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City Desk

Not-So-Mean Streets

by Richard Brookhiser

This is no city for cars. Taxis, yes, of course: We depend on them. But for personal cars it is a struggle — a feral struggle. Garaging one here is like renting a second tiny apartment. Driving here belongs with blood sports, fox-hunting or running the bulls at Pamplona, when it isn’t rush-hour slow-dance. Now and again I see a princely car, a Maserati or a Lamborghini, crawling along in car hell. I own a car myself but I park it 90 miles away. I would not keep it an inch nearer.

Our last mayor tried to convert the city to bicycles. What makes bicycles morally uplifting? One of the selling points of the strange Sixties/Seventies cult of Mao was that all his subjects bicycled. Sure, he killed 40 million of them, but the survivors got their exercise. The old mayor made a deal with a bank, and queues of blue bicycles appeared on every third street (there is one on my street, beside the school named for Washington Irving). The bicycles seem sturdy — built for potholes — and deliberately dowdy, as if to discourage theft. You release their front wheels from the slots in which they stand nestled by swiping a card, then away you go. People do use them, or did until the retreat-from-Moscow winter set in.

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