Why Won’t New York City Ask People To Ditch Their Cars On Hot Days?

Why won't the city tell people to avoid this on a summer day? Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons
Why won't the city tell people to avoid this on a summer day? Photo: giggel/Wikimedia Commons

It’s hot. How hot? So hot that the mayor canceled his out-of-town presidential campaign appearances to be on hand to manage the disaster. That’s hot. So hot that the mayor is telling everyone to skip all-but-essential activities. But it’s not hot enough — it seems it’s never hot enough — for the city to tell people to stop using their emissions-spewing cars to damage our lungs and heat up our air.

Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio summoned the press corps to his emergency management bunker in Brooklyn Heights to send the dire warning about Saturday’s heat: stay home and set the air conditioner to 78 degrees, he said. Avoid the subway, he said. Drink plenty of water (no coffee or beer!), he said.

What he didn’t ask people to do was stop driving cars.

It’s part of a pattern that the city government has found itself in when it comes to extreme weather and driving. In instances like thunderstorms or blizzards, where there are clear threats to a driver’s ability to operate a car safely, the mayor asks motorists to stay off the roads. But on hot days with poor air quality, there’s never any suggestion that New Yorkers limit their driving to make life easier (and incrementally cooler) for their neighbors, even when the Department of Health clearly notes that the air quality is poor enough that people should limit physical exertion.

The city is aware, after all, that congestion is a major factor on the overheating Earth and on worsening air quality. According to the city’s own numbers, transportation is responsible for 30 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the raw amount is rising. New Yorkers drove more than 20 billion miles in 2017 — an increase from the previous year that put 12,456,065 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air. That’s a lot of noxious gas — and hot air.

Even from the mayor.

“It’s irresponsible,” said Joe Cutrufo of Transportation Alternatives, referring to the lack of mayoral guidance on driving. “The mayor won’t hesitate to tell New Yorkers not to drive when there’s a snow storm. Why should it be any different poor air quality days?”

Other local governments don’t seem to have a problem suggesting their citizens shouldn’t drive, despite the fact that they lack New York’s public transportation options. City officials in Croton-on-Hudson and (full disclosure, this reporter’s hometown of) Long Beach have responded to recent air quality and heat advisories by discouraging solo driving trips.

“Driving may be one of the most polluting activities that people do on a daily basis, so we encourage everyone to avoid unnecessary driving,” Croton-on-Hudson’s government told residents in response to a late-June heat advisory.

In contrast, a de Blasio merely said, “If you don’t need to go somewhere, don’t go somewhere.” A spokesperson suggested that Hizzoner’s advice applies to all forms of transportation, including driving. But the mayor missed a chance to specifically tell people not to drive.

“It’s not like this is a typical American city. The vast majority of us don’t rely on a car for day-to-day transport, yet our leaders won’t even suggest that maybe driving isn’t such a good idea, even on days when our health is at risk,” Cutrufo said.

  • Ishamgirl

    And biking to Larchmont? It would take at least an hour when driving takes about 15 minutes.

    Subway to Manhattan TJ’s will take at least 1-2 hours. Each way.

  • Ishamgirl

    See if I wanted to live in the Netherlands, I would move there. Not sure why everyone is stuck on what the Netherlands/Europe does. Go live there if it’s so wonderful.

  • This is mainly an American disease.

  • Go to an equivalent store in your own damn city, and stop boosting the economies of suburban counties which hate us, instead of our economy.

    The spending of your money is like a daily vote. Every dollar that could be spent in New York City but that is spent elsewhere is a vote for the degradation of our City.

  • Economic treachery.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s an alternate way to look at it. Figure how much your vehicle costs you per year to own, and divide that by your take-home hourly wage (not your before tax wage because you’re only using after tax dollars to pay for your vehicle). That will give you an idea of how many hours of time your vehicle costs to own. You might say but I’ll be working the same number of hours whether I own a vehicle or not. That’s certainly true. However, if you don’t own the vehicle that money can go into savings, which in turn means you can stop working a number of years before you otherwise could. In other words, you do eventually get to use those hours.

    Let me do a sample calculation based on some averages. The average annual wage in NYC is $50,825. Based on a 40 hour work week this translates to a pre-tax wage of $24.44. Everyone’s tax situation is different but typically about 25% goes for taxes. That means the post-tax hourly wage is about $18.30, give or take.

    The average cost of car ownership nationally is $8,469 annually. It’s probably more in NYC but let’s go with this number. This translates to working an extra 463 hours per year. Over 35 years that’s an extra 16,205 hours, or 7.8 years of full-time work. In other words, on average a person could retire close to 8 years earlier by not owning a vehicle. That’s just the money part.

    Let’s look at the time part. Each year you save yourself 463 hours by not owning a vehicle. However, that’s offset by the extra time you’ll spend shopping without a car. I’ll use your example of shopping at Larchmont. Driving will save you 1.5 hours on the round trip compared to cycling. If you shop at Larchmont more than 309 times per year, then owning a vehicle gives you a net time savings (but it still costs you a lot more money). If you only go once a week or less, which is what it sounds like, you’re way behind. You would need to make a lot of other shopping shops with similar time savings to break even. And here’s the rub. Cycling in NYC is often faster than driving, or at least the same. That’s what I found where I live. When I used to ride with my parents to the Lake Success shopping center, the 7 mile trip took anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes. Biking takes 25 minutes on average but could take 30 minutes on a bad day. Worst case, driving saves me 10 minutes (assuming the trip by car is always only 20 minutes, which it’s not). If you go by averages, the bike trip takes 2.5 minutes longer each way. Note this is a trip on a route where cars actually have an advantage. There is rarely traffic and there aren’t that many traffic signals. On many less favorable trips I handily beat car travel time. Therefore, driving in many cases doesn’t even offer time savings.

    I know you won’t change your habits in the near future, or possibly ever, but this is all something to think about. If you’re already in your 50s, think about how you may have already been able to retire by not owning a vehicle. If you’re much younger, think about how many years of free time you could gain by not having a vehicle. You’ll also be healthier from cycling, which gives you more years period, but many, many more years in good health.

  • Urbanely

    Considering tonight’s subway meltdown in rush hour during the heatwave, maybe it’s not about encouraging people to stay off the roads so much as just stay home or indoors as much as possible.


  • @Joe R. – Except that the Jevons Paradox is already kicking in, wasting those gains. Be sure to pick up the latest issue of Sierra, the publication of the Sierra Club, with its boffo article, “SUVs Without Shame — Because They’re Electric.”

    Just feel the Earth heal!

  • @Joe R. – You’re trying to use reason with someone who calls us “tards” and writes crap like, “Go live in the Netherlands.”

  • Vooch

    Its a little over 5 miles from Eastchester HS to the Larchmont TJs – a easy 1/2 hour ride at a liesurely 12 MPH pace. 12 MPH is the pace Citibike riders ride in suits or sundresses.

    google says driving takes a honest 22 minutes. Add in parking and the difference in time is nil.

    Drivers tend to be myopic about time saving.

    This example is typical.

  • ddartley

    Interestingly, the *state* does make quiet, hard-to-find suggestions to drive less on days it deems the air quality to be dangerous. Here’s a screenshot of an email you can sign up from the state DOT. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dfd9b0f6809f8811f298916ef7fd6dd86f88d400b51ea774a6508125fddc02cc.png

  • BronxEE2000

    You’d really blow your top then to know I go to Walmart in Jersey.

  • BronxEE2000

    Eastchester HS? Does not exist in the Bronx.

  • Absolutely unconscionable. That is shameful behaviour for a New Yorker. Any thinking person can see the desirability of keeping our spending power within our City.

  • BronxEE2000

    Well when the City allows Walmart to actually exist in the five boroughs, then I’ll keep it here. And no, Target isn’t the same.

  • May we never have a Walmart here.

    You can get anything that those thieves sell at a better store in our City.

  • BronxEE2000

    But not at a cheaper price and with the CoL being as high as it is already, having a Walmart to save at least some money would be quite nice. If that’s not going to happen, off to Jersey I go.

  • Vooch

    so skippy where in the Bronx do you live

  • BronxEE2000

    Around the East 180th train station.

  • Vooch

    then its fastest to take the Lexington express to TJs in Manhattan

    and easier than battling motor traffic on the BPR

  • BronxEE2000

    Or I just go to the TJs in Larchmont which is closer and easier to get to. Also I wouldn’t be using the BPR to get there.

  • Guy Ross

    You just Trumped us, Isham. Think about that one for a while.

  • AMH

    Drivers don’t even need a storm to operate a car unsafely. Let’s play it safe and ask them to stay off the roads every day.

  • AMH

    I always thought we got the concrete and asphalt backwards. Asphalt is ideal for sidewalks where you don’t need to bear the weight of heavy vehicles. It’s far easier to take up and put down for utility work and repairs, and it doesn’t destroy your shoes, or crack your skull if you fall. You can even use mixes with recycled rubber instead of stones.

  • Joe R.

    While we might not want to use asphalt on sidewalks because frankly it’s ugly, those are generally my thoughts as well. Streets should be concrete. Sidewalks could be concrete, paving stones, bricks, interlocking plastic or hard rubber panels (great for access to utilities), or even asphalt in places where the goal is to provide pedestrian access only as cheaply as possible.

    Asphalt is generally garbage when used for streets. It needs frequent repairs, it never stays smooth, plus it makes the city hotter in the summers.

  • AMH

    Rubber sidewalk panels are great–nonslip, shock-absorbing in a fall, and ice-resistant. Oddly the only place I have seen them used is a few locations in DC.

  • Joe R.

    Also, you get more uniformity when the city is in charge of sidewalks, instead of the patchwork we have now with mismatched cement blocks.

  • GuestBx

    Reckless and inattentive driving will still be a problem, along with kicking up crap but the increase in electrification is a major win.

    The world is moving towards cleaner energy sources and it’s worse to spew the pollution in population centers. In the USA, most poor people also live in cities and suburbs. Rural populations are more limited in general.

    Also, the continued implementation of autonomous features is great for safety. Features like automatic braking and blind spot monitoring are becoming standard.

  • GuestBx

    Why do you travel all the way out there to get food? There’s good grocery stores in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.

  • GuestBx

    Many people who only drive only know how to get from point A to point B and aren’t aware of the amenities in between. There are good grocery stores in the Bronx.

  • GuestBx

    There’s a Costco in East Harlem. Whole Foods in Central Harlem. Trader Joe’s near W 96th.

    And there’s BJ’s, Stop and Shop, and Shop Rite in the Bronx now.

  • GuestBx

    There’s a Stop and Shop not far from that train station and over 10 different ones within a mile. Trader Joe’s is on the 2 train near W 96th if you must.

  • GuestBx

    There is a BJs in Kingsbridge near the 238th St stop on the 1.

  • GuestBx

    There is a really nice new ShopRite in the Bronx at the Shops at Bruckner Plaza, which is way closer to E 180th St than New Rochelle.

  • GuestBx

    There is a new ShopRite at the Shops at Bruckner Plaza in the Bronx.

  • GuestBx

    I live in the Bronx and most of us wouldn’t even have to do that! There’s a Costco on the Lexington Ave line in East Harlem, very accessible to most people in the Bronx. These two are just making life seem impossible for no reason.

    They just mentioned ShopRite, but there’s one in the Bronx! Previously they mentioned BJs but there are 3 here!

    They are trolling to defend their choices.

  • BronxEE2000

    Sounds easier to take my car and go to the TJ’s in Larchmont.

    Also I know that Stop and Shop. As for the other supermarkets, outside of Big Deal, I don’t think any of the other’s a really worth a damn. And besides, I’d be driving to these supermarkets anyway.

  • BronxEE2000

    I also know that ShopRite. The reason I go to the one in New Rochelle is that I work there (yes I drive to work), so I go after work sometimes.

  • BronxEE2000

    No we’re not trolling. The 2 BJs that are in the Bronx are not near me (I can’t speak for her). The ShopRite only opened up last year. And no matter what, we’d still be driving there.

  • BronxEE2000

    Sorry, but those features just mean more inattentive drivers as they just learn to expect their cars to do what they should be paying attention to.

  • BronxEE2000

    You’d be wrong. Sure there are some good grocery stores (the former Pathmarks now Stop and Shops, Aldi), but there are also some terrible ones. We know what’s around.

  • BronxEE2000

    Come to the Bronx and tell me all the cars here are owned and used by rich people.

  • GuestBx

    If the feature works it won’t matter, the collision will be avoided.

    As it is now people crash all the time and automation means less crashes.


De Blasio on a rare subway trip in early 2014. Photo: Rob Bennett/NYC Mayor's Office

It’s More Than “Cheap Symbolism” When the Mayor Rides Transit

De Blasio dismisses the importance of getting out of his SUV. But if he's getting chauffeured everywhere he goes, there's no way the mayor can viscerally understand what the three-quarters of New Yorkers who don't commute by car experience on a daily basis. If he doesn't regularly experience what it's like to get around without driving, he won't feel on a gut level why improving transit, biking, and walking is so important.