I’ve spent far too much of my life dealing with the headaches of owning a car in New York City (and, to a lesser extent, its suburbs). As if the near-eternal traffic isn’t enough, parking is itself a giant time-suck for too many of us. The neighborhood where I spend my young adult years was a nightmare, especially if I returned home late from an evening out. Spending thirty minutes to an hour hunting for a spot on a Saturday night, which I’ve done more times than I can count, is soul-stealing.

I’m not alone. There are a million and a half car-owning households in the city.

Many New Yorkers, though, choose a different path. Slightly more than half of NYC’s households don’t own a car, and if we look solely at Manhattan, that number grows to over 75%.

I get it. Cars are a hassle in NY, and if public transportation serves your commute, you can live your life just fine… if you live in certain areas and work in certain others. New York has a massive public transportation system that, despite its equally massive woes, moves a lot of people every day.

But, it doesn’t and can’t move everyone. New York is big, and its citizens move in too many directions and ways to manage with public transportation. This subway map depicts the reality that much of the people-moving is radial, going into and out of Manhattan and the areas of the outer boroughs that are close to it. Live in Bath Beach, work in Ridgewood? You’re driving. Richmond Hill to Mill Basin? Ditto. Sure, you can finagle a route on the trains or with buses, but an hour and a half of public transportation is no substitute for a 30 minute drive (less without traffic).

Then there are the public transportation woes, which are massive, indeed. The New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) is a mess, with massive fiscal problems, aging equipment, infrastructure and stations, a dysfunctional bureaucracy, and back-breaking union/pension obligations. Efforts to sort all this out are perpetual, but politicians and politics being what they are, anyone who’s holding his breath is certain to pass out before any hint of real reform happens. Since that real reform would involve ruffling a lot of feathers, and of very powerful birds at that, a properly cynical person knows how all this is going to turn out.

One might be forgiven for believing that the first job of politicians at the local level is facilitating life for the people they represent. A good, responsive politician would understand that both vehicular and public transportation are fundamental to the city’s well-being, and that Job One should be to do as much as possible to make both work better.

Instead, even as the subways turn to shit and continue to overcrowd, our local solons work to make things more difficult for vehicular traffic. Instead of making car travel more efficient, they either don’t bother with things like traffic engineering and efficient travel routing, or deliberately ignore/work against solutions. In recent years, they’ve bottlenecked major thoroughfares, with dedicated bicycle lanes and pedestrian plazas (Broadway is now a two-lane street), capped the number of Uber/Lyft cars permitted in the city, and are seeking to implement a congestion pricing plan for the core of Manhattan.

While there is an argument to be made for things like congestion pricing, which serve to more efficiently allocate a scarce public good (the streets of a city) to users, none of this is about efficiency or serving the public’s desires. The latest telltale is City Council Speaker (and mayoral hopeful) Corey Johnson’s declaration that “that there are too many parking spaces in New York City.” He then went on to say that:

We should reclaim that space and use it for the public.

Wait… what?

Just who, exactly, does he think is parking in those spaces?

Some of this reeks of class warfare, as if people who can afford cars are less deserving of government’s efforts than those who do not. The rest? The arrogance of a politician who sees his job as managing and ruling us rather than representing and serving us.

Defenders of such efforts might argue that the voters have spoken by electing such politicians, and they’d be partially right. But, it remains that an elected official is supposed to represent all constituents, as is evident by the focus on individual rights and protections in our governing documents, and in the fact that our nation is a Republic, not a majority-run-amok democracy.

Sadly, too many people do not want politicians who serve us all. They want politicians who will coerce their political opposites into compliance, who’ll force cars off the streets, even though they themselves don’t drive and aren’t much off-put by traffic snarls. The fact that pushing more people into an already-problematic public transportation system is more likely to affect them than making the streets work better for cars may not have occurred to them, but so often it’s about the act of doing rather than the results produced.

When coupled with David Mamet’s observation that socialism is the abdication of responsibility, we can see why we end up with politicians that do to us rather than for us, and why so many seek to make life-long careers of politics, rather than being citizens who serve for a while, then return to their lives.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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