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LEST WE FORGET: It’s Normal for the Mayor to Take the Subway or Ride a Bike

Mayor Eric Adams doing a very normal thing. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

The new mayor has been riding the subway a lot, and even using a bike a little, in his first three days in office, and judging by the media coverage of his every MetroCard swipe or Citi Bike scan, people seem to think it’s weird.

You know what’s weird? A mayor not riding the subway or a bike to get around.

On Monday on NY1, Mayor Adams once again was apparently forced to explain why he does that, saying that his typical day will involve taking the subway or riding a bike to get where he’s going because he (the shepherd) has to stay in touch with us (the sheep).

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OK, maybe the shepherd (him) and sheep (the rest of us) language is better suited for the pulpit than politics, but there’s nothing strange about Adams doing what two million people do every day on the subway or more than 50,000 people do on bikes every day — that is, get to work.

(What is weird — and certainly newsworthy — was Adams’s weird, and easily ratioed, insistence that New York could have beaten back Covid with just a little more swagger, as the much-reposted tweet below shows.)

Consider instead that what’s really weird and needs explaining is when the mayor doesn’t ride a bike in this town. When Adams rode a Citi Bike from Gracie Mansion to some TV studios near Lincoln Center, the self-proclaimed efficiency guy was doing exactly that: using the simplest solution to his transportation problem.

What’s really happening here is Adams is challenging a status quo that isn’t actually a New York status quo at all — mayors like Koch and Bloomberg long rode the subway with little fanfare. In reality, Adams is fighting the status, not the quo. With just a quick swipe of a MetroCard, our new mayor is making a much more cutting swipe at all those fancy companies that are trying to lure employees back to the office by sending private shuttles for them so they can avoid using public transit.

Indeed, the mayor’s transportation choices wouldn’t be news or notable at all were it not for the failure of his predecessor Bill de Blasio. Remember that guy — the Bostonian who used a motorcade to get to the gym?

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Except for a few transit nerds and activists (looking at you, me), New Yorkers never really asked why the mayor had such a pathological attachment to his chauffeur or why a mayor who constantly touted his ferry system never rode it, why a guy pushing a BQX trolley never took the bus and why a guy who boasted about all the bike lanes he built never used them.

It’s like we’ve all been so gaslighted that when Adams took the subway on New Year’s Day, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis posed a question to his roundtable whether “we” want the mayor on the subway (he later explained he was concerned about terrorism). The roundtable reporters didn’t really take Louis’s bait, most likely because the question itself was stupid; after all, if it’s fair to argue that Mayor Adams shouldn’t be on the subway, it’s much more fair to ask if de Blasio was always grumpy and irritated with his job because he was constantly stuck in traffic in his mini-van like some kind of everyday loser.

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The world has changed since the days when Robert Moses worked from the back of his chauffeured car, and it’s even changed since de Blasio claimed he needed to be driven and certainly couldn’t take a bike to work because he needed to take phone calls. It’s long past time to call bullshit on that kind of, well, bullshit; for at least a decade, you haven’t been able to duck a call from your boss or spouse by saying, “Oh sorry I’m getting on the train” or “I’m about to go into the F tunnel.” Now Slack and all five bars follows you basically everywhere in the subway system (except for the DeKalb Interlocking), so mayors can’t get away with, “Sorry, I need to remain above ground in case the Parks Commissioner attempts a coup.”

Of course, it’s not entirely a New York trope that important people ride in the back seat of big cars and do their important big boy work. In Nashville, City Council Member Sean Parker, who gets around on a bike, has experienced it firsthand:

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But in New York, giving politicians credit, instead of derision, for riding the subway is especially essential now, not only because de Blasio twisted our brains by presiding over eight years of carmageddon, but also because other politicians (well, including Adams) are demagoguing New York City Transit as unsafe (because Covid) and unsafe (because of criminals). Both claims have long been debunked (and even the latest NYPD stats show that whatever uptick there has been in underground crime, the subway is remarkably safe compared to the not-so-recent past).

So next time you see Mayor Adams on the subway, remember, he’s just a straphanger, so mind your business (or give him some policy recommendations, seeing as he’s on your train). And if you’re a reporter, get your butt out of your automobile and your brain out of the suburbs — your eyes are telling you the truth: a mayor on the subway isn’t news.

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