and on-street parking privileges. Please, kept your SUV’s out of the streets and specially out of the 3 Ton Max. weight regulated Brooklyn Bridge but if you don’t at least pay for it!

  • lee

    ugh speaking of not having a car, anyone have a brilliant idea on how i can commute from bartel pritchard square to flatbush and Ave U?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Just remember this rule.

    My car increases my quality of life and reduces everyone else’s quality of life.

    Everyone else’s car increases their quality of life and reduces my quality of life.

    Everyone is in favor of restricting someone else’s car.

  • Ace

    There is no reason for anyone to drive a car in NYC.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Not everyone, Larry. My car decreased my quality of life, so I gave it away. I’m not asking anyone to do anything I haven’t done.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Not everyone, Larry. My car decreased my quality of life)

    Are you sure? My guess it was other people’s cars — and the resulting parking difficulties and traffic — that decreased your quality of life. And your getting rid of your own car benefitted them.

    Hence the argument for congestion pricing/permit parking. Those who diminish other people’s quality of life should pay, those who increase other people’s quality of life should benefit.

  • Spud Spudly

    Lee, call the MTA’s helpline at 718-330-1234 and they’ll tell you how to get there on public transit.

  • psycholist

    I don’t know about the diminishing quality of life argument with regards to congestion pricing. I think a better argument is toward rationing a limited resource. Public transit makes better use of the infrastructure (greater efficiency) so the cost is less, personal transit is more taxing on resources and so costs rise.

  • I’m not sure if we should rush to exclude altruism–maybe some people are not solely concerned with their family’s quality of life? Either way, the future of any growing city is that an increasingly smaller portion of residents will be able to increase their quality of life (or think they are) by driving. It is in the interest of the excluded majority to change the equation such that car ownership is a q.o.l. increase for fewer people, and even better so that the majority is compensated for it. I don’t think you disagree, L.L., but I do object to the idea that we’re all just naturally selfish, so whatever. Some forms of selfishness are grossly more destructive than others, daily car commuting particularly, such that it goes beyond a quality of life issue. It’s an ending of life issue, as some left-turning cadillac driver reminded me last night when she floored it to cut through me and others crossing broadway with a walk signal. It’s sickening.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Are you sure? My guess it was other people’s cars — and the resulting parking difficulties and traffic — that decreased your quality of life.

    Your guess is wrong (mostly). I’ve seen a cyclist (a husband and father) thrown across three lanes of traffic by an impatient, distracted motorist, to land on his head and die before my eyes. I’m honest enough to admit that I can get impatient and distracted at times, and every time I got behind the wheel I was aware that I could be responsible for a horror like that. I guess you could call that breathtaking.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Every time I got behind the wheel I was aware that I could be responsible for a horror like that.)

    I’ve had similar thoughts. I imagine a child running out between parked cars an my hitting them.

    I suggested at one point having a chip installed in every car radio to turn the radio on and play one of a series of public service announcements remind drivers of what might happen. Such reminders would probably reduce the number of accidents but, as you point out, it might also reduce the number of drivers.

  • s

    no one needs to drive around williamsburg. it’s pretty flat, so it’s totally bikeable. well, unless you have a disability. also, no one has to shop at fairway. i don’t understand driving to get groceries. there are many grocery stores within walking distance of my house. and parking is such hell, always. i don’t get it.

    however, to be fair, it’s not like there haven’t been sobriety checkpoints before. you couldn’t drive down frannie lou in queens in the 90’s without being stopped by cops. and i guess they were trying to stop drag racing, but still. that wasn’t suburban transplants.

  • Ray Embry

    Why oh why. I have spent my whole life growing up in the suburban sprwal that is Arizona. I cant wait to move to NYC to get away from cars. I love NYC. This article just disgusts me whenever people think of a place to live car free its NYC. Why do these people have to ruin that. My God go live in Detroit they love the car. Thats what NYC would be without its subways.

  • Ryan

    I moved to Queens from Florida about 2 years ago. Left my beloved car behind and I don’t regret it a bit. I rent a car occasionally to get that “gotta drive gotta drive” urge I get. In fact I was lent a car for a month. Got 2 tickets for alternate side– forget cars. I feel better dodging them than driving them in this city. Tax the non-commercial drivers out of the city. Let ’em go back to the suburbs.

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