Mr. Green Car: ‘Mr. Green Car’ visits New York City

Twenty-seven million people ride the bus every day. New York City has been serious about cleaning the air. Many of the city buses are hybrid electric and may be natural gas-powered, too. We did not notice much air pollution, despite the confines of the city canyons. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

My wife, Ruth, and I recently spent a couple days in New York City. The Big Apple is quite the vibrant city, with so much to see and do that it takes rather large books to describe it all — so I won’t.

We didn’t have time to do much, but we did enjoy long walks in Central Park — which is far hillier and rockier than I’d ever imagined. In most places, you have no idea you are in the middle of a city of millions of residents.

The Metropolitan Museum is a city of square footage in itself. And our Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan Island was very interesting and informative … we highly recommend it.

But Mr. Green Car always has his eye on how other folks do things. Every day, millions of people commute in and out of Manhattan (one of five boroughs of NYC). They come and go on trains, subway cars, buses, bicycles, foot — and some brave souls, by car.

People who live in Manhattan do likewise. The sidewalks are always flush with people going somewhere. Find a café, have a seat, and observe some of the best people-watching there is. There is no uniformity at all. If it rains, out come the umbrellas and the ladies wearing Wellies (colorful rubber boots) — they keep right on walking.

Our hotel was on the Upper West side near the 86th Street Metro subway station. It cost $2.75 for a one-way ticket to use either the subway or bus. While a bus ride may be more scenic, it is considerably slower.

We didn’t have much time, so we used the subway. Fortunately, our subway stop was one of the express stops.

Much of the subway system has four tracks, local and express, going in both directions. Since our distance from Midtown was not far, the time difference of riding local or express was not great.

The ubiquitous Yellow Cab is often (it may be required) a hybrid — in this case, the roomy Prius v is loading up passengers near Times Square. New Yorkers use cabs to get around like no other city. They are everywhere — in droves, but at peak times, it still can be difficult to hail one. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

At rush hour both get quite crowded, as you might expect. The Metro was not as dirty as we expected, but the ride was far more herky-jerky than our experience with the smooth-running Paris Metro.

The Paris system is far and away better in all respects. Yet, in NYC, this is how you get around quickly and cheaply, so you get used to it rather quickly.

The direction you are traveling is either “uptown” or “downtown,” north or south. The subway does not run east to west, or “crosstown” — for that you need feet or a bus.

New Yorkers find owning a car expensive and troublesome, so cabs are often taken to get to destinations. Most of the Yellow Cabs I saw were hybrids of one sort or another; a rather large percentage were Toyota Priuses. Despite their prevalence, cabs can still be difficult to hail — they are busy and often occupied. We never took one.

As with any other car, cabs will need to stop almost every block for a traffic light or get caught in a long line if trying to come or go via one of the many bridges or tunnels that get people into or out of the city. Therefore, taking a cab may not be the fastest way to get somewhere, but it is likely faster than a bus.

The buses are frequently hybrids, using electric power to move around the millions of people who ride them. Despite seeing more buses than anywhere I’ve ever been, the air was not choking with diesel fumes. In fact, I didn’t notice pollution at all, and it was not as noisy as I had anticipated … and for the record, the streets were far cleaner than I expected, too.

Walking was the way we got places. Twenty “blocks” north and south is about a mile. Blocks east and west are much longer.

All the blocks are covered with tall buildings, most of them residential apartment buildings. Manhattan has one of the highest population densities in the world — 67,000 people live in a square mile, which is like taking half the population of Rockford (or twice the population of Freeport) and have them all live in the space within the fence of the Chicago Rockford Airport. Fortunately, the city planners accounted for this and installed wide sidewalks everywhere.

Parking is at such a premium in Midtown Manhattan that these enterprising folks devised a way to double up on income by stacking cars above one another. (Photo by Allen Penticoff)

Even the narrow residential streets have fairly wide, tree-lined sidewalks. The main streets and avenues have quite wide sidewalks. Bicycles are not allowed to use the sidewalks. Bicycles are also very common — a somewhat more dangerous way to get around. NYC now has “Citibike” stations where you can pick up a bike rental and drop it off elsewhere. We saw these, but did not use them. Skateboards and scooters are common as well — both much easier to store at a destination than a bicycle.

In all, we found NYC to be quite green and clean. Living close to work, shopping and entertainment … not driving a car to do everything, is much greener than living in the suburbs or rural areas. Ruth and I like the feeling and vibrancy of this great city — we’ll be going back for more.

From the June 12-18, 2013, issue

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