Throwback Thursday: The Great NYC Commuter Race of 1990

Go Judy go.
Go Judy go.

Via Streetfilms, here’s a blast from the past — kind of.

For a 1990 news segment called “Environment: In Your Own Backyard,” ABC staged a commuter race between Fred the motorist, Alvin the subway rider, and Judy the cyclist. The goal: be the first to get across the Brooklyn Bridge to Herald Square.

The commute montage, complete with a “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”-era Aretha Franklin soundtrack, is interspersed with commentary from city officials and reporters on how the U.S. needs to invest in sustainable transportation, like transit and cycling, and stop subsidizing wasteful, dirty car travel.

Despite his confidence (and insistence that people who ride bikes are crazy), Fred and his Ford Fairmont get bogged down in traffic, finishing the trip in 50 minutes, “contributing to both ozone and carbon monoxide” all the way. Driving in New York City hasn’t changed much since 1990.

Though he skips the first train that comes along — it’s packed — Alvin, who’s never had a drivers license, makes it in about half an hour, and was able to read his news (printed on the dried-out pulp of dead trees, if you can believe it) en route.

Judy, meanwhile, zips past Manhattan gridlock — there are no protected bike lanes in sight — and cruises into Herald Square in 25 minutes. ABC declares her the “environmental winner” as well.

Some things never change.

  • Larry Littlefield

    A whole lot less traffic than you’d see today. The second IRT train was empty. The bridge didn’t have that many pedestrians, and the auto traffic was moving.

    And there is Al Appleton, the environmental commissioner who eventually concluded that the environmental review process had degenerated into anti-environment NIMBYism. We’ve come a long way since then, but not all the way if transit projects still require years of EIS preparation.

  • Orcutt

    Judy Levine was a board member of Transportation Alternatives at the time of this event. She did essential work to put the org on the sound footing that allowed it to grow into a force affecting the shape and feel of our city. For compare/contrast, in 1990, 701 New Yorkers were killed by cars. In 2016, 233.

  • m

    Is that Sabrina Le Beauf?


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