De Blasio: I Have Too Much ‘Going On’ to Ride the Subway to Work

Look how happy riding the subway makes you, Mr. Mayor. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office
Look how happy riding the subway makes you, Mr. Mayor. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office

If not now, when?

Mayor de Blasio said that he’s still looking for the right time to take the subway, telling reporters last week that there’s too much “going on” right now to take the train — though he promised Streetsblog back on Dec. 14 that he would ride the subway for a week to show that it’s safe.

“I want to do that and want to do it quickly, as you can see there’s been a lot going on, but I definitely want to do it,” the mayor said on Friday when asked for an update on when he’d keep his promise. “What I said is there’s a week where I put a lot of travel into subways. I’m looking forward to that. When we do it, we’re gonna do it very publicly, because I want people to have confidence in the subways. So we’ll figure out that date and announce it and welcome you to join us.”

The answer was a bit shocking, given that many New Yorkers — the vast majority of whom commute by subway or bus — have “a lot going on,” too. (Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams came up with one way of avoiding the Streetsblog Subway challenge — he’s been sleeping at his office.)

Straphangers were baffled by the mayor’s answer that he’s looking for the right time to get on the train.

“I take the subway every day to work,” said Susan Miller, a nurse with NYU Langone who was getting off the train at the Prospect Park subway stop and clearly had a lot going on.

Others said that they also took the train when they also had a lot going on.

“I have to use it to commute, so I don’t really have a choice,” said Sam Howe, who recommended the B and the Q as “nice” options.

The mayor’s schedule suggests no reason why he can’t use transit to commute from his home at Gracie Mansion to work at City Hall every day. And his public appearances — such as “Mayor de Blasio will tour a mass vaccination site in the Bronx,” “the Mayor and First Lady McCray will push the button at the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop” and “Mayor de Blasio and First Lady McCray will light a kinara in City Hall Park to celebrate the first night of Kwanzaa with HOT 97’s Ebro Darden” — could easily have been accommodated by transit.

But the mayor’s answer also fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the challenge to him to ride the subway for a week. No one (at least no one at Streetsblog, your favorite website), is demanding the mayor make every two-stop subway ride a huge public event that makes every train crowded with media. A weekend ride on a 4 train from Crown Heights to Harlem showed there wouldn’t even be room from that.

Pandemic subway 4 train
There’s room for the mayor, but no room for a braying pack of reporters on this Saturday afternoon 4 train. Photo: Dave Colon

There’s value to inviting the press along and doing some high-profile rides to assure transit-shy people that the subway is safe. There’s even more value to just being spotted on the train (nothing’s more authentic than showing up a few minutes late to an event and saying, “Signal problems, amirite folks?”) or seeing first-hand what’s happening to the 1.6 million New Yorkers who are taking transit every day, despite the pandemic. People get on the train “with a lot going on” every day, or is the mayor unfamiliar with the fact that people love to talk about crying on the subway.

As Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris pointed out when we gave the mayor the New Year’s resolution to ride the subway, taking transit is the lowest-hanging fruit of walking the walk towards a true understanding of what Vision Zero means.

“The mayor recently urged a ‘call to arms’ to rapidly expand Vision Zero,” said Harris. “His first step should be walking, biking, and bus-riding like everyday New Yorkers, and we would be happy to join him across the five boroughs as he sees with his own eyes the need for streets that put people before cars.”

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