Why Is Bill de Blasio Afraid of Safer, Saner Streets?

It was hard to miss mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio as he made the media rounds yesterday. After positioning himself as the “outer borough” candidate on the local Fox morning show, de Blasio — who voted against congestion pricing and the transit funds that would have come with it — traveled to Washington Heights to shake hands with straphangers.

The city through Bill de Blasio's windshield. Photo: NYT

Later in the morning, during a segment on WNYC, Brian Lehrer asked de Blasio how he would get New Yorkers to “go and play” in Times Square, where the pedestrian spaces installed in 2009 are about to be made permanent. Here’s what he said:

All of us, including those of us who drive cars, such as myself, we don’t necessarily seek out Times Square. I’m glad our tourist friends do, which has been very good for the city. But that’s a tall order. Maybe the greatest asset of Times Square being the Theatre District around it, maybe that’s the ticket. But I’ll have to give that one some thought.

Okay, we get it: De Blasio is competing with Bill Thompson and John Liu for the anti-Bloomberg mantle. But what’s so hard about saying that Times Square is more inviting now that pedestrians aren’t spilling out into traffic because the sidewalks are so crowded? Where is the harm in acknowledging that business is booming now that people have room to walk, stand and, yes, take a seat at the Crossroads of the World?

One of the memes of the de Blasio campaign is that New York is “a tale of two cities.” He has a point. There’s the distorted city as seen through the windshield glass, and there’s the city as experienced by the car-free majority. So far, de Blasio has identified himself squarely as a motorist. The New York Times informed everyone last October that he drives himself to events. But when was the last time he rode the bus, took a crowded train, walked across a street like Queens Boulevard, or shared a street with motorists while he was on a bicycle?

New Yorkers who don’t drive everywhere want to know.