Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi, whose agency has long said pollution from cars contributes to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, was driven from his home in Jackson Heights to an event in Times Square on Wednesday – and the mayor of Blasio agrees with that.
The hubbub started on Wednesday morning, when Chokshi joined the Mayor’s virtual press briefing at 9:15 a.m. from inside a car (Chokshi is usually at his Manhattan office for the morning press briefing, which usually takes place in 10h).
Chokshi lives in Queens, but was scheduled to attend a vaccination promotion with SOMOS Community Care and Marvel, the superhero people, at 11:30 a.m. in Times Square. To be in position for both the mayor’s call and the subsequent event, he could have taken the 7 train from Jackson Heights to Times Square, but he should have done so well before the 9:15 am call (and found a place from which to take the call) because this after the call would have made it late to the event, by any means of travel.
The car was not moving during the mayor’s press conference; but he has raised major issues about the best doc in town – whose agency brags about both its mission “to protect and promote the health of 8 million New Yorkers” and its concern about the the central role that car exhaust fumes play in thousands of premature and preventable deaths. .
So we asked him the question:
Streetsblog: Commissioner, you are clearly being driven to Times Square for the event, so we would like to know what kind of car it is and why you were driving when you know that transport emissions now make up the largest share of emissions greenhouse gas emissions. gas emission. And clearly, car pollution, as your own health department has reported, causes over 3,000 deaths, 2,000 hospitalizations for lung and heart disease, and around 6,000 emergency room visits for childhood asthma and the adults ?
Mayor de Blasio, who has long asked about the negative imagery of his old routine of being driven from Gracie Mansion to a Park Slope YMCA to exercise, paused to speak first of ” major structural changes “and” massive investments “by his administration to” fight against climate change “and” attract more and more people to public transport “.
But he also issued an emphatic defense of important public officials whose important work requires them to drive or be driven in city-issued cars.
Mayor: As for a specific commissioner who literally plays a life and death role in the city, having to get to where he needs to go, and sometimes having to live on a Zoom from a car, I think using a car is sometimes the realistic option, of course. And I know he cares about all the health implications, but I want to be clear. I think Dr Chokshi approaches his job with great intelligence and integrity, and we need him. And sometimes that means he has to be in a car.
Chokshi took on a slightly different tone.
Chokshi: All I can say is I’m grateful [Streetsblog is] by emphasizing the links between the environment, public transport and health, in which I firmly believe. Personally, you know, as a proud resident of Jackson Heights, I’m thankful that we have the New York City transit system with the 7, E, F, R all serving my neighborhood, that i take as often as i can. And this morning I have to go somewhere and I’m in a compact hybrid. So, you know, sometimes we have to do what we have to do to serve the people of New York.
After Chokshi’s response, several people expressed concern that a commissioner from a health agency was adding exhaust fumes in an already polluted city, where the deleterious effect of driving is disproportionately felt. in communities of color and low income communities:
As it should be since the mayor constantly tells people not to drive and then hops in an SUV whenever he gets the chance.
– ?? Golf (@ golfislife50) 25 August 2021
A municipal government insider texted a Streetsblog reporter saying Chokshi was only a tiny part of the larger problem of excessive driving. And, indeed, Chokshi is highly respected in his field and received kudos for his work during the Covid pandemic:
Dr Chokshi is one of the most sane, lucid voices you’ll find on Covid, and this thread cuts a lot of noise. https://t.co/qRsbf5kxN6
– Pat Shay (@Pat_Shay) 25 August 2021
But Streetsblog was concerned about air quality and driving, so we asked the Ministry of Health and Mental Hygiene a series of questions about Chokshi’s driving. For the sake of transparency, here are the questions we asked:
1. What kind of car, exactly, was he in?
2. Can you provide the Commissioner’s daily schedule between January 1 and the most recent date you have?
3. Can you provide his mode of transportation for the events on said schedule?
4. If it’s easier, can you just tell us how often he is driven – in any vehicle – to events and how often he takes public transport?
The agency declined to comment. [We will update this story if it does.]
Given the scale of the challenges the city faces as it recovers from Covid, questions about how the Health Commissioner moves around the city may seem minor. But Mayor de Blasio often talks about how personal decisions can have a big impact on the city’s efforts to reduce the effect of car exhaust fumes on climate change and public health. And, indeed, governments around the world (including New York City) are fighting to set ambitious carbon reduction targets.
Meanwhile, driving is on the rise in New York City as total car trips have returned to pre-pandemic standards – Crain’s recently reported that the city has added more than 538,000 newly registered vehicles this year. , an increase of 34% – even though the use of public transport is down by 50%.
Blasio’s administration has presided over a sharp increase in the number of city officials who make full use of a city-owned car, from 2,499 in the last year of the Bloomberg administration to 3,411 in 2019, or an increase of more than 35 percent, the New York Post reported. At various points in Blasio’s era, the city’s entire vehicle fleet grew rapidly, as Streetsblog reported. As of July 2020, there were a total of 30,502 vehicles in the city’s fleet, 65% of which are classified as âalternative fuelâ vehicles. [PDF]. The city burned 26,756,419 gallons of fuel in fiscal year 2020. In total, the city spent $ 328 million to fuel, repair and purchase vehicles during that fiscal year, plus an estimated $ 58 million. for fleet personnel and non-personal expenses, according to the mayor. management report.
Additionally, the NYPD was on an SUV buying spree around the same time:
The challenge in this era of catastrophic climate change is not only for all governments to change their behavior, but also for residents, as this report from the Climate Institute explains.