This past week, Queens became a mini battleground in the race for the Democratic party’s nomination for governor of New York. On back-to-back days, challenger Cynthia Nixon and incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo held press conferences in the borough to talk about transportation issues—Nixon holding a 7 train presser on Thursday, and Cuomo touting the post-Hurricane Sandy improvements to the Queens Midtown Tunnel.
While we welcome the attention to the borough from the people vying to be the most powerful politician in the state, we do want to issue a general point of caution to the candidates: Don’t oversell yourselves. While you are both incredibly smart people who can clearly articulate the many transportation woes facing commuters, it is folly for you to conflate that confidence with suggesting you know how to solve these massive infrastructure hurdles.
You can play politics with some issues. Transportation is not one of them. It impacts the lives of millions of people—at least two million in Queens. It’s best that you leave the solutions up to the experts.
This advice also extends to the City Council, currently looking at several pieces of legislation to regulate ridesharing in the wake of high-profile tragic suicides by yellow cab drivers, and a barrage of stories about medallion prices’ falling. Your instinct is correct to want to do something. The problem is, you should do your homework before you start voting. Uber and Lyft have become an integral thread in the elaborate transportation fabric of New York City, which includes trains, subways, buses, ferries, bikes, Zipcars, personal cars, and just sucking it up and walking because that turns out to be the fastest way to get from point A to point B. New Yorkers have wired their brains, with their bank accounts in mind, to make the best choice for themselves personally.
Anyone proposing transportation fixes should be cognizant of all this before starting to implement policy. You need to see the forest, not focus on a few trees. If you need help seeing the forest, guess what? There is a bevy of people who have dedicated their lives to studying these issues at the MTA, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and at advocacy groups and think tanks.
We need better transportation solutions as the city continues to grow. But politicians should fight the urge to be the saviors of our transportation woes, and should instead present themselves as conduits for commuter complaints to reach industry experts, who can better craft long-term solutions.