New York Means Expected Excellence

A recent report from the New York City Comptroller found that New Yorkers work the longest weeks and have the longest average commutes in the U.S. What makes the report so disturbing is that the two top cities with the longest commute times: New York and San Francisco, are cities that have some of the most extensive public transportation infrastructures.

And not only do New Yorkers have long commute times for the many millions who live outside the five boroughs and commute in every day, New York City residents who live and work in the city have long commute times.

I am one of those New York City residents that have a long commute. I live 12 miles from where I work. Google Maps tells me it takes 24 minutes to drive that distance without traffic. It takes me over an hour to get to my office each day even when things are running properly (which is rarely).

New Yorkers tolerate these long commutes (which are getting worse and more expensive at the same time) not because we are suckers for punishment but because New York is worth it.

We expect a certain level of excellence in New York. Things that are acceptable or even considered excellent in other parts of the country just don’t make the cut here. That’s not being snobby or cruel, it’s just the cold hard truth. New York excels at smashing people in the face with cold hard truth at every opportunity.

I definitely notice that borderline New York snobbery creeping up on me in certain circumstances, especially at restaurants when I’m traveling. I’ve been to enough good restaurants in New York that when I go outside the city and stuff just isn’t right I notice right away. I know I wouldn’t have noticed if I had been living elsewhere.

The reputation for New Yorkers as being rude is tired and not entirely true. There are plenty of rude people in the city, absolutely, but what many people take for rudeness is actually just a brusque sense of not having time to waste. As the numbers show, New Yorkers are in a hurry and have less time to dawdle. That’s a testament to people being at the top of their game and playing for keeps.

There are reasons the city is teeming with people, many of whom were born elsewhere. It’s because New York is a symbol of the very top of everything: music, art, culture, dining, literature, you name it. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere—the adage holds as true today as it ever did. Our homeless are even better than other cities if for no other reason than they have to be smart enough to survive the cold weather and that weeds out the extremely feeble-minded.

And, while it certainly is not justified, city residents almost always feel a twinge of schadenfreude when a friend or acquaintance leaves the five boroughs. Just the act of staying and surviving in the city gives you a feeling of accomplishment all on its own, no matter how dreary the circumstances of your life might be. That can be a destructive attitude as well – staying in one place at all costs just to prove a point can be just as harmful as habitually moving all the time. No other city carries that same emotional baggage with it. No one pats themselves on the back for eking out a living in Jacksonville, Florida.

Which is why the public transit system is going to have to change. It has never run well and it has run with minimal competence for decades. This latest report by the New York City Comptroller illustrates in raw numbers the fact that New York’s transit system is operating far below New York standards.

The latest data is proof that New Yorkers are getting the shaft (again) from our own transit system. The silver lining is that New York is too good a city to let this slight go unchanged.

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2 responses to “New York Means Expected Excellence”

  1. Mike Haggerty says :

    Matt: A couple of things to keep in mind—there are native New Yorkers [like you, and I was until I got transferred by Uncle Sugar], and then there are the transplants. So when people refer to “rude NYer’s,” I actually believe that the rude ones are the transplants. A lot of them moved here to “make it big” or to live in the latest “in” neighborhood. So now they think they’re better than those visitors from fly-over country and they snub their noses at anyone who’s not a NYer like “them.”
    As for traffic, the problem is that everyone wants to either live or work on a small island. At some point in history, a bridge or tunnel should have been built on 14th Street. Also, Robert Moses’ hatred for public transportation caused so much irreparable harm to the city.
    As a driver, you probably won’t like my suggestion, but I really think that private vehicles should be banned in Manhattan. If you own a car and live in Manhattan, I can point this out—years ago, my wife and her parents lived on the Lower East Side. The family owned a car, but my father-in-law kept it in a rented garage somewhere in Maspeth or Ridgewood. No reason why people can’t do that now. I also believe that cabs should be banned as well, except for car services intended for the elderly and handicapped and for travelers heading to the airports. The only way to improve the commute into Manhattan is to use public transportation, especially by implementing more Bus Rapid Transit, as building new subway lines and tunnels is financially impossible.


    • politenewyorker says :

      For most of my time in the city I have not owned a car. I have one now but we live in a part of Queens (Flushing near the Whitestone border) where it’s more feasible to have one. I wouldn’t have had one when I lived in Manhattan even if I could afford one; it wasn’t worth the hassle. Definitely agree we need to invest in public transit.


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