Authoritarian Leaders and Agenda Setting

On Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo proposed a new signature initiative: a $450 million AirTrain to LaGuardia, connecting to the Mets’ stadium on both the 7 train and the LIRR. The proposal has practically no merit even as an airport connector: Ben Kabak and Yonah Freemark both note, with helpful graphics, that the connection is so circuitous it’d be slower than the existing bus-subway options to nearly every destination, including everywhere in Manhattan. Capital New York notes that in general, transit activist reactions to the plan were cold, precisely because it’s such bad transit.

The interesting aspect of this is about the counter-criticism, and the discussion it led to. (In contrast, Cuomo’s general hostility to transit and intercity rail is not news, and it’s unlikely someone with such a history could come up with cost-effective transit plans.) The main reaction to the criticism is not “where would you spend $450 million instead?”. That question has a few answers, all of which are boring: the general MTA capital plan, or, if the money is to go to expansion, Second Avenue Subway Phase 2, the next item on the city’s transit agenda now that Phase 1 is nearing completion.

Instead, the main reaction is “how would you connect to LaGuardia instead?”. That question, too, has a definite answer, which Ben talked about in his post, and which I pointed out in my post about airport connectors last year: an extension of the N to the east, with several stops (for example, at Steinway and Hazen) to serve more of Astoria and not just airport riders. The N takes a direct route to Manhattan, passing through or next to the top areas for LaGuardia passengers, as seen in the second map here. But even that is the wrong question. There are probably more cost-effective subway extensions in New York, having nothing to do with LaGuardia; I have to say probably, since at no point has the MTA proposed large enough a slate of possible extensions that we can compare projected costs per rider and say “this is the best.” There might even be better ways to extend the N eastward than to LaGuardia: an elevated line over Ditmars, a short segment of the Grand Central Parkway, and Astoria Boulevard would serve East Elmhurst, a dense, transit-deprived section of Queens, and would probably produce higher ridership than a swerve from the GCP to the airport.

Such is the power of a governor who’s accountable to nobody: he proposes a scheme, and even the criticism is on the governor’s own terms of providing service to LaGuardia. Yonah compares travel times to various destinations on various alignments for connecting LaGuardia to the subway. Nate Silver’s response has an infographic with travel times from the airport to city hall in various American cities – an infographic that is of little use to New York, where the main destination is far north of city hall, but is well within the general topic of LaGuardia’s airport connections. Even I, cognizant of this agenda-setting power, have to at least mention an alternative LaGuardia connector, knowing readers will want a plan.

The cheeky response to this is that in a democracy, this wouldn’t happen. Now, the US is a democracy. Cuomo has to stand for election every four years. The worst infrastructure disasters tend to be in countries that are authoritarian through and through: Russia’s elevated winter Olympics costs in Sochi and Qatar’s human rights abuses in the World Cup preparations are the two biggest recent examples. But democracies with insufficient checks on political power are susceptible to this as well. This is common in the third world, where corruption is more common – hence the abuses of the World Cup last summer, in a solidly democratic country – but can also happen in developed countries with democratic deficits.

Usually, the phrase democratic deficit refers to the EU, and by analogy other supranational organizations. But in the US, it’s a useful framework for thinking of local and state governments. Rick Scott, Scott Walker, and John Kasich needed nobody’s approval to reject federal funding for intercity rail. Chris Christie did not need anyone’s approval to cancel ARC, or to cause traffic jams in retribution against a mayor who refused to endorse him; in a recent article in New York YIMBY, defending the cancellation of ARC as originally proposed, I made sure to take multiple barbs at Christie, just to avoid playing into the agenda of canceling ARC to posture about government waste while diverting rail money to the New Jersey Turnpike.

Cuomo’s power is if anything even greater: the New York state government works by a three men in a room model, in which the governor, the speaker of the State Assembly (just indicted for corruption), and the majority leader in the State Senate (currently relatively powerless and dependent on Cuomo) wield all practical power. In such a system, Cuomo does not have the power to shoot protesters, thankfully, but does have the power to propose megaprojects that glorify him, without a broad discussion with stakeholders, in which the MTA’s long-term expansion plans and cost-benefit ratios would come into play.

Last year, in writing about elite infrastructure projects that are not about meeting a service need, I noted that talking about such projects in terms of cost-effectiveness is moot, because they were never intended to be about benefiting the wider public. We could discuss where to spend money on transit in New York in the way that would benefit the largest number of riders. We could even discuss what the optimal way of connecting to LaGuardia is, before comparing the best connection with non-airport projects to see where it should lie on the list of future expansions. But it would be pointless, because Cuomo is not interested in spending money on benefiting the largest number of riders; he frankly does not care about transit riders. When the time came to support transit riders, for example in signing a lockbox bill guaranteeing that money the state government had promised the MTA would indeed go to the MTA, he vetoed the bill instead.

In such a climate, as soon as we talk about tweaks to Cuomo’s plan, Cuomo’s already won; whatever happens, he will reap the credit, and use it to buy political capital to keep building unnecessary megaprojects. Even trying to make the best of a bad situation by making the airport connector better is of little use, since Cuomo will support the plan that maximizes his political capital and not the one that maximizes transit usage even within such constraints as “must serve LaGuardia.”

This is evident in his response to criticism among transit activists. After listing the many pundits and activists who oppose the plan, Capital New York included a response from the governor’s office, which said, in so many words, “our plan is better because it doesn’t go through populated neighborhoods, where there would be NIMBYs.” What those of us who want good transit view as a feature – connecting to underserved neighborhoods and not just to the airport – Cuomo regards as a bug. A plan that included additional stops in Astoria might well attract community support, while still offering much faster trip times to Manhattan because of the direct route, but would rely on non-airport ridership, which Cuomo doesn’t care about, to keep the cost per rider reasonable.

Because of this disconnect between what would work for transit users and what would work for Cuomo, the only reasonable answer to the plan is a simple no, which should be said as sharply as possible. No working with the proposal: it’s terrible, a true stone soup. No tweaks: Cuomo wouldn’t want any ingredients that would improve the soup, and would insist on keeping the stone in anyway. (He doesn’t have to eat it, he doesn’t use transit either way.) And, within the parameters of a transit conversation in which people are desperate to see expansions, no discussion that validates Cuomo’s original plan.

Update 7/28: in a joint announcement with Joe Biden, Cuomo has just announced $4 billion in airport improvements at LaGuardia, bundling the rail connector into the larger projects. I have nothing to add that I didn’t already cover in this post and in my older post about elite infrastructure investments.

39 comments

  1. Eric

    “Rick Scott, Scott Walker, and John Kasich needed nobody’s approval to reject federal funding for intercity rail. Chris Christie did not need anyone’s approval to cancel ARC”

    How does this indicate a deficit in democracy? I don’t think any of these politicians became less popular because of their decisions to cancel rail projects.

    “our plan is better because it doesn’t go through populated neighborhoods, where there would be NIMBYs.”

    That doesn’t mean “I dislike the idea of serving neighborhoods”, it means “we wouldn’t succeed in building anything through a neighborhood, so better to build outside neighborhoods than to not build at all.” Which is a quite understandable position (assuming Cuomo’s not being disingenuous).

    • Alon Levy

      Kasich, Scott, and Walker all had terrible approval ratings by the middle of 2011. Walker was in the low 40s and the others were in the 30s, as I recall. They ended up winning, after years of economic improvement; the point here is that an election every four years is insufficient to check the power of the executive, and independent power centers are required.

      The reason I interpret Cuomo’s rationale against the N extension uncharitably is that the historic plan he references, Giuliani’s N extension to LGA, did not include any stops between the current terminus and the airport. Of course there would be NIMBY opposition – the extension didn’t serve the neighborhood at all! In contrast, a plan that added stops on Ditmars would probably have its supporters (who’d have a subway station closer to home) and detractors (who wouldn’t want the el). The political climate in the US already disempowers NIMBYs on matters of public infrastructure, except on truly undesirable land uses where the neighborhood and its representatives can present a broad united front. California, which through CEQA is NIMBY-friendlier than New York, swatted lawsuits against HSR from Palo Alto and other rich Silicon Valley suburbs. Cuomo’s powerful enough to build even a nonstop el through Astoria, let alone one with stops, which would garner some support from the neighborhood. He just doesn’t want to.

      • Eric

        Kasich announced in his campaign that he intended to kill the HSR project, was elected, and then killed it:
        http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2010/12/09/09-rail-money.html

        Scott and Walker also campaigned with a negative attitude towards HSR (a quick googling did not yield any explicit election promises to kill the projects, but there might have been), and were elected before killing their respective projects.

        So it seems to me that all three did exactly what they promised in their campaigns. What could be more democratic? Blame the voters who are willing to destroy their country in order to reach Ayn Rand’s utopia, not the political system which let politicians do what they were elected to do.

        As for Giuliani’s plan, it would have extended just over two residential blocks (<0.5 miles) before entering an industrial area. Would an extra stop have been justified less than half a mile from an existing stop? Unclear.

        As for Ditmars, a rather narrow mostly-residential street, I can't believe you think an elevated subway can be rammed through there. If you support an el there, why don't you support an el on Utica – a much wider and mostly industrial street?

        "Cuomo’s powerful enough to build even a nonstop el through Astoria, let alone one with stops, "
        Are you sure? And even if he technically is, why should he spend so much political on it?

        • Alon Levy

          Walker ran on an anti-train campaign. Scott did not.

          But even that is not enough, because voters only had two choices, which were packages of many different things. Compare the snap cancellations in the US with the Green-Social Democratic coalition’s actions in Baden-Württemberg: they put Stuttgart21 to a referendum, the referendum failed, and they acknowledged the will of the people and continued construction.

          As for Ditmars, the narrow stretch is a bit more than a kilometer. It’s not ideal for an el, and a new line there should be underground, but the line that this would connect to is elevated, and frankly, an el-subway transition in that area would be more disruptive than a two-track el, unless they rebuild parts of the existing line as a subway ($$$$). Utica I assume would be a subway because the 4 is a subway in that area, again; I personally wouldn’t mind an el south of about Empire Boulevard, using Utica’s natural grade between Carroll and Empire to expedite the transition. But also, Utica is likely to get more riders per unit of length. It’s about 5 times as long as Ditmars, but I think a larger than factor of 5 difference in ridership is plausible. Average ridership on the Astoria Line stations is a bit more than 10,000 a day; Ditmars is higher, but it’s a terminus, and stations at Steinway and Hazen would poach ridership, so around 20,000-25,000 riders at the new stations is plausible. In contrast, Utica has a daily bus ridership of 48,000, plus 38,000 on Nostrand and 32,000 on Flatbush. Of course we can’t expect 500,000 daily riders as on the full SAS, but the B46, B44, and B41 are still slow buses, and a subway with more than twice the average speed would have much higher ridership than those buses.

  2. betamagellan

    It’s worth noting that on the state level there’s often no transit consensus—although southeastern Wisconsin was very much in favor of improved rail links to Chicago, I think the state as a whole was essentially split 50/50 on the matter (the Milwaukee area doesn’t have the population share—ergo political pull—of someplace like Chicago or Boston), and I can’t recall whether the 50/50 split was the population as a whole or the electorate that year, which leaned more conservative. While I don’t know the exact situation in New York (and I’m in no way defending Cuomo and his fellow triumvirs, or denying their agenda-setting power),

    Where there is a widespread consensus is often rather soft (or, in most suburban regions with commuter rail, circumscribed to peak periods commutes), and areas with a strong consensus often don’t have the financing ability to build or improve infrastructure on their own (I believe this has been a stumbling block for Milwaukee County, which has sought some kind of fixed rail for decades and has tried unsuccessfully partnering with regions to the west and south to establish a regional tax district).

    • Adirondacker12800

      If you believe everything on WIkipedia, in nice round numbers one out ten Wisconsinites actually live in the municipality of Milwaukee. The metro area makes up more than one third of the state’s population.

      • betamagellan

        Much of that’s from the “red collar” of anti-rail suburban regions that have helped torpedo regional transit funding—I think intercity service has more support than transit there, it’s still very anti-rail. It really is closer to just Milwaukee (and maybe Racine County wrt intercity service to Chicago).

  3. letsgola

    This is an interesting premise, but I think it’s possible to come up with counterexamples too. Governments in Asia that were/are authoritarian to varying degrees have managed to build quite useful subway projects. Brazil was run by a military dictatorship when Curitiba’s famous BRT system was built. Being in charge of a large economy/population by nature gives you a lot of power to set the agenda, no matter how you ended up in charge.

    • Alon Levy

      Those governments built prestige projects of little use, too. For example, China built a national expressway system because that’s what modern countries do, but then put tolls so high the roads are empty (or at least were a few years ago – things in China change rapidly). It also built infrastructure for purely colonial purposes, i.e. the railway to Tibet, and for show purposes, i.e. the 2008 Olympics. Singapore, every Western conservative’s favorite example of a competent autocracy, has subway construction costs that may be up there with the US and UK – per kilometer it’s still cheaper, but the $600 million/km Thomson subway it’s building has a built-up environment more similar to that of BART to San Jose than to that of Crossrail.

      Now, of course, those authoritarian states still build infrastructure, and China’s rail investment is decent. (And I’m more positive about CRH than most Westerners, since I remember both Wenzhou and Eschede and not just Wenzhou.) The issue with Cuomo is not that authoritarianism necessarily leads to bad investment everywhere. It’s that it leads to prestige projects whose justification is independent of their usefulness.

      This is why I think it’s important that Cuomo has a history of hostility to transit, with the MTA lockbox veto and the canceling of an HSR study. An autocrat who is relatively pro-transit, such as Bloomberg, can build useful things. Bloomberg wasted a lot of money on the 7 extension, which he could divert to SAS Phase 2, but his long-term plan did include SAS Phase 2, and my reading is that given more time, he’d have funded it, or at least spent political capital trying to wrangle state and federal funding. Similarly, the Lee dynasty in Singapore is pro-transit and anti-pollution, at least locally, and has built a reasonable subway system. The sharp “no” response is about areas where the autocrat has a history on the wrong side, not ones where he has a history on the right side. As an example, progressives could work with Bloomberg on issues of walkable streets and mass transit, but not police brutality, including stop-and-frisk. In Singapore the equivalent of transit under Cuomo and police brutality under Bloomberg is democracy itself: the Lee dynasty is unlikely to relinquish power voluntarily and allow free elections.

      • Adirondacker12800

        The 7 extension was expensive. It’s going to be well used once all the office buildings and condos are built.

  4. johndmuller

    Is Cuomo’s plan using Airport fee money that would be problematic to use in conjunction with a subway expansion, or is it state and Port Authority type monies that have no such restrictions? The difference could be significant.

    • 4thepeople

      The proposal for the LaGuardia rail connection is in the “initial planning phases”, according to the governor, and that “All the costs will be from existing state resources”, including $5 billion the state has received from financial settlements with banks and insurers. That means so far, there has been no mention of using airport fees as a mechanism of funding for the proposed airport rail connection. It is not a “subway expansion” though, it will likely be like JFK’s existing air train, so separate from the subway operated by MTA, instead probably operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which might be a smart move by the governor, as the MTA has not indicated too much enthusiasm in an LaGuardia airport rail connection, and any new subway route would probably receive a lot of opposition from residents who would be next to the route, as well as any new subway link needing possibly 6 times or 10 times the amount of funding. In opposition to that, the Port Authority might be very interested in getting a rail connection to an airport it operates, and the route would not go through any existing residential areas, so people would not be as opposed to it as there would for example be no new elevated subway in front of there house, and also an elevated new right-of-way will be much cheaper to build than a new tunnel right-of-way for a subway expansion.

      More information about the proposed air link is available here:
      https://www.vanshnookenraggen.com/_index/2015/01/why-cuomos-airtrain-route-will-work/

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  6. 4thepeople

    Many might think it is of course legit to make the statement that governor Cuomo’s proposal for rail to New York City’s LaGuardia airport is bad, just as it is to say that it is good. And at least some rail advocates may scratch their heads reading this article, how again and again people who might be seen as supportive of transit are speaking out against rail.

    There might be at least some people, who think that besides many other new rail construction that should happen, also the current LaGuardia airport rail proposal should become a reality. At least, some might think that LaGuardia airport, with about 27 million passengers annually, located in the most populated city in the nation, located inside of the most populated metro area in the nation, should have a rail link. Some might think when there are other airports elsewhere in the world, handling less passengers, having not only one rail connection but two, LaGuardia should finally at least get one.

    At least some might think, that the LaGuardia rail proposal will improve transit in the city, give people more transportation options, open up easy, new all-rail airport access to whole areas who did not have it before, help change people’s minds that is not necessary to always the car, yes indeed one can walk and conveniently use transit, help bring sustainable mixed-use development to the area, create more walkability in Willet’s Point, reduce airport-related automobile and taxi traffic, reduce pollution, help people economically as there might be more development and more jobs, help LaGuardia become a more attractive airport and also help New York City compete nationally and in global space as an attractive place for business.

    • Alon Levy

      First, cut the “some people” weasel-words.

      Second, I think it’s totally legit to think Cuomo’s proposal is good! It just happens to be wrong. Most of the post is not about why it’s wrong; Yonah and Ben said everything I could say about this, and more. Instead, the post is about how come this extension, which most area transit activists oppose and which the MTA has no interest in, generates a discussion that’s entirely on Cuomo’s terms of “service to the airport.”

      Third, your argument in favor of the extension boils down to “everyone else is doing it.” Airport connector boondoggles are global. There’s that example from Seoul that I mentioned in comments on Yonah’s blog and in one of my previous posts here years ago. The political failure that leads elites to overrate airport connectors so much is global: jet-setting elites are everywhere, and overrate the importance of air travel to people’s lives everywhere. For the same reason, these elites like express airport connectors, like the Heathrow Express or that private-sector initiative they’re trying to set up in Paris, even though local trains and buses get more traffic (see page 28 here).

    • Adirondacker12800

      How many of LaGuardia’s 27 million passengers are people who arrive by airplane, walk across the concourse to another gate and depart by airplane without ever leaving the terminal on the ground side/unsecured side? It doesn’t matter to them whether or not traffic is bad on the roads or what the bus schedule is or how many car rental companies there are or how long the line is in the taxi queue or if they can take a train anywhere. well it does matter to people who would be on train if we had high speed rail service. Instead of using LaGuardia as a hub they could just get on a train at their origin and take the train to their destination in many many cases. As it is at Newark and JFK and Philadelphia and BWI and Dulles and Logan and all the itty bitty feeder airports.

      • Alon Levy

        LGA’s domestic O&D traffic – counting people who change from an international flight (i.e. from Canada) to a domestic one as O&D – is 56,000 per day, so 20 million a year.

        The problem with LGA transit isn’t “not that many people use LGA.” It’s “the trains would be slower than current bus-to-subway alternatives” and “there’s more potential ridership per dollar spent in East Harlem, East Midtown, the Utica corridor, or whatever the hell you call the Triboro RX shed.”

        • Adirondacker12800

          How many of the are going to switch from using an automobile in one form an an other? How many people use AIrtrain from Howard Beach, Jamaica and the Newark Airport train station. Why would ridership be much more different than the Airtrain connections to those airports. You don’t have to answer. Maybe someone else will.

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  8. Puzzled

    Not up to your usual standards.

    1. Your dislike of 3 executive decisions and 1 executive proposal ≠ proof that excess executive authority hurts American transit policy.
    2. You make no specific proposals for improving the situation, let alone offering any evidence that such reforms would precipitate improvement.
    3. You don’t address the issue that the sort of public input you seem to support killed the optimal LGA transit option (and would probably do so again now).
    3a. You certainly don’t demonstrate that direct(ish) democracies achieve superior results to representative ones in general. Popular opinion has produced both good decisions (no Canal St. highway) and terrible ones (no Westway). What prevails?
    3b. If you envision officials elected on transit issues alone as the proper check on the executive, you need to explain why they would be superior, keeping in mind that whatever the faults of any particular NY governor, they have all been wildly more effective, honest, etc. than any other elected officials in the state.

    I digress. I think the problem is that you wrote a blog post on a topic that would require a book-length exploration.

    • Adirondacker12800

      Most people, after having Westway explained to them, don’t think it was a good idea.

      • Puzzled

        I really hope you signed up to be notified of new comments because I’m very curious what aspect of the project makes anyone you’ve spoken to think it was a bad idea.

        I can’t say I talk about 35 year old transit projects with all that many people, but I have yet to meet a person here who doesn’t think, in retrospect, that Westway would have been brilliant. (I do know two who opposed it at the time, but they both believe now that they were horribly wrong.)

        • Adirondacker12800

          South of 96th Street and probably the whole island, automobiles are a bad thing. Encouraging them by building limited access highway is even worse. The streets can’t cope with the extra traffic and there’s no place to park the cars once they get there.

          • Puzzled

            Sigh. Look at the projections of what traffic would have been using it. And then imagine that traffic not being on Manhattan surface streets and the island actually having access to its riverfront. The only sane objection to the plan was from people whose riverfront views would have been blocked by the new buildings.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It doesn’t work that way. You build more road it just encourages more people to drive.

    • Alon Levy

      Ad point 3, the public input that killed the N extension killed an extension that wouldn’t add stops in the neighborhood. Granted, the extension would have added just two long blocks of el to the neighborhood, but if Astoria wouldn’t take two blocks of el in exchange for access to LaGuardia in 8 or so minutes, what does this say about the usefulness of airport access?

      As for direct democracy vs. representative democracy, the most direct democracy in the world today in Switzerland. Not the cleanest natural experiment, but still indicative of what voters do when the elected officials have to listen to them. But even the threat of direct democracy can work: in Stuttgart, the Greens knew they couldn’t just cancel Stuttgart21 – for one, they were campaigning on an anti-Stuttgart21 agenda and not a general anti-government spending one, so details mattered more – so they invited Swiss experts to help them put together an alternative plan, which would have provided many of the project’s benefits but without the signature underground station. Germany isn’t Switzerland, but the Green-Social Democratic coalition still had to go to ballot on the cancellation, and lost.

      Finally, the New York state legislature is really not a good argument for more gubernatorial power. Why would it? Are corrupt local nobles an argument for absolute monarchy? The legislature has the same lack of oversight problem as the governor, only worse. Nearly all districts are safely in the hand of one party, and Democratic primaries do not have consistent enough ideological battle lines for voters to be able to express preferences there. Republican ones are better at being ideological, the factions being the moderates and the Club for Growth/Tea Party far right, but the latter faction is almost definitionally against good government, and so are its equivalents this side of the Atlantic. So the result is that the mechanism that produces people who are supposed to check the governor’s power produces people who are just as unaccountable, and easier to bribe. And even then you’d rather have corrupt people check one another’s power than let the governor run roughshod over everyone.

      • Adirondacker12800

        It says that people in Astoria don’t see an advantage to taking the subway to LaGuardia versus having a car service pick them and their luggage up at their door and dropping them at the curb near their gate? There’s not a lot of people willing to walk to the subway with their luggage. So they would be in a cab or on the bus anyway.

        • Alon Levy

          Okay, but that raises questions like “why would Astorians keep using car services rather than a one-seat subway ride whereas Upper East Siders are expected to switch to a two-seat ride?”. Maybe there’s an answer, but I suspect an honest discussion would unravel a lot of the rationale for why We Must Have a World-Class Airport Rail Service.

      • Puzzled

        It’s not just the legislature. New York has had some good mayors and governors and some bad mayors and governors, but every decision-making body of more than five people, be it elected or appointed, from the potato famine to yesterday morning, has been a such a disaster that you couldn’t include it in fiction because readers/viewers would be unwilling to suspend disbelief.

        There’s a least a chance that you’ll get a decent executive in New York, but any sort of board or council or committee in all of New York state will actively work against whatever outcome it is supposed to work for. I cannot explain why this should be our fate, but it is and all New Yorkers realize this.

        • Alon Levy

          Okay, so then the question is why these bodies are so dysfunctional. It’s clearly not inherent to the idea of legislative power, since in e.g. Toronto, city council was an effective check on Rob Ford’s antics. The explanations I lean to are,

          – It’s part of the autocracy. City council has limited power to check the mayor, and the legislature is run as a three-men-in-a-room business. In this climate, a legislator can engage in power brokering, lobbying, patronage, and corruption, but not any of the things honest people might want to go into politics for. People who want to clean stuff up stay out of politics, or become public prosecutors, like Bharara. In Israel, the situation is flipped – the attorney general is in the prime minister’s pocket and the comptroller is afraid to do anything, but there are opposition MKs who raise hell about government spending priorities.
          – More in the city than the state: total lack of ideological choice. New York is a city of primaries. The primaries do not involve consistent ideological factions, e.g. “machines” and “reformists,” who form a coalition and an opposition in city council. Instead, they involve individual star power, including the star power of endorsers.

          Somewhat tellingly, in Israel, city councils don’t do any good, either. Israel has directly elected strong mayors, rather than a parliamentary system as at the national level; because parties in city council can’t form makeshift coalitions and replace the mayor, they have an incentive to crawl to the mayor’s coalition and tell all their pissed-off voters that they’re trying to change things from within.

  9. Adirondacker12800

    Because the infrequent airplane trip with the family of four to see grandma in Florida means the short cab ride from Astoria isn’t all that expensive. Especially in the context of four airfares to Florida. Most people in Astoria don’t live at the subway station. Going that far with a brown bag lunch is somewhat different than carting along a week’s worth of clothes.
    The people on the Upper East Side think it’s a fabulous idea. For other people they imagine exist. They are still gonna get in a cab if they they don’t call a limo because people who can pay the rents ( or can afford condos ) on the Upper East Side aren’t concerned much about the cab fare to any of the the airports. Or the people who can afford hotel rooms on the UES. There’s a lot of reasons why you don’t want to book a flight during rush hour at any of the NYC airports and traffic on the roads is only one of the many reasons.

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