Editorial: Bill de Blasio Must Put His Feet Where His Mouth Is on Climate

Despite the drastically warming planet (and his own heated rhetoric), Mayor de Blasio refuses to get out of his SUV — even for one day a week! And he wonders why people don't like him?

The mayor in his natural habitat — a taxpayer-funded monster truck.
The mayor in his natural habitat — a taxpayer-funded monster truck.

Greta gets it. A car-loving judge in Queens gets it. Even Council Member Chaim Deutsch, who loves commuting to City Hall in his car so much that he called his and his colleagues’ taxpayer-financed spaces “the People’s Parking Lot,” gets it.

They get that cars are killing us.

Yet Mayor de Blasio doesn’t get it. Sure, he was all pumped to march with the Climate Strikers on Friday and tweet out his support for combating global warming. But when he returned to the office on Monday, Streetsblog was there to ask him (again!) if he would finally consider giving up his taxpayer-funded SUV, even for just one day per week.

Nope, he said. That sacrifice is simply too great.

“I use my car when I need to use it,” the mayor told us, at almost the same time that Greta Thurnberg was shaming world leaders. “[I] certainly look for every opportunity if I don’t need to use it; sometimes the subway’s a lot better. But I got to decide case by case, given the nature of my job.”

Oh, please.

The mayoral press corps — those redoubtable denizens of Room 9 —  for years have asked the mayor whether, in the name of climate change, he would ride the subway like the rest of us or at least give up his frequent, 11-mile, motorized caravan to work out at the Park Slope YMCA.

He won’t. Yes, he rode the subway for some photo-ops earlier this year when he wanted to show he cared about congestion pricing, but the mayor almost never takes the subway or bus, has never ridden a bike on a public street and is rarely a pedestrian.

The mayor has defended his use of cars on the grounds that it makes him more efficient. And, indeed, it must be nice to be able to read and make calls rather than be squeezed in with everyone else on the subway.

But is the mayor so tone deaf that he can’t even see that one minor symbolic change could provide outsized gains: If the man with the second most-important job in the nation can give up his car once a week, certainly other Masters of the Universe would realize that they could, too.

It’s not like de Blasio doesn’t know that about a third of our greenhouse-gas emissions comes from transportation. Nor could he have missed that the New York Times, of all conservative, pro-car outlets, recently counseled that Americans should cut their driving by 10 percent.

But the calls are getting louder and harder to ignore.

Transit Center honcho Tabitha Decker on Sunday tweeted at de Blasio to join her for a bike ride “to better understand what’s happening out here” and show the public that he’s “serious about addressing climate change.”

“New Yorkers need to be able to get around using sustainable means without fearing for their lives,” she added. “We need a full network of protected bike lanes and enforcement of the law on our street.”

Meanwhile, Curbed’s architecture critic, Alexandra Lange, took to Politico to argue that mayors and other urban politicians spend at least one day a week working car-free.

“This wouldn’t just be an exercise in empathy for constituents who don’t have cars,” Lange opined, but an opportunity for politicians who for “years of being driven from A to B to C” to experience “hundreds of data points” from which they may have become estranged: “Are sidewalks in good repair? Is there shade at the bus stops? Where does it flood during a rainstorm?”

You mean, pay attention to basic local issues? De Blasio? This is the guy who is constantly admitting he doesn’t know basic things about his own city (remember that time he said he was unaware of how recklessly private sanitation trucks drive around late at night?).

This is not a man who engages with his city at the “data point” level.

Finally over the weekend, The Intercept’s Peter Maass this week excoriated de Blasio for “his central role in not doing the one big thing that is within his power to save the planet.”

“You will not find a mayor who is more devoted to talking about the urgent need to fight global warming,” Maass wrote. “He publicly celebrated the courage of Greta Thunberg when the 16-year-old environmentalist arrived in New York on a sailboat earlier this month, and he has piously warned that humanity has only 10 years left to save the planet. He has made some helpful changes, like announcing new guidelines on pollution levels for buildings. But these are the easy things. Getting cars and their lethal exhaust off the streets is the most important thing he could do and also one of the most difficult — because of a vocal minority of drivers with outsized clout.”

Yet the mayor seems untroubled by the hypocrisy of how his personal behavior stacks up against his pious climate-change positions — nor, evidently, does he appreciate the irony of some of his pronouncements.

Asked Sunday to respond to President Trump’s boycott of a United Nations’ climate-change discussion, de Blasio said: “This is the fate of the earth we’re talking about. And we saw those young people come out on Friday, they’re literally saying this is a matter of their survival and that their president can’t even bother to go to a climate summit — that’s pretty disgusting.”

“Pretty disgusting” that Trump skips a climate conference? Of course. But talk is easy — action is, well, also easy. De Blasio could easily get one motorist off the street — himself — for one day a week. Then he could work on getting others to abandon their cars. If Chaim Deutsch could do it, certainly de Blasio could.

If none of the calls for behavior modification touch the mayor’s sense of self-image, then maybe he’ll be motivated by spite, at least.

After all, the only person defending the mayor’s constant driving is none other than his political enemy Sean Hannity — whose show has tagged climate science as “absurd medieval witchcraft.”

“You have every right to go to Brooklyn, eight miles away, to do your stupid workout. … I’m defending you,” Hannity told the mayor.

If neither Hannity nor Greta Thunberg are enough to shame the mayor into reducing his driving, perhaps nothing will.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

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

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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.