Having lost his fight to get rid of carriage horses, Mayor de Blasio has decided to join the winning side and embrace other 19th century modes of transportation: hence the city will spend billions on ferries and streetcars.
Both of these ideas appear to be aimed at satisfying the vision of the Walentas brothers (Two Trees), the Elghanayan brothers (TF Cornerstone), Toll Brothers (Toll Brothers), and any other donors—siblings or not--to his now defunct nonprofit who own real estate developments along the waterfront.
Washington D.C.—admittedly not a city that anyone looks to as a model of municipal management—recently opened streetcar service ten years after having bought the cars and laid the tracks. The streetcar line, which runs 2.2 miles, is apparently a disaster of sorts, and can be outpaced by a brisk pedestrian.
Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City are among other cities that have installed streetcars in the last ten years. Most of these experiments are basically novelties: urban planners love streetcars and appear to have convinced local politicians that streetcar lines will invigorate ghastly downtowns.
New York’s streetcar will ostensibly be funded by a TIF on all the future waterfront development, which is fine if it works out. But what exactly do streetcars do that buses don’t? Buses don’t require massive capital commitments for installing miles of tracks and the development of special rolling stock to run on them. Buses can run flexible routes and go around stalled cars.
The problem with buses however is that they aren’t very attractive to the sort of people for whom all that luxury construction is meant. Where streetcars have a nouveau-vintage appeal, buses smack of old people and poor people. Shuffling, talkative types. Cantankerous guys in plastic jackets that say METS. No one wants to leave his or her 3 million dollar waterfront loft and say, “I hope the bus is on time.”
The ferry proposal is utterly nonsensical, however. The city had an extensive ferry system for hundreds of years…and then they built the Brooklyn Bridge. Ferries died for a reason: they are expensive and inefficient, and can’t run when there is ice in the water. After Superstorm Sandy the city opened up ferry service from Rockaway to Manhattan, and had to cancel it after two years because the subsidies were ridiculous: the city was paying $30 per passenger per ride.
Also, ferries suffer from the perennial “last mile” problem with new transit solutions. Most people don’t live or work right by the water, and there aren’t very many subway or bus stops right by the water, either. So commuters wind up with lengthy pedestrian journeys at either end of the ferry trip.
The ferry system will be an expensive, heavily subsidized and underutilized boondoggle.
By the way, the mayor reached a new low in sanctimonious, pandering bullshit this weekend in Harlem. Speaking about why he changed his name, de Blasio cited “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as an inspiration. Malcolm X rejected his birth name as “not really his name,” and similarly de Blasio decided that his slave name “Warren Wilhelm, Jr.” wasn’t right for him either. His new name “was [his] true self.”
The fact that he changed his name 25 years after he first read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” while in the middle of his first run for elected office, shouldn’t make you think that there were any political implications to his choice.
Incidentally, why does the mayor constantly throw his father under the proverbial streetcar wheels? “I honor my father for all he did for his country and all the good in him, but I only unfortunately got to see the bad,” he said at the First Corinthian Baptist Church. A few years ago he told the Times that from his father, "I learned what not to do."
Obviously de Blasio must resent his father for killing himself, but he should save it for his therapist’s office, just for the sake of manners. The guy fought in World War Two and lost a leg, and his son grows up and just constantly heaps scorn on his memory. With that kind of gratitude, it isn’t surprising that de Blasio hemmed and hawed about endorsing his former boss Hillary Clinton.