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Reducing commuter misery is essential to ending NYC’s ‘Ghost Town’ of shuttered stores

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Reducing commuter misery is essential to ending NYC's 'Ghost Town' of shuttered stores

New York has lost its captive office commuters, a loss that contributes to the city’s ghost-town effect. To have a hope of luring commuters back, the state and city will have to treat public transit not as a utility, but as an amenity — something people, for the most part, like to do.

Luckily, Gotham will start the post-COVID era with some advantages, in long-term mega-investments that are about to pay off. 

For the first time ever, the Big Apple’s corporate employers and their office workers have proved that they don’t need the city. People may not like working at home forever, and they may become less productive and competitive. But the blunt truth is that they have done it for almost a year now. People’s tolerance for commuting misery has thus irrevocably decreased. 

New York can’t rebound unless it coaxes commuters back. On an average fall day in 2019, of the nearly 3.9 million people who descended on Manhattan below 60th Street to work, shop or run errands, 76 percent came in via some sort of transit. That figure included 2.2 million subway riders, nearly 350,000 commuter-rail passengers and nearly 300,000 bus riders. 

With subway ridership at 30 percent of normal and railroad ridership at about 20-25 percent of normal, the question is how to get at least some of them back. 

The answer: Make it nicer. The state’s Moynihan Train Hall, a new portal into Penn Station, which opened New Year’s Day, points the way forward. No, it doesn’t add train capacity. It does make people feel like they are wanted

As it happens, New York has a bunch of similarly cool stuff coming online in the next year or so, which will boost moods and garner a little commuter interest. Hard to believe, but in 18 months, East Side Access, the $11.1 billion Long Island Rail Road terminal below Grand Central, will open. Together with new track capacity on Long Island, it will give tens of thousands of suburbanites a far easier and more pleasant commute to East Midtown.  

And yes, in trying to bring back Upper East Siders, it’s better to have the five-year-old Second Avenue Subway than not. That’s partly because the stations are clean and big. 

Now, we’ve got to do the same for Jersey commuters, investing in new Hudson River tunnel capacity and a new bus terminal. And we need to keep modernizing subway signals, so more frequent trains are permanently less crowded. 

None of this will matter much, though, if a perpetually broke Metropolitan Transportation Authority (and New Jersey Transit) have to cut service or raise prices. In the post-COVID world, nobody with a choice is going to pay even more for a monthly railroad pass to wait longer for a train. And employers know that letting people work at home, even a few days a week, represents a big savings for them.  

The federal government’s $8 billion bailout has bought the MTA time, at least until the end of this year. The authority should be using that time to cut costs. At the commuter railroads, in particular, decades-old featherbedding union contracts should be torn up, with both sides starting over. 

There’s no point in making commuting nicer, if the commuting destination itself is miserable. Major transit hubs like Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal and the Port Authority Bus Terminal are plagued with open-air drug use and vagrancy. The problem isn’t so much inside the stations, but on the surrounding blocks. To counteract unpleasant foot traffic, big real-estate firms should deploy teams of brightly uniformed civilian “greeters” to make returning commuters, theatergoers and tourists feel welcome. 

Fifty years ago, Mayor John Lindsay had a pet obsession: air-conditioned subway trains. It seemed bizarre, when Gotham was descending into high unemployment and crime, for the mayor to badger transit officials and contractors to force them to do what they insisted they couldn’t do: cool the cars.  

But Lindsay was right. People aren’t cattle, and they care about the quality of their commute. Improve, and they will come.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor of City Journal.  

Twitter: @NicoleGelinas

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Opinion

Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckoning a sour ending for a transformative prime minister

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Benjamin Netanyahu’s reckoning a sour ending for a transformative prime minister

Benjamin Netanyahu showed the opposite of grace as he exited from power on Sunday.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — June 14, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — June 14, 2021

The Issue: The discussion of law and order at last week’s Democratic debate for mayor.

If any one of these five candidates becomes mayor, it will be the continuation of the de Blasio era (“Crime focus of Dem debate,” June 11).

Many of them are in favor of defunding the Police Department, which is why there is so much crime, and shootings are rising every day.

The people of this city had better wake up when they go to vote. Haven’t we had enough of this? When will it stop? These candidates will not put an end to all this.

Rob Johann

Queens

Thinking that a Republican candidate could not win the mayoral race in New York, I switched my party to Democrat so I could vote.

After listening to all the Democratic candidates during the debate last week, I want to immediately switch my party back to Republican and vote for Curtis Sliwa.

He is our only hope to live in a city that values law and order. He won’t cave to these left-wing zealots who will further destroy our city and our quality of life.

We need a mayor who can bring back the tourists, help our economy and ensure a better life for all of us.

We cannot let the city go into further decline with any of these Democratic candidates. Please, wake up and vote for someone who will lift all of us up.

Susan Green

Manhattan

The fact that Andrew Yang is slipping in the polls is the only good news in the mayoral race.

Eric Adams is talking about crime, while Yang thinks the biggest issues for the city are AI and climate change.

If Yang wins, people will be dreaming of “the good old days” under Mayor de Blasio, formerly thought to be the bottom of the barrel.

Andrew Delaney

Miami, Fla.

I am not impressed by any of the Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City.

What each of them is proposing will cause further crime, divisiveness and decay, raise taxes, make life more miserable for residents and visitors and drive more families out of the city.

What does it take to get through to the New York voter? How bad does it have to get before they abandon a party that is becoming more idiotic with every election cycle?

Take a look at cities and states that have been doing well under Republican leadership and consider voting Republican.

D.M. Diana

Greeley, Pa.

Even Adams is falling for it. He said the “solution” to city violent crime is to reach out to youth and improve mental-health services.

These chic answers are a guarantee that innocent New Yorkers will continue to be murdered, raped, thrown onto subway tracks and maimed.

Get the violent off the streets first. Whether they are criminal or mentally ill, sort that out afterward. Get them away from the rest of us first.

Paul O’Keefe

Union City, NJ

I generally agree with The Post’s endorsements, but I am baffled by its support of Adams for mayor.

His stance on the NYPD changes at his convenience. One day he’s anti-cop and a fierce critic of the NYPD (even though he was employed by the NYPD), and then he switches and comes across as pro-police.

Can New Yorkers elect a mayor who lacks common sense and leadership skills? His suggestion last summer to New Yorkers to settle disputes about illegal fireworks on their own and not call the police was deadly. Shatavia Walls, 33, died as a result.

Adams lacks the moral compass and common sense required to be a winning mayor. The people of New York deserve better.

Susan Berger

Brooklyn

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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Opinion

Maya Wiley can’t contain her contempt for cops

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Maya Wiley can’t contain her contempt for cops

Maya Wiley again proved what a disaster she’d be as mayor last week, by refusing to commit to not disarming cops.

At the debate, WCBS’s Marcia Kramer pushed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s former legal adviser on what she thought of state Attorney General Letitia James’ suggestion to mandate that law-enforcers use force only as a last resort. Wiley dodged: “Safety is job one, and I’m going to keep New Yorkers safe when I’m mayor.”

So Kramer asked if she’d take guns away from the NYPD, and Wiley dropped her bomb: “I am not prepared to make that decision in a debate.”

Huh? What decision is there to make? It’d be absurd to disarm the city’s cops at any time, let alone one when the bad guys are firing their weapons at an ever-higher rate. Yet Wiley’s refusal to commit is an announcement that she finds the idea attractive.

Not that it’s a real surprise: Wiley is a police-hater who demonized NYPD officers in a campaign ad in which she claimed cops don’t think she and other black New Yorkers “deserve to breathe.”

In reality, the NYPD’s work has saved tens of thousands of black lives in recent decades, by bringing the murder rate to historic lows — though it’s now starting to inch back up because Wiley and her fans imagine that police violence is now the greater threat. Literally: She’s vowed to slash the NYPD’s budget because “trauma” from dealing with cops is a bigger problem than crime.

In reality, most minority New Yorkers want more cops in their neighborhoods, though of course they want the police to do their jobs as politely as possible. Then too, the force itself is now majority-minority.

All of which is why Eric Adams wisely made fighting crime the signature issue of his campaign and why he leads in the polls. But a large and fractured field plus the advent of ranked-choice voting could let a loon like Wiley sneak into the Democratic nomination and likely victory in the fall — unless all sane New Yorkers make sure to leave her entirely off their ballots and choose only pro-public-safety candidates.

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