What Leadership Looks Like: Council Speaker Wants to ‘Break’ NY’s Car Culture

Speaker Corey Johnson's comments are a direct challenge to Mayor de Blasio, who is saying the exact opposite.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson made some bold proposals on Tuesday. Photo: John McCarten
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson made some bold proposals on Tuesday. Photo: John McCarten

As Mayor de Blasio gives drivers free rein, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said for the second straight day that he wants to “break” New York City’s car culture.

“The most deadly vehicles in New York City are trucks and buses and cars, and we need to break the car culture in New York City,” Johnson said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We need to enable cyclists and pedestrians to be able to get around the city in a safe way.”

And on Thursday on NY1, Johnson doubled down: “We have to break the car culture in this city. We have to focus on bikes and the subway and other forms of getting around.”

In both cases, Johnson was reacting to two pieces of news: several members of the council introduced bills that would legalize e-bikes and e-scooters — and some pro-car culture comments by the mayor.

When asked about the e-bike and e-scooter bills, de Blasio repeatedly stressed that e-bikes pose a serious safety risk on city streets — despite statistics showing that drivers are responsible for all of the 145 people killed so far this year on the streets of New York.

Then he went out of his way to defend New Yorkers’ driving habits.

“We’re not telling people you can’t use cars anymore,” said the mayor, who has not fully endorsed congestion pricing, rarely rides the subway, gets driven in an SUV to his gym, and has been spotted on a bike only twice in all his years in the second most important job in the country.

Contrast that with Johnson, who has certainly spoken about the need for cyclists to bike safely, but has also openly discussed his desire to reduce the number of cars entering Manhattan. He is so supportive of congestion pricing that he is investigating whether the city could implement it without state approval.

And in his 11-month tenure at the helm of the city council, he’s already scored two major transportation policy achievements — a cap on the city’s for-hire vehicle industry and the reinstatement of speed cameras.

The mayor’s office declined to comment.

But Eric McClure, of StreetsPAC, described Johnson’s comments as “a breath of fresh air, literally.”

“He clearly gets that a New York City in which people get around safely and reliably on subways and buses and bikes will mean a better future for all of us, including those folks who need to travel by automobile,” McClure added. “We’re grateful for his leadership on these critical issues.”