Wednesday’s Headlines: Breaking the Car Culture at the New York Times Edition

The Times Building. Photo: Google
The Times Building. Photo: Google

Personal log, stardate 75247.7: Look, I’m still angry about the New York Times’s coverage of mobility in the city that gives the paper its name, but only intermittently commands its attention.

Every day when you pick up that paper, you are assaulted by reflexive orthodoxy that pretends to be progressive, but is rooted in Establishment conservativism. I’ve come to expect that approach in the so-called Paper of Record’s political, national and international coverage, but it just doesn’t make sense when it comes to the paper’s local coverage — specifically its default setting that cars are just “normal” and that any new method of getting around (bikes, scooters, mopeds, car-free busways) is some radical experiment in social policy that is going to ruin everything (for car drivers).

That world view is front and center in the consistently car-centric work of Winnie Hu, but it shows up all over the paper — even in a largely jokey conversation the other day between columnists Gail Collins and Bret Stephens. (First, let’s admit that the trope of the two star writers talking about the issues of the day is getting old, largely because Stephens spends most of the time preposterously mocking progressive policies, forcing Collins to waste time and energy to defend the most overtly centrist ones, which are the ones Stephens supports anyway. In the name of comity and banter, she largely abandons the progressive issues rather than risk Stephens’s mockery of social programs that she, like most Americans, supports.

But Stephens crossed the line with the exchange below, where he called for the widening of the FDR Drive. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, but no intelligent New Yorker would even joke about that — unless he was so deeply embedded in car culture that he simply couldn’t see anything but cars as the way New Yorkers get around. (Stephens’s joke was even worse considering that Biden infrastructure money should actually be spent on widening bike lanes and creating dedicated space for mopeds and e-scooters, which will be better for the life of our city than cars once we design roads better to discourage car drivers from killing us.)

Just once, I would love to see the city covered in the Times from the perspective of the vast majority of New Yorkers who don’t own a car, don’t want a car, and think (yes, Gray Lady, this is how we think) that cars are ruining our city. I’d like to pick up the Times and be reminded that people who own cars tend to be far wealthier than transit users. I’d like to be reminded that car drivers cause roughly 220,000 reported crashes per year, injuring more than 60,000 people. That’s about 600 crashes per day, according to city data visualized by Crashmapper. I’d like to have reporters dwell on the fact that the MTA is spending 16 months studying the environmental impact of a car-reduction strategy called congestion pricing that is only needed because no one ever studied the environmental impact of unleashing all those cars on our lungs and streets in the first place.

I’d prefer any of that to entitled jokes about widening the FDR or blaming delivery workers for their own deaths because the business model of tech giants — who are catering to Times readers — make undocumented workers expendable. Of course the Times occasionally gets it right. But in its constant normalizing of car culture, its balanced reporting comes off as misfocused and completely out of step with where this city is, where it needs to go and what mode of transport is going to take it there.

OK, I’ll get off the soapbox now. (Please note that this story is bylined, unlike our normal staff-written daily headlines digest. So if you don’t like it, complain to me, not my reporters.)

As promised, here are those headlines:

  • Everyone covered Transportation Alternatives’ report that Mayor de Blasio’s open streets program has failed to reach even close to its promise. (Streetsblog, NY Post, Gothamist, amNY, and the Daily News swiping a headline term — “Abandoned!” — that we used earlier in the year when open street volunteers were being abused and their gates stolen). The DOT pushed back on the TA narrative — and incoming Mayor Eric Adams said he’d do better — giving Streetsblog a barnburner of a follow up!
  • There really was no news here, but the Port Authority, bowing to Gov. Hochul’s demand last week, has admitted that it is pausing the LaGuardia AirTrain. (NYDN, amNY)
  • Meanwhile, there are still plenty of powerful interests that are backing the other major lingering Cuomo-era boondoggle, the Empire Station plan. (amNY)
  • The City Council is angry at the NYPD for not taking placard abuse 311 calls seriously (NY Post). Not to toot our own horn, but Streetsblog is in the middle of a larger 311 investigation that will make the Council’s investigation look like the tiny tip of a really big iceberg.
  • It looks like only Streetsblog and Patch covered the important High Court ruling in favor of the city’s Right-of-Way law.
  • Gothamist covered the efforts by the SoHo Broadway Initiative, a business group, to turn a “stretch of Broadway into a pedestrian, bus and bike-friendly route; increase sidewalk space and pedestrian amenities (including seating) along Broadway and Broome Street; and establish public plazas along Prince Street and Howard Street.” Sounds good to us. (Streetfilms made the video embedded below.)

Spend Saturdays in October at “Little Prince Plaza” from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

  • Another person was killed on deadly Hamilton Avenue in Brooklyn (NYPD), which reminds me to report to you that neither the NYPD nor the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office have arrested the hit-and-run driver who killed Imorne Horton on Feb. 24 (even though cops have interviewed the driver).
  • While I’m on the topic of stuff the cops won’t tell me about, neither the NYPD nor Amazon provided me with an update on the Case of the Stolen Open Street Barricades when I re-asked about it last week.
  • And no comments come in threes, so I’ll also add that New Yorker Editor David Remnick did not respond to my question about why his magazine teamed up with a massive, super-gross SUV company for its annual literary festival.
  • Finally, following up on its story over the weekend blaming Mayor de Blasio for the failure of New York’s many sports teams to win a championship while he was mayor, the Post is now criticizing Hizzoner (albeit with a good headline) for where he chooses to take his daily walk. Come on, guys. Really?