L’CHAIM! Southern Brooklyn Pol Gave Up His Car — So Can You, Mr. Mayor

Council Member Chaim Deutsch talking to transportation activists last week — the first day he took the subway to work. Gersh Kuntzman.
Council Member Chaim Deutsch talking to transportation activists last week — the first day he took the subway to work. Gersh Kuntzman.

If car-loving Council Member Chaim Deutsch can trade in his private four wheels for the public subway, then anyone can — even the mayor!

Deutsch, a regular car commuter, represents car-dominated neighborhoods including Sheepshead Bay, Midwood, and Brighton Beach — but decided to give up his automobile after a 10-year-old boy was killed waiting for a bus earlier this month. Now he’s become a crusader for car commuters to join him on the subway.

“I would encourage them [drivers] to use mass transit as much as they can — even once a week,” Deutsch told Streetsblog. “If I could do it, I think anyone can do it. I’ve been driving for quite a while. It is possible to use mass transit when you can. It not only take cars off the street, it also adds to revenue for the MTA.”

Deutsch proudly posted a picture of himself riding the subway this week, and said on Thursday that his new congestion-free commute has caused him much less of a headache. His comments came days after Mayor de Blasio said he would not give up his car, even for just one day.

“I use my car when I need to use it,” he told Streetsblog on Monday. “[I’m] certainly looking for every opportunity if I don’t need to use it — sometimes the subway is a lot better, but I’ve got to decide case by case, given the nature of my job.”

Deutsch declined to shame the mayor — he’s too nice a guy for that — or demand that the leader of the “Fairest Big City in America” trade in his SUV and get to work on a bus, a subway, or even a bike like most of his eight million constituents. But other safe-street advocates chimed in to say what Deutsch wouldn’t.

“Most New Yorkers don’t rely on a car for day-to-day travel,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “In Manhattan, where the mayor lives and works, only 10 percent of commuters use a car to get to work. We invite the mayor to pick a day and time, and we’ll gladly join him on a bus or bike ride from Gracie Mansion to City Hall, so he can experience what New Yorkers deal with every day.”

Deutsch gave up his car a few days after an out-of-control driver hit and killed 10-year-old Enzo Farachio while he was waiting for the bus to get home from school on Sept. 10. He previously drove from his home in Midwood to City Hall, and that it would waste nearly an hour of his life as he sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but now he takes the train, which shaves a good 20 minutes off his commute — he also gets to meet local heroes, he said.

“The upside is that I’m not sitting in congestion, I’m getting to meet people on the train, it’s exciting,” he said.

Deutsch said he’s cut the amount of time he gets behind the wheel in half, and now only uses his car to shlep to evening meetings in his district, sometimes multiple events on the same night. But even if people can take public transit just one day out of the week instead of driving, it makes a difference, said the council member, who loved driving to work so much that he would occasionally tweet about the spaces at City Hall as “the People’s Parking Lot.”

“I feel that it’s a change of lifestyle for people, but driving in certain areas, the streets are extremely congested,” he said.

City Hall declined to comment for this story. The mayor was asked about bike commuting on his regular “Ask the Mayor” segment on WNYC on Friday, but he dodged the question.

Earlier in the day, the mayor again reiterated his support for fighting climate change, tweeting, “You can’t fight climate change without:

  • Mandating emissions cuts on large buildings.
  • Implementing congestion pricing.
  • Divesting from fossil fuels.
  • Suing Big Oil.
  • Reducing unnecessary plastics.”

He said nothing about reducing driving — his or voters’ — which is the cause of 30 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, Chaim Deutsch is doing something about it.

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