Mayor: I Accept the ‘Streetsblog Challenge’ to Ride the Subway

The mayor rode the subway in February, 2019, to support congestion pricing. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The mayor rode the subway in February, 2019, to support congestion pricing. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
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He’s taking the talk, and now he’s promised to ride the ride.

On a day when he celebrated the arrival of a safe COVID-19 vaccine, Mayor de Blasio also said he would personally demonstrate the safety of the transit system, which also needs it own shot in the arm to restore rider confidence, and, with it, the fare revenues that can keep the system functioning.

In the past (and, admittedly in a different context), the mayor had derided as “cheap symbolism” calls that he ride the subway, but on Monday, the city’s ebullient chief executive accepted the so-called “Streetsblog challenge.”

Streetsblog: You said the other day that you would take the COVID vaccine to demonstrate that it is safe. Given that study after study [after study] show transit is also safe — and that transit is suffering because people think it is unsafe — will you also ride transit, maybe for a week, to show that it is also safe, although in the past you have said that such a mayoral demonstration is “cheap symbolism.” But maybe, in this case, it isn’t?

Mayor de Blasio: Respectfully, old friend, you are taking that quote out of context. That was a quote about a different matter, which I did feel at the time. But this is a different matter. I agree with you that it is important to let people know the subways are safe. I like the idea of having a period of time to really emphasize to people that they’re safe by being out there, so I accept that good idea. We will figure out when the right time to do it is, and we will invite you along.

It would not, of course, be the first time the mayor rode transit, though his use of the public transportation network of the region is far more limited than virtually any of his predecessors. In 2019, the mayor made several trips on the subway to promote congestion pricing, earning praise in a Streetsblog opinion column.

One thing is clear about the mayor’s future transit use: It won’t be between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., when the system remains shut down for COVID-19 cleaning (which studies show is not necessary).

On the question of the mayor’s concern that we had quoted him out of context, we stand by our story and our question. The 2017 comment referenced on Monday was related to an appearance by the mayor on the weekly WNYC “Ask the Mayor” segment, where Hizzoner was asked about whether he would give up his car to show support for the environment.

Friend of Streetsblog Charles Komanoff called into the show to say that de Blasio could “lead by example” if he would only change his own travel habits, including his frequent motorcade from the Upper East Side to the Park Slope Y. That’s when the mayor called that “cheap symbolism.”

“Whether I go to the gym does not affect the policies that affect millions of people,” de Blasio said.

For accuracy’s sake, the mayor riding the subway is, indeed, symbolic. Is it cheaply symbolic? You be the judge.

Whatever your opinion, six of the mayor’s would-be successors have also accepted the Streetsblog challenge. (Ray McGuire has never returned any of our calls.)

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.