Tom Vanderbilt Dissects “The ‘E’ Word”

eword.jpgImage: Reclaim

In the latest issue of TA’s Reclaim, "Traffic" author Tom Vanderbilt revisits the May New York Magazine profile of Janette Sadik-Khan, and its portrayal of projects like car-free Broadway as tributes to the city’s oft-mythologized non-driving "elite."

Vanderbilt’s piece, entitled "The ‘E’ Word," deconstructs what he considers one of the most "abused word[s] in contemporary political discourse."

A few facts — "stubborn things," as Reagan called them — are in order. The most obvious thing to note is that car drivers make up a very
small portion of the commuter population — 16.9 percent of travelers
into the proposed "congestion zone" of Manhattan, and that includes
trucks. And as the New York City Independent Budget Office has found,
those people who do drive into Manhattan have a median annual income
that exceeds other commuters by some 28.6 percent. And yet it’s the
cyclists who are elite.

Council Member Liu complained that Sadik-Khan’s job is not to be a
"visionary." Rather it’s to strike a "balance between all the entities
competing for street space." Well, let’s think about that "balance"
under the status quo so beloved by Liu. In regards to the Times Square
project, the space under consideration currently hosts nearly seven
times as many pedestrians as vehicles. And yet how much space was
devoted to those pedestrians? 11 percent.

Of course, what else but propaganda such as this would we expect from a publication produced by Transportation Alternatives — the group that, according to one anonymous New York Mag source, "is literally writing
transportation policy in the city of New York — unchecked."

Carry on, TA overlords. We look forward to future elitist measures like parking reform, car-free parks and, naturally, the ultimate prize of the ruling class: congestion pricing.

  • I \v/ NY

    gotta love how motorists have thumbed their nose at non-motorists for decades thinking people without a car were all poor and unqualified low lifes. now all of sudden we are supposed to think it was the other way around. please, give me a break.

    and in new york of all places where only the true $2+ million/year income ‘elite’ board members drive around the city, while the regular folks walk, bike and ride transit. unbelievable.

  • “Carry on, TA overlords.” One of the best sentences written on the blog in a long time.

  • PaulCJr

    I never thought of myself as an elite. Hmmmm…. I like the ring of that. 🙂

  • All humans are equal, but some humans are more equal than others.

  • Council Member Liu complained that Sadik-Khan’s job is not to be a “visionary.” Rather it’s to strike a “balance between all the entities competing for street space.”

    But Councilmember Liu — it’s going to take a visionary to create that balance of street use. And, if it can be done in New York, it will be the first time such a balance has been achieved since before the motor age.

  • Fine, maybe we’re elitist. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong. The E-word is the last resort of the populist. When they accuse you of elitism, they’ve run out of arguments and you’ve won.

  • We’ve tried the non-visionary approach for far too long and all that’s happened is the constant nibbling of public space for widening auto-space that Jane Jacobs identified 50 years ago.

    So yes after 50+ years of one failed methodology, it does take a new type of thinking to “balance” the needs of competing users.

    BTW, Liu’s compromise sounds like pushing peds as far to the margins in the most crowded areas where they need public space the most to make room for a few more automobiles from the burbs

  • Lewd

    John Liu has done a great job keeping the pedestrian “elites” from taking over his district. It’s miserable to walk there. The sidewalks on Main Street Flushing are about 1/3rd as wide as they need to be.

  • Unable to afford a car + not owning a car = not elite
    Able to afford a car + not owning a car = elite

    I never understood this mindset, but I’ve observed it all my life–especially as I transitioned from the first circumstance to the second a dozen years or so out of college. I guess the thinking is that only crazy people would choose to live that way, as if they’re giving up indoor plumbing or something.

  • a cyclist

    Elitist? I ride a bike daily thru T Square and I am the last person to have access to the bike lane or shoulder. Pedestrians, street vendors, double parked taxi’s, joggers, people waiting for the light, people on cellphones, UPS drivers, deliveryment all have priority over me. If you indicate in any way your right of way you are asking for real trouble.

  • “In regards to the Times Square project,”

    It makes me cringe whenever I hear “in regards to” or “with regards to” instead of “with regard to.”

    Would you say “with references to” or “with respects to”? How about “in respects to the Times Square project”?

  • Charles, please don’t come in ‘ere with your elitist language, telling us common plebs how to speak proper.


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