New York is Really Awesome When the Rich People Leave and Take their Cars on Vacation

A summer weekend in New York's richest neighborhoods means empty streets. So why should we care what car owners think is just?
A summer weekend in New York's richest neighborhoods means empty streets. So why should we care what car owners think is just?

IMemo to policy makers: Car owners are an entitled, selfish class of moochers — and it’s time to stop catering to them by worrying about where they park their cars.

This thought occurred to me as I biked around the city — blissfully — on Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday and discovered that whenever I passed through a well-to-do neighborhood, there were very few cars on the road or stored against the curb.

They’d all been taken out of the city by their well-to-do owners! America’s national holiday is a vacation for cars, too!

Look at all this glorious curb space in tony neighborhoods like Fort Greene…

Fort Greene in the summer.
Fort Greene in the summer.

Park Slope…

Park Slope without cars.
Park Slope without cars.

Prospect Heights…

Prospect Heights without cars.
Prospect Heights without cars.

These are all fancy neighborhoods with many residents who tend to summer elsewhere. As a result, the so-called parking lanes empty out, too. Look at the pictures should make everyone ask: Why have car owners been able to twist narrative (and convince the politicians) that there’s never enough parking, that taking away free on-street parking will hurt average New Yorkers, that residents need their cars?

We heard all of these arguments earlier this week when Community Board 7 on the Manhattan’s wealthy Upper West Side considered (and then supported) a city proposal to create a protected bike lane by repurposing 400 spaces in the public right of way that are currently set aside for the storage of residents’ private automobiles.

“This will just make life more difficult for the middle class by making it harder to find parking spaces for people who need cars to get to work,” said one woman who was opposed to the bike lane in favor of parking for the less-than-20 percent of the households (the wealthiest ones, to boot) that own a car in the neighborhood.

Another person added, “The people that you’re hurting by eliminating the parking spaces are those that can’t afford a garage.” (You can watch it all here.)

The evidence on every street in every well-off neighborhood this weekend says otherwise. The rich don’t need all this parking because they don’t need these cars. They just want the convenience of being able to go to their country homes without having to use public transit — and, when the most powerful forces in our society don’t use transit, they don’t fight for it, which means it gets worse and worse for the rest of us.

Well, if they want to keep their separate system, fine — but it’s time for them to pay for its true societal cost in congestion, pollution, travel delays for the rest of us, and, lest we forget, the current double-digit uptick in fatalities for cyclists and pedestrians.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog. When he gets really angry, he writes the “Cycle of Rage” column. Prior posts are archived here.

  • Guy Ross

    Driving to Westchester is why you have to drive to Westchester. If you want people to care about your hood, start with yourself and keep you shopping local.

  • Cor blimey!

    Ehhh. NYC would be great if all of NYC was accessible by mass transit and safe after a night out. Many of the slags on Mass transit are complete pricks who wants l nothing more than to rape and rob.

  • Cor blimey!

    I get you. I really do. As long as you are able to park your car at your house and obey NYC and state laws, you’re awesome.

  • Cor blimey!

    That’s BS. You have to drive in Westchester because there’s a no sidewalk stretch of almost three, count them, 3 miles from where I grew up to MTA! No bee line bus! Nothing else. Heck, we has a fire department and nothing else in terms of safety!

  • Cor blimey!

    Ummm, you never been through Mott Haven? The place has absolute jack in terms of assets but everyone has cars up the wazoos!

  • Fee

    You can easily leave yr boring 9 to 5 job and then begin getting check monthly around $12 k doing a home based job. Let’s be real, no matter where you’re working that: working. While doing a home based job you have Very flexible daily schedule – you can take rests any time, feel no rush to hang up on your family any time they call, and eat lunch at any unusual time you like, Stop thinking about crowds or traffic – No stuffing yourself into a rickety transportation tube, having people scuff your brand-new shoes, or walking behind agonizingly slow people who apparently don’t know what a straight line is, More time with loved ones -Take good care of a sick significant other at your house, be ready for kids earlier in the day, get extra snuggles in with your doggo, or simply just get some relaxing time to yourself! Take a look, what it is about… abyssjohnny.mail.ht

  • Myra Hill

    Why shop local if the quality is not there? Ishamgirl is right.

  • I am thinking of buying a cheap used car, help me get the fuck out of here on the weekends and such. Yesterday I saw NYPD not just stinging but harassing some poor delivery guys on bikes on the Stuytown loop where I live. Screw all this. As a Manhattan based hardcore bike commuter, I thought I was anti-car. But I guess I like the freedom too much. Driving out of the city makes me feel sane, while being here makes me insane.

  • Guy Ross

    If you don’t shop local because the quality isn’t there you assure quality will never be there. I get what you’re saying and it’s a shitty position to chose from.

  • Simon Phearson

    Well, you can live whatever life you want to live, but don’t lie to the rest of us about what you’re doing. Don’t say, “I have to drive because I need to do my food shopping in a nearby suburb,” say, “I choose to drive because the particular kind of food that I want is only available at places I have to drive to, even though nearly-perfect suitable alternatives are actually much closer to me.”

    At multiple points in my life (including currently), I’ve lived very close to a crappy grocery store; within walking distance of a moderately better grocery store; and only biking/driving distance away from a top-shelf kind of grocery store. I’ll happily admit to regularly or occasionally driving to the farther-away store, at different points of my life. But when I’ve done so, it’s always been a choice, not one hoisted on me by the failure of planners or developers to cater to my specific needs. It’s meant choosing one lifestyle – one in which I eat, say, finer meats and cheeses, or a wider variety of fresher vegetables and dried goods – over another.

    I can’t speak for the whole territory of the Bronx, but it seems to me that it should be fairly simple to find areas to live there where groceries are convenient and sufficient in quality so as to obviate any need to keep and use a car to acquire them (or to run other errands).

  • First of all, that is a faulty premise. New York City has absolutely everything.

    Secondly, one should shop locally because keeping our money within our City’s economy is a worthwhile value in itself. Supporting local businesses helps to ensure that our tax base remains strong. This, in turn, helps to fund our public services, including daily services such as sanitation removal, emergency services such as firefighting, and essential amenities such as parks and libraries.

    Spending one’s money is a form of daily voting. The act of directing this spending to suburban counties is the equivalent of voting for our City’s degradation, by promoting the possibility of cuts to our public services.

  • BronxEE2000

    What the hell is so wrong with having a car in this city??? This anti-car sentiment is the worst thing to hit this city. There are actual residents who have cars here and use them and there’s NOTHING wrong with that. Yes I drive to different supermarkets in Westchester. I also work in Westchester. Most of my working time has been spent outside of the five boroughs, hence I have a car. That car has also provided me a better life than I would have had without it. Some folks are fine without a car. More power to them. However, this “you have a car, therefore you are the devil” is complete BS.

  • Simon Phearson

    What the hell is so wrong with having a car in this city???

    I am not sure why you are leaping from my comment – which really was just, “live how you want to live, but don’t lie about it” – to expressing “anti-car sentiment.” I guess it must show how much deceit you have to engage in, in order to defend your lifestyle, if being honest about it is such a threat.

    To be clear, anyone can look at a subway and bus map and see why some people find owning a car to be useful and convenient, in some parts of the city. In addition, lifelong residents often have a desire to leave the city on weekends and during the summer, so there’s nothing unusual in that type of usage, either. The only point I am making is that we shouldn’t conflate usefulness for necessity. And, further, that we should make our decisions about how to manage limited road space and transportation resources based on efficiently moving people to where they want to be, not favoring any particular mode of transportation in particular.

    If you want to understand why any knowledgeable person might be “anti-car,” there’s the core of it: privately-owned vehicles are simply not an efficient use of space or transportation resources.

    Accordingly, we should seek to understand why employers would choose to locate in Westchester instead of the Bronx, and why higher-end stores might locate there, and what it is about city land use and transportation policy that inspires such businesses to sprawl out. And if there are things that we are doing to encourage that sprawl – thereby making driving seem more practical and “necessary” – we should stop doing them.

    Think of it this way – if you could easily subway or bus to your job and walk to your favorite grocery store, wouldn’t you much rather do that, instead of drive? If so, how is it so hard for you to understand those of us who want to make that world a reality for more of the city’s residents?

  • BronxEE2000

    I don’t lie about my lifestyle.I got the “anti-car sentiment” from you mentioning how there should be areas where I shouldn’t need to keep and use a car.

    Think of it this way – if you could easily subway or bus to your job and walk to your favorite grocery store, wouldn’t you much rather do that, instead of drive?

    Actually no I wouldn’t. Driving is one of my favorite things to do. But outside of that, I want residents to be able to get around however they can, but it seems like recently, if you have a car, you’re the devil, when it wasn’t like that before and I wish it was still like that.

  • Joe R.

    If more than about 10% to 20% of NYC residents got around regularly by car, the streets couldn’t handle it. That’s the efficiency issue Simon mentioned.

    There’s also another problem. I noticed your mention of the word “I” quite frequently. The problem with car use is 100% of the benefits accrue to the end user, while 100% of the problems are foisted on everyone else, including non-car users. In other words, it’s the perfect example of private profit, public risk. Your car use delays people taking buses, as well as other car users. It also delays cyclists, both due to car traffic itself, plus due to the necessity to have 12,000 signalized intersections in NYC, most of which wouldn’t be needed with a much lower volume of motor traffic. Then of course car use causes many deaths and injuries, even to those outside of the vehicles themselves. Ditto for the pollution caused by car use, which by most estimates kills ten times as many as cars kill directly. That means about 2,000 deaths annually in NYC due to air pollution, perhaps half a million nationally. Or one 9/11 roughly every other day.

    So no, it’s not even remotely OK when you say “I want residents to be able to get around however they can.” And as for “but it seems like recently, if you have a car, you’re the devil, when it wasn’t like that before and I wish it was still like that.”, guess what, things change. At one time it was OK to own slaves. At one time women were treated like property. At one time we thought smoking wasn’t dangerous. And at one time, back in the 1940s and 1950s, we saw motor cars and aeroplanes as the answer to all our transportation problems, even in large, dense cities were they were an awful fit. In order to provide enough space for cars in cities, you need to effectively gut them, to the point that there isn’t a city worth going to any more, but a collection of office parks and parking lots connected by ribbons of highways. Add in the unsustainable suburban living which car use encouraged. We didn’t know these things 75 years ago. We know them now. That’s your answer as to why it’s not like that any more.

    Driving is one of my favorite things to do.

    Really? In NYC? You like crawling along at 10 mph and getting stuck in gridlock? Not only is driving here slow and bad for city residents, but it’s not even enjoyable for the drivers. I get it that driving can be enjoyable, but not anywhere near population centers. When I rode with my brother upstate and he was going 110 to 125 mph on the open parts of the NYS Thruway that was enjoyable driving. Driving anywhere near the NY Metro area sucks. I don’t even like riding a bike here until after about 10 PM because there is just too much traffic and motorist nonsense to deal with.

  • Joe R.

    And they will continue to remain poor, generation after generation, precisely because they choose to own cars. Just like lots of the people in middle America who will never have more than a double-wide because they want to own a big-ass SUV or pickup.

  • Joe R.

    When I’m riding out here at 3AM, without a car or red light in sight (i.e. the lights are all on sensors late nights and only go red the rare times there’s side street traffic) I feel pretty free:

    https://www.google.com/maps/@40.7536353,-73.6279538,3a,75y,248.17h,86.96t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1ssG0Cy-oGH8AoMxoaFtHjDA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  • Snapperhead

    The original blog was clearly talking about Manhattan and inner parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, where density is high, street space is at a premium, and alternate forms of transportation are the norm. That area contains about 3 million residents. So if roughly 0.6 million of those folks have automobiles, that’s 1 in 5 or roughly 20%. Are these 20% more affluent than the other 80%? We don’t know for sure, but we can reasonably guess that, based on the costs of parking.

  • Snapperhead

    Yeah, always ridicule the person’s action, never the person’s character, and grant them the basic human dignity that we all deserve, thereby providing them with an opportunity to do better. None of us are immune from occasional feelings of greed. None of us are immune from occasionally taking advantage of privileges. None of us are immune from occasionally being insensitive.

  • Snapperhead

    Malign the action, never the person. Grant everyone the basic human dignity they deserve and thereby provide them with the opportunity to change.

  • Snapperhead

    Attack the person’s actions, never the person. Give the person basic human dignity and a chance to change. That’s the winning strategy.

  • Snapperhead

    Strength is often in self-restraint, patience, confidence, and silence. Strength is often more in potential energy than in kinetic energy.

  • Snapperhead

    20% is actually what I estimated from other data before I saw your link. But that 20% referred to Manhattan and the dense portions of Brooklyn and the Bronx, where street space is at a premium. And that’s pretty much what the data in your link showed as well. (And we’re talking about private cars parked on the street, not in parking garages.)

    Bicyclists aren’t complaining about folks with cars in Staten Island. Let’s be realistic here.

  • Snapperhead

    It’s a status symbol for some people. Other people are just irrationally attached emotionally to their automobiles from fond memories. And some other people define their self-images in terms of their automobiles (“I am an owner of XYZ car brand and that defines me”). The whole thing is a sick reflection of a consumer culture gone too far.

  • This is a lovely thought. I don’t disagree with it from a philosophical point of view.

    However, from the standpoint of strategy, relying on people changing their ways is not likely to successful. More sensible is to induce the people using bad practices to leave, so that they can be replaced by people who are prepared to engage in better practices.

  • Simon Phearson

    If it’s true that you would rather drive to a grocery store that is within walking distance (or a job that is an easy subway commute away), then I think it’s safe to say that your preferences in this regard are unusually idiosyncratic. In that case, you are clearly preferring a mode of transportation that is more inconvenient for you than the alternatives.

    I think people should get around in whatever way makes sense to them, as well. I just also recognize that driving isn’t convenient or appealing unless we do a lot of work to make it so. We have to build and maintain a comprehensive street network; we have to create massive parking surpluses; we have to hide the social costs of driving from drivers in various ways (instead of imposing cost-covering tolls and fees directly on drivers); and so on. If you want people to be free to drive – fine. Just level the playing ground.

  • Uchendu Nwachuku

    It’s not a good look when your article opens with the phrase “Car owners are an entitled, selfish class of moochers”.

  • JL

    Yours is a pretty good name if it’s real. I’m more than okay if streetsblog and TA have a bias against car culture and drivers’ selfish tendencies for more/larger the better.

    Don’t get me started on climate change and continued Middle East relevance in world affairs. Yes I understand, we all love the convenience (imagined or real).

    “Facts (agreed upon)” matter. Even in the UWS, (and NYC at large) where you have the highest density of people (in the US) who own ZERO cars or don’t even drive. Claiming 6ft. out of 63ft. on CPW is a contentious affair.

    https://www.westsiderag.com/2019/07/02/cpw-protected-bike-lane-approved-at-impassioned-meeting-work-to-begin-immediately-with-400-parking-spaces-eliminated

    >>”In what Chairperson Roberta Semer called “the rudest meeting I have ever presided over,” Community Board 7 approved the Department of Transportation’s plan to create a northbound protected bike lane on the east side of Central Park West, from 59th Street to 110th Street. In the process, it will eliminate 400 parking spaces.”

    The comments sections are very telling of the car culture delusions. You can keep drinking the KoolAid if you want to. Hey, there are good reasons why billions are spent on car ads world wide.

    https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/476346/

    This holiday weekend alone with have 500-1000 car related FATALITIES in the US (due to DUI, distracted/incompetence). The people who’ve lost loved ones will continue to think cycling is unsafe. In transportation terms, that’s 2 jumbo jets going down and no one will bat an eye at the numbers. Someone gets buzzed by a bike and that’s an unacceptable near death experience.

    The language used here is pretty calm compared to what people actually say to each other at the CB meetings when free real estate is at stake.

    BTW, I live in the UWS and I actually like to bike to da Bronx (Arthur ave) to buy goodies at Teitel Bros., to ACME fish in Brooklyn, to Chinatown (LES) for Asian produce. Thai food in Woodside. So Staten Island, better up your Pizza game:-).

    Some areas are better than others for riding. I feel the safest when I’m paying the most attention. Bike lanes have made this possible. Oh, I ride outside of the city also.

  • Uchendu Nwachuku

    Thanks for the rundown on anti-car talking points. ?

  • Joe R.

    Great article in The Atlantic! I really think something detailing all those points should be required curriculum from grade school through college. In essence, we made a Faustian bargain when we cast aside other modes in favor of the automobile. We will eventually undo that damage, but it will take decades, perhaps longer, unless we can get the public outraged enough.

    Oh, and I find riding outside NYC to be the most pleasurable. The total lack of bike infrastructure is made up for by fewer cars and far fewer traffic signals, plus better pavement conditions in general. The only negative is there’s really nothing interesting to see, just houses, grass, and trees.

  • Seeing this harsh truth stated emphatically and unapologetically is most refreshing.

  • cjstephens

    Please tell me you didn’t CitiBike _home_ after your cataract surgeries (not that you would have driven, either, of course).

  • cjstephens

    Indeed, it’s not that long ago that private vehicles were not allowed to be parked overnight on the street. Basically, if you could afford a car, you could afford an off-street parking spot. I would welcome a return to that system.

  • cjstephens

    The class warfare angle is pretty unfortunate here. Entitled car owners are the problem, not rich car owners. Entitled car owners come in all flavors. The ongoing Dyckman Street bike lane drama? It is not happening because of rich car owners, but it is happening because of entitled car owners. There is opposition to safe street improvements in all corners of the city, and that opposition doesn’t come exclusively from the rich. If you would like to test this theory, try suggesting the replacement of parking spaces at NYCHA complexes with, say, playgrounds or open green space. See what kind of reaction you get.

  • Sassojr

    Every week there’s an article about Staten Island and The Bronx being too car friendly…

  • Cor blimey!

    Clang clang clang went the trolley!

    Dude, THAT’S a street car.

  • Komanoff

    Haha, no, I didn’t bike home right after the surgery. (Which is why I took a CitiBike to surgery rather than my own.) I was back on board 48 hours later, though. Thanks for your concern!

  • thomas040

    I think the strategy would be: how do we get rich people to bike? Build our bike infrastructure out to be the most high brow classy version on the planet, and people with money might invest in some super expensive electric bikes and join us? 🙂

  • ProfSlowlane

    Thanks to this article for pointing out the bliss of the NYC holiday ghost-town. Streets, theaters, and restaurants for the choosing. There’s the increased freedom from fear on a bike, but this weekend I think I enjoyed the vastly reduced vehiclular noise levels the most. It was almost “quiet.” Usually there is So Much Vehicle NOISE! All those tires growling across the pavements, honking of horns, rumbling motors! It’s nauseating and bad for your health. At some point, curbside space became space for private vehicle parking. Why is this publicly built and maintained street free in so many locations? Could parking curbside be fee-based? For fun look at the Muni Archives 1940 tax photos to see a no car city.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2d9fd172a5ccb3b93ad2839f859e6e3848e34f698e1e6a7780eb8ee6cba56dda.png

  • ProfSlowlane

    I feel that, but riding MNR north is better. Bike fee is a mere $5 lifetime. Nothing more damaging to the psyche than weekend escape traffic.

  • ProfSlowlane

    I agree with this sentiment. Yet, people with less money but who have a car may have fewer alternatives.

  • ProfSlowlane

    This makes sense, except for the gas-guzzling part. Get a fuel efficient car.

  • Joe R.

    I already proposed an idea for that—elevated bike lanes. That’s as classy and high-brow as you can get. It would also appeal to people of all income levels, especially the rich. They can got on their expensive electric bikes, and fly high over the masses, unimpeded by traffic signals or pedestrians. It would cost a lot, but only a fraction of what car highways cost. And unlike car highways, an elevated bike highway won’t split a neighborhood in two. Done right, it can even enhance the appear of a street.

  • cjstephens

    Don’t leave us hanging: how did you get home post-surgery?

  • Komanoff

    First time, taxi. Second time (remember, I had to have a re-do), bus to the surgeon’s office for exam, then subway.

  • Randy Wester

    Or maybe some people live in another place that you don’t fully understand, or have needs or physical challenges that you have never faced.

  • Snapperhead

    The NYC subway system has elevators and wheelchair access. It should be as handicapped-accessible as a private automobile for the most part.

  • qrt145

    “With 472 stations in total, the New York City subway is one of the largest rapid transit systems in the world. It’s also one of the least accessible: Only 25 percent of the stations are designated wheelchair accessible, the lowest rate of wheelchair accessibility for any heavy rail system in the U.S.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-new-york-city-subway-accessibility-problem-60-minutes/

  • Snapperhead

    The glass is 25% full and 75% empty. It’s still better than streets on the Upper West Side having rows of parked cars, night and day, that are rarely used. Even 25% of the largest Subway system in the world is still a good start. There are always taxis for the areas the Subway can’t reach as easily for the handicapped.

  • Andrew

    New York’s closest international peers in transit are probably London and Paris.

    The London Underground is similar to New York in terms of accessibility for those who can’t use stairs – the most recent count I saw was 71 out of 270 stations.

    The Paris Metro is way behind – with very few exceptions, only new stations get elevators. The RATP has never attempted to retrofit existing sessions for improved accessibility.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Barclays Center Opening Weekend Traffic: Not a Total Disaster

|
Many residents and elected leaders from the neighborhoods near the Barclays Center in Prospect Heights are letting out a sigh of relief after steeling for gridlock this weekend. Sellout crowds for the arena’s first events — three Jay-Z concerts — did not completely overwhelm nearby neighborhoods with traffic, but the strain on local streets was still clear. […]

Council Candidates at Fort Greene Forum Agree: Don’t Touch Parking

|
If you were hoping for inspiring leadership from the City Council on transportation issues after the next election, you may want to look somewhere other than District 35, which covers the neighborhoods just east of downtown Brooklyn. Two-thirds of households in the district are car-free, according to the 2000 Census. But while most candidates supported traffic calming […]

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Bike-Share vs. Parking Meeting

|
Last night’s Brooklyn Community Board 6 bike-share forum lacked the fireworks of previous meetings — no physical threats this time. While the tone was civil, the demands from the anti-bike-share crowd weren’t exactly reasonable. So far, Citi Bike has proven incredibly popular in CB 6, with some stations getting as much as seven rides per dock each day. That’s […]