Thursday’s Headlines: Why Hasn’t AOC Fixed Everything Yet Edition

Nothing gets tabloid blood racing more than hypocrisy by beloved politicians. So reporters at New York’s tabloid of record, the New York Post, were right to go after Green New Dealer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her gas-guzzling transportation choices. Or were they? On Wednesday, Laura Bliss at City Lab took the longer, broader, more-intellectual view, concluding that it’s a missed opportunity to focus on mocking our elected officials when they make the same missteps that we all make. Instead, we should all be working to make it easier for everyone to avoid the missteps in the first place.

“If her every MTA swipe (or lack thereof) is interpreted as a brick in the ethical foundation for her climate advocacy, AOC will fail — because everyone who aspires to live by an environmental ethic 100% of the time fails, too,” Bliss wrote. And it’s not AOC’s fault that public transit is insufficient between the Bronx and Queens.

Fair enough, but the first step to a greener world is taking public transit whenever possible, even if just symbolically, followed closely by passing the Green New Deal. The convenience of other modes of transportation is what got us into this mess in the first place — but AOC should be the change she wants to see in the world.

Enough soapboxing! Here’s the news:

  • No surprise here: Gov. Cuomo, who is poised to gain more control of the MTA, naturally threw a bucket of cold water on Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s bid to have the city take over the subway system. (NY Post)
  • More debris rained down from the elevated 7 train in Woodside, even after the MTA said it would clean up its mess. (Gothamist, NY Post)
  • Given that the ADA passed under H.W., is it possible that the MTA still needs a federal court order to add elevators to subway stations? Apparently, yes. (NY Post)
  • Yes, it’s fun to laugh at the Bronx cop who lost control of an e-bike he had just confiscated, thanks to Tom Tracy’s story in the Daily News, but that seized e-bike belongs to a hard-working delivery person who now has lost a week or more of wages and may not even get his bike back in good repair.
  • Ugh, the Times’s Metropolitan Diary has evidence that owning a car is a mental illness. (H/T Jessie Singer)
  • Police disciplinary records are sealed. But that blue wall just got a big hole punched through it, thanks to the Legal Aid Society. (NY Times)
  • Residents of Morningside Heights had sought a safety redesign of the area where former Columbia dean Peter Awn was hit and killed by a driver. Fortunately, now the city is doing something. (West Side Rag)
  • Joe R.

    Speaking of the Green New Deal, one of the cornerstones is that we must drastically curtail the use of air travel within the next decade. Cuomo essentially put his foot in his mouth with the expensive overhaul of LGA when in all likelihood air traffic levels will necessitate just one NY Metro airport if we’re successful at reducing air travel. And that one airport certainly won’t be LGA. Newark would make the most sense. And I’ll be none too happy if both LGA and Idlewild (sorry, I like the old name better) are shuttered for good. The constant din of planes taking off means I can’t even keep my windows open until after maybe 9 PM.

  • ortcutt

    “The MTA must pay whatever it costs to install an elevator in any subway station that undergoes major renovations, because of a court ruling involving a station in The Bronx, the feds said Wednesday.”

    The flip side of this is that many, many stations will never receive major renovations because it will be too costly. So, we will have more decrepit stations because of this ruling. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It is exactly the wrong approach.

    Aside from destination stations, the places where handicapped people will want to go, the MTA should be seeking opportunities to install handicapped access, and do it wherever it would be most affordable. That would expand the range of places handicapped people could live and take the subway the most in the least amount of time.

  • ortcutt

    “Speaking of the Green New Deal, one of the cornerstones is that we must drastically curtail the use of air travel within the next decade (something I’ve been saying since 9/11).”

    That’s never going to happen and thinking we could reduce airplane travel to allow a 30 million passenger per year airport to close is really out there in cloudcuckooland.

    “The constant din of planes taking off means I can’t even keep my windows open until after maybe 9 PM.”

    So, you’re just someone who lives in the flightpath so wants to get rid of LGA. I get it. That’s a fairly parochial interest though and not in the best interest of the community at large.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t think he lives in the flight path.

    I also thought the growth of air transportation would eventually slow and perhaps reverse, but it hasn’t happened yet. It depends on:

    1) Cheap fuel. Airplanes are exempt from fuel taxes, but I figured either peak or oil environmental regulations would raise that price.

    2) Cheap capital. The airline industry has probably lost money, net. Think of all the bankruptcies. But for a long time people — and in other countries governments — invested because of the prestige. I figured that would run its course.

    3) Cheap workers. Until the early 1980s regulations and regulatory capture made the airline industry one in which everyone was vastly overpaid. But since deregulation, labor costs have been cut so low that I begin to worry about the quality of people flying and — more important — maintaining the airplanes.

    Sooner or later, the airplanes of those dbas are going to start dropping out of the sky — or labor costs will have to rise, reducing the share of trips taking by airplane.

  • Maggie

    I would put some nuances on the discussion of AOC and how she’s calling attention to the Green New Deal. First, it’s a generational imperative. If you’re not alarmed, you sure as sh*t should be. Scientists have raised the red alert, the screaming smoke alarm in the kitchen.

    So, on the one hand: yeah she should take transit more and Uber less.

    On the other, please point me to the comparable coverage when house Republicans wheeled out Liz Cheney, the Halliburton heiress from Wyoming, to sneer at the very idea that we need to do something. Seriously. Please point me to the press coverage that highlighted Cheney’s obvious, disqualifying conflicts of interest and the lunacy of a party that’s devoted to doing *nothing* while we do have a chance to stop this climate change truck before it rolls down the hill.

  • ortcutt

    Growth might slow with higher costs, but I really doubt we would see major declines. Certainly a decline sufficient to close a major airport is based on nothing more than wishful thinking. I really don’t even see the point in talking about it without some concrete evidence. It’s the worst kind of unrooted speculation.

    “Sooner or later, the airplanes of those dbas are going to start dropping out of the sky — or labor costs will have to rise, reducing the share of trips taking by airplane.”

    This prediction is based on nothing, basically. If anything air travel is significantly safer than it was in the past. Why do people predict these cataclysmic changes just around the corner when there is basically no evidence to support it. It’s like people who seem like they want to predict general social collapse. What aspect of someone’s psychology does it fulfill to do this?

  • Ian S

    I think this prediction is just based on a (admittedly hopeful) assumption of seriously effective political action towards climate change. To remain below 4 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, the IPCC’s surveys estimate that the price of CO2 would have to be $400 – $1100 per ton by 2070. This would add $250 – $700 to the cost of a roundtrip LGA-LAX ticket, which would significantly reduce the quantity demanded.

    A carbon price might seem infeasible, but a more ad hoc approach to emissions regulation (with the same overall emissions goals) could focus even more on airplane emissions reductions, because the associated costs are less regressive than other industries and commodities (electricity, vehicle fuels).

  • Joe R.

    Actually, I’m not anywhere near the flight path. The hard fact is the noise from planes easily affects something like 3 million people living in Queens and Brooklyn. Hardly a parochial interest. We’re only just beginning to realize the severe health effects of noise pollution. That alone is justification for closing airports near large population centers even if it means less convenience for air travelers.

    As for reducing air travel enough to close one or two of the NY metro airports, consider that compared to many other types of travel, air travel is highly elastic. People may drive because they have no alternatives and have to get to work every day. If air travel became a lot more expensive it just means people will take fewer vacations and/or make a lot fewer business trips. Vacations are a want, not a need. So is quite a bit of business travel.

    The numbers don’t lie. No matter what we do, we can’t come anywhere close to carbon neutral without doing something about air travel. It can of course mostly be replaced by high-speed rail but the US was too short-sighted to build out HSR like Europe, Japan, and China. That means in the short and medium term we’ll just have to curtail a lot of long-distance travel.

  • ortcutt

    For all we know we might be using 100% synthetic jet fuel by 2070 generated from hydrogen from carbon-free electricity sources. I don’t think it makes sense to speculate about reduction in passenger flights on that basis.

  • ortcutt

    “The hard fact is the noise from planes easily affects something like 3 million people living in Queens and Brooklyn.” I don’t think there are 3 million people in Queens and Brooklyn with Superman-like hearing. There are definitely some people who because of where they live are affected by aircraft noise, but it’s not 60% of the population of Brooklyn and Queens. I live in Jackson Heights relatively close to LGA and I can’t hear the planes more than once or twice a year. Or maybe it’s just that the honking horns, traffic and constant stream of ambulances are drowning it out.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, a not long ago a bunch of dba airplanes did fall out of the sky.

    The FAA tightened inspections, and there hasn’t been anything like it for a while.

    But we are relying on a regulatory agency subject to cutbacks and shutdowns to make up for the fact that airplane maintenance is now contracted out to companies paying the minimum wage.

  • ortcutt

    The trendline in airplane safety is that it has gotten safer and safer. When you can point to a statistically significant increase, then you might have a point, but you’re just complaining about labor practices and suggesting that sometime, somewhere down the line in the indeterminate future, it’s going to cause fatalities to skyrocket and for some reason we won’t do anything about it. This way of discussing public policy issues is utterly f*&king pointless.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Could have said the same thing about the MTA debt when I started complaining about its implications back in 1996.

    Lots of people did.

  • Joe R.

    Buses are actually about 3 times safer than planes using the deaths per billion hours statistic. The aviation industry loves to pick and choose the statistic which makes it look the best, namely deaths per billion km, but deaths per billion hours is generally accepted as the fairest method of comparison.

    I also believe Larry is correct. The only reason planes literally haven’t started falling from the sky is the fact that new planes are robust enough to go for years with substandard maintenance. Should the airlines lose the ability to obtain financing in order to have a relatively new fleet you’ll eventually start to see catastrophic failures on a more regular basis. In fact, this is exactly what has been happening in the subways, although here a catastrophic failure generally means delays, not a few hundred deaths.

  • Joe R.

    It’s probably the constant background noise drowning out the planes. If you lived somewhere relatively quiet like I do, the constant interruptions by flights overhead would be nerve-wracking. Also, constant noise like where you live isn’t all that healthy, either. I know cities are inherently noisy, but we can do way better than we are.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is we need to eliminate carbon emissions from all sources by about 2030. We don’t have until 2070 to fix the aviation industry.

  • Joe R.

    It’s not about slowing growth via higher costs. The path to do what needs to be done will require rationing air travel, which is more or less what AOC was alluding to. We can reduce air travel to whatever level we want if we start rationing it.

  • Joe R.

    Or we could just repeal the ADA on the grounds that it’s too costly and burdensome relative to its benefits, which actually is sadly the case when you try to put our subway system into compliance. Also, future advances in mobility devices, similar to the stuff being developed by Boston Robotics, could render a lot of the changes required by the ADA unnecessary. In fact, I think even now we have wheelchairs which can negotiate stairs:

  • Larry Littlefield

    The DOE will tell you that Airlines are more fuel efficient per mile that rail transit.

    If so, the big impact of air travel is not energy use per mile — it is that because of its speed, more people travel more miles than they otherwise would.

  • Joe R.

    In addition to inducing people to travel more miles than they otherwise would, unlike rail air travel isn’t amenable to carbon-free alternatives. It’s not just the energy used which matters, but how it’s produced.

    I’m also pretty sure rail would fare better than air if we used typical worldwide rail vehicles. The comparison probably used a heavy Amtrak diesel train with low load factors. A light, electric, streamlined European or Japanese train with high load factors is easily better than air.

  • crazytrainmatt

    Joe and Larry, I respect you guys but I don’t think you are representing the aviation industry’s safety record or culture accurately. US airlines have enplaned a billion passengers since the last fatal crash a decade ago. A lot of people take pride in that record (I myself had nothing to do with it), and its safety culture has provided a widely studied model.

    If autonomous cars were developed under the aviation regulatory authority model instead of “move fast and break things”, everyone here would have a lot less to worry about.

    The emissions arguments is a different beast, but aviation already has extreme fuel efficiency pressure. The only mid-term solution is reducing demand beyond HSR range. How many people here are in favor of less immigration and cross-cultural interaction? Don’t be so sure it’s just the package vacations that would evaporate.

  • Joe R.

    Remember there are viable alternatives to air travel in the short, medium, and long terms. In the short term, HSR is a proven technology which is as fast or faster than air overall out to at least 500 miles, and not much slower out to about 1000 miles. That covers a lot of flights. In the medium term you have maglev in evacuated tubes, which actually has the potential to travel faster than airplanes. Once proven, you can basically replace any overland flight with this technology. That leaves flights spanning oceans. It may be possible to also put the aforementioned maglevs across oceans, but that’s at best a long-term option. In the meantime HSR and overland maglev can drastically reduce the need for air travel. The flights across oceans can be rationed until a viable alternative is available but that’s likely a small percentage of air travel, even today.

    As for safety, regardless of the numbers I personally won’t set foot on a plane. The problem here is one where incidents are highly infrequent, but the consequences are major. Air crashes are generally not survivable, nor can they be made survivable, due to the velocities involved. Also, it’s more informative to look at the worldwide aviation safety record, not just the US one, because that’s the direction we’re likely heading towards:

    There’s also the global increase in terrorism. No matter what measures we take, if ISIS gets the idea of shooting AA missiles at aircraft you could potentially have thousands dead in one day. No other form of transportation is as vulnerable to terrorism as air travel.

    The bottom line here that the situation is similar to that with automobiles. Planes and automobiles are one way to get you from point A to point B, but there are better, safer, more environmentally friendly ways to do so. We just have to switch over.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The problem is we need to eliminate carbon emissions from all sources by about 2030.”

    Well, we’ve pretty much ensured that’s flat impossible.

    I’m pretty good that way. Subway and bicycle, solar panels for electricity, mostly non-meat diet, etc.

    But that still leaves heat. And, when I want to visit my parents, an airplane.

    You might be able to imagine a massive change by 2070, not so much by 2030. That’s tomorrow, really — the equivalent of 2008, which was only yesterday.

    The good news is I saw a map of future GDP losses due to climate change. Metro NY and most of the Northeast Corridor come in at 0 to 5 percent lost only, and Upstate NY comes out a big winner!

    On the other hand, there is Florida.

  • kevd

    two elevators with fare gates at the top and video monitoring.
    if the self-described “greatest city on earth” cannot fucking manage that, then we’re pretty much screwed.

    I’d put my money on “screwed”

  • kevd

    Joe is nothing if not out there in cloudcuckooland….

  • kevd

    I’m almost directly under an LGA approach in Brooklyn and I’ve literally never heard a single plane.

  • cjstephens

    What-about-ism much?

  • Joe R.

    No, humanity is. We’ve clearly linked a major problem to ongoing human activity which can be modified to mitigate the long-term impact but instead it’s business as usual. It turns out drastically reducing air travel is one way where we can have a major impact without severely negatively impacting people’s daily lives. In the short, medium, and long term, there are even viable means to replace air travel with more environmentally friendly modes, so it’s not even like people will never be able to travel long distances ever again.

  • Joe R.

    Two questions:

    1) Do you have hearing loss?
    2) Do you ever open your windows?

    I don’t hear the planes much with the windows closed but if I want any fresh air the noise is intolerable. Basically from 7 AM until 8 or 9 PM at least every few minutes the quiet is interrupted by jet engine noise. I’ve been hearing for the last 30 years about how quieter planes will make things better but it’s as bad as it ever was.

    Even the city’s “noise mitigation measures” are bullshit. Basically, they’re willing to help soundproof homes with noise problems but that doesn’t help much if you want to have your windows open or you’re outside.

    Putting aside the enormous tragedy of it, the days after 9/11 were among the most peaceful and quiet I’ve seen in the city. The airports being shut down was a blessing. If we had any sense, right after we would have built out a national HSR system to reduce our dependency on plane travel.

  • kevd

    I’m about 9 miles away in brooklyn as the crow (or plane) flies on a very quiet block (I literally hear birds chirping in the morning) so flight path is probably a better description as they’re high up – and it is about .6 miles NW of me.
    Windows are open all summer.
    Also, 1/2 my job is listen to things. Music, Voices etc. My hearing is good. Not amazing, but rather good.

    It calls into question your absurd claim that “about 3 million people” are affected by flight noise.
    I’m sure its a very real problem for those who are. But it’s WAY lower than 3 million.

  • Joe R.

    I’m 3 miles away, practically in a line with one of the runways. Assuming the planes climb at a constant angle, which is a good assumption from what I know, they’re 3 times as high when they’re by you. Noise varies by the inverse square law, so the noise should be about 1/9 of what it is for me by the time the planes reach you. As for the number of people affected, consider that most of the mid and eastern part of northern Queens is well within a high noise area. And then you have the southern part of Queens near Kennedy. The numbers are easily over a million. I recall 2 million from something I read a while back. The population has only grown. If not 3 million, 2.5 million wouldn’t be unreasonable. Brooklyn is a lot less affected than Queens simply because it’s not in as close proximity to airports.

    If we really want to solve the problem, irrespective of whether or not we reduce air travel, we can route planes over the sea right after takeoff. Yes, it makes flights longer and uses more fuel, but the positive benefits are well worth it.

  • Maggie

    I have no clue what you’re getting at.

  • cjstephens
    We’re talking about what a hypocrite AOC is by shunning the transit she wants to force everyone else to take, and your reaction is “but what about this Republican who is doing something I disagree with!!?!?”

  • Maggie

    Yes, I think it is awful to overlook the danger when Republicans use Liz Cheney, of all people, to sneer at the potential of a Green New Deal.

    And yes, I also think AOC shaming pieces in right-wing tabloids are total garbage, following a familiar ‘running-scared’ playbook against this existential threat that we very much need to take seriously.

  • cjstephens

    OK, you clearly still don’t get what “whataboutism” is about, even though I gave you a link to a very clearly written Wikipedia article that explains the concept quite well. But I can’t let you get away with blaming this on the “right-wing”. This post links to a scathing piece about AOC from CityLabs, which is part of that vast right-wing conspiracy known as The Atlantic. Trying to defend AOC on this is a pretty desperate move.

  • Maggie

    That’s quite the pompous attack. Do you or don’t you have a comparable link to news articles calling out Liz Cheney’s conflicts of interest in responding to climate change.

    If not, apologies – I am not going to keep arguing with you in bad faith. I do not think there’s common ground and I don’t respect your attacks. We don’t get to negotiate with science. Science isn’t a political choice. The right wing playbook has consistently been to sow doubt to buy themselves time. That’s what Liz Cheney is doing, that’s what Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids are doing, that’s what you are spending time doing when you use rhetoric like “force us all to use transit”. It’s a dangerous distraction.

  • cjstephens

    You’re. Doing. It. Again.

    Friendly advice: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

  • ortcutt

    OK, I’ll go get my air travel ration card…

  • Maggie

    That’s not friendly. We’re not friends. Blocked, I don’t waste tine on jackass. Better luck with your content next time. You didn’t have any here.

  • kevd

    good god joe. we know how sound works.
    my point is if almost none of brooklyn is affected, a good deal of queens isn’t and only a sliver of the Bronx and Nassau county are – then there is not possible way in hell that adds up to 3 million.

    PS. I stuck my head out the window and hear the very low, very non disruptive distant din of an airplane last night. Roughtly as loud as a distant breeze.
    so I can hear them if I try. About 1000 times less annoying than a car alarm or a tractor trailer driving 2 blocks away.

  • Joe R.

    You’re forgetting about the ancillary activities associated with air travel, like taxis to the airport, as well as all the CO2 generation tourism which is fostered by air travel causes. Sure, electricity generation and light vehicles are absolutely the first places to start, but they’re also quite amenable to CO2 reduction, whereas aircraft aren’t.

    There are other pollution issues with aircraft besides CO2:

    A new study suggests that planes cause more warming than cars, while ships are cooling enough to counteract them both.

    Add in the noise issues (even if it affect only 1 million in NYC that’s still a significant number), the terrorism potential, plus the huge land use of airports and it’s clearly in our best long-term interest to mitigate air travel.