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Yellow Cabs and Subways: Everything Old Is New Again

“It’s so satisfying hailing a yellow cab,” said Jelani Wiltshire of Staten Island. “Sometimes they pull an entire U-turn to get you. Or they are like, ‘Let me stop traffic just to pick you up.’”

“Getting in one feels like a win,” he added.

Mr. Wiltshire, 23, works for Classic Harbor Line out of Chelsea Piers, serving drinks and snacks to the people who buy tickets for group rides or who rent out the boats. To get to work he takes the Staten Island Ferry into downtown Manhattan and then, often, a car to the pier.

Before the pandemic, he used ride-hailing apps. “Uber was so common and so convenient,” he said. But recently, prices have soared for the services. And New Yorkers like Mr. Wiltshire have noticed.

“There was one night when Uber was going to be $35 and take 10 minutes to come,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why don’t I take a yellow cab?’” The entire ride was $25, including tip, and Mr. Wiltshire’s driver was chatty and inspiring, he recalled. “He told me he was studying in school and trying to become a teacher,” he said. “This total stranger opened up to me.”

It’s an experience many New Yorkers, zoned out and noses in their phones, took for granted prepandemic, while taxi drivers suffered financially because of overinflated medallion prices, as well as competition from shiny new transit options. Mr. Wiltshire is a convert. “I think I’m only taking yellow taxis now,” he said.

As the city reopens, old-school transportation is being embraced again, from the yellow taxi to the subway. It’s almost like it took a pandemic for many to believe — after years of steadily more expensive app-controlled S.U.V.s, e-bikes and scooters — how affordable, efficient and sometimes even pleasant the old-standby modes of getting around can be.

“We are absolutely seeing an increase in passenger demand and ridership,” said Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk, the commissioner and chair of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. “Taxis are operating between 15 to 22 rides a shift now. Pre-Covid, because of the oversaturation of the market, some shifts were seeing only 11 rides a shift.”

Oversaturation is definitely not a problem for the remaining New York cabbies, who will take all the nostalgic business they can get. The pandemic forced many drivers, already in dire situations, to stop working, resulting in far fewer taxis on the streets.

“Now, roughly half of the fleet is in operation,” which translates to about 100,000 vehicles, said Allan Fromberg, a spokesman for the commission, who added that he was optimistic about the near future. “Each week, as passenger demand increases, more taxis are in operation.”

So it makes sense that the lucky few yellow cabbies out there are doing better business. Taxi trips have grown over 48 percent in the last three months, and “are capturing more market share today than they were prior to the pandemic,” Mr. Fromberg said.

The subway, once the butt of many a commuter’s ire, is also getting some love. With virus numbers down, ridership is up. Between April and May, the number of riders increased by at least 500,000, according to Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the M.T.A. “We are thrilled,” Mr. Tarek said.

Many New Yorkers — perhaps with a tinge of amnesia when it comes to packed and smelly cars, construction delays and trains at standstills in dark tunnels — are thrilled to have their system back. “I’m trying to pinch those pennies,” said Nico Masters, 26, an account manager who lives on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and uses both the subway and taxis frequently. “Honestly, it all comes down to price for me.”

With a girlfriend in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, and a side gig as a carpenter in Red Hook, Mr. Masters would often depend on ride shares, but those were canceled during Covid and have yet to return. Over the past year, he would occasionally jump into an Uber or Lyft, but in recent months, he noticed their rates increasing. One day it dawned on him to try a taxi. “It was glorious,” he said.

Ms. Heredia Jarmoszuk said the commission was now looking into why cabs are significantly cheaper than car services like Uber (a few years ago it was the other way around). “The anecdotal experience from some passengers is that yellow taxis are now more affordable,” she said. “This is actually something we have to watch. We have to make sure our drivers are earning a livable wage and are competitive.”

Mr. Masters said price will remain a priority for him. “If Uber does come back with Uber Pool, I guess I will have to go that route,” he said. But in the meantime, he is treasuring his taxi rides. Like Mr. Wiltshire, he loves the rush — practically retro these days — of flagging one down. “You just lift up your hand on the street, and bam, you’re whisked away,” he said. “With an Uber or Lyft you know exactly when they are coming.”

Subways, in the meantime, are returning to their sardine can status as more people become vaccinated and return to the office. A spate of recent attacks has unnerved some New Yorkers, but it’s unclear whether crime in the subways has actually worsened. Most riders seem grateful to be back underground.

Alison Rand took the subway again for the first time in May for her daughter’s birthday, traveling from their home in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to Chinatown in Manhattan. “The convenience of hopping on the subway and getting across the city in no time, it’s so easy,” she said, seemingly surprised by the efficiency of it all.

Of course, some New Yorkers didn’t need time off from the subway to appreciate it, nor, as essential workers during the pandemic, could they take a break. Jamie Smarr, who works for a company that develops affordable housing, never stopped taking the train, even during the shutdown.

“I grew up in the South, where you can’t do anything without a car,” Mr. Smarr said. “So I have an instant appreciation for getting somewhere in 30 minutes without one.”

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Regionales

Major Moments From the Final Democratic Mayoral Debate

Weather: Sunny again, with a high close to 80.

Alternate-side parking: In effect through tomorrow. Suspended on Saturday for Juneteenth.


Five days of campaigning left.

With Tuesday’s primary fast approaching, Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City sparred over matters of public safety, schooling and homelessness last night as they shared their closing arguments in the final debate before the vote closes.

The early voting period lasts through Sunday, and the ranked-choice system has injected a large degree of unpredictability into the race. Still, Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, remains a consistent front-runner in the sparse available polling.

[Read more about the debate and the candidates’ visions for New York.]

Here are a few of the standout moments:

This week, Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate, received the endorsement of the Captains Endowment Association, the union that represents police captains. When asked at the debate to explain why he was the candidate best equipped to tackle a rise in shootings, Mr. Yang pointed to the endorsement.

“The people you should ask about this are Eric’s former colleagues in the police captains’ union,” Mr. Yang said.

Mr. Adams tried to dismiss the endorsement, suggesting that he had not even asked for it. Mr. Yang accused him of lying.

Mr. Yang sounded alarms around matters of mental health and homelessness, saying that the issues were impeding the city’s recovery and that homeless people needed to be introduced to a “better environment.” He said he would rebuild “the stock of psych beds in our city.”

Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller, shot back: “That is the greatest non-answer I’ve ever heard,” he said, discussing a need to create tens of thousands of units of “truly affordable housing.”

The question encouraged contenders to sling a little mud, and Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams again targeted each other. Kathryn Garcia, the former sanitation commissioner, ripped the “defund the police” movement. Maya Wiley challenged Mr. Adams on policing.

“The worst idea I’ve ever heard is bringing back stop and frisk and the anti-crime unit from Eric Adams,” said Ms. Wiley, a civil rights lawyer. “Which, one, is racist; two, is unconstitutional; and, three, didn’t stop any crime; and, four, it will not happen in a Maya Wiley administration.”

Mr. Adams responded that, if he was elected, the abuses of stop and frisk would not return.


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A Black feminist writer from Harlem. The first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway. An actress and singer who lived in Manhattan and broke ground for Black performers.

New York City officials announced on Wednesday that 16 parks across the five boroughs would be named for those figures and other Black leaders who made significant contributions in areas from education and entertainment to civil rights and community relations.

“Our goal is to represent the culture and diversity of New York City,” the city’s parks commissioner, Mitchell J. Silver, said at a news conference at Mullaly Park in the Bronx. The roughly 15-acre park in the Concourse neighborhood of the borough was a focus of local activism as protests arose to push for officials to change its title, citing concerns about the record of its namesake, who published attacks on the Emancipation Proclamation.

“For years, the community has expressed discontent and a desire to rename this beloved green space,” Mr. Silver said. A new name that honors the Rev. Wendell Foster, the first Black elected city official in the Bronx, will be adopted in September 2022, he said.

The move comes amid a larger push to change some names of monuments and landmarks in New York and elsewhere, sometimes to leave behind references to figures with racist pasts and at other times to honor Black New Yorkers. Several top Democratic mayoral candidates have suggested they would support renaming sites including streets named for slaveholders.

As for park spaces, those that will take on new names include the Prospect Park Bandshell in Brooklyn (changing to Lena Horne Bandshell); Hell’s Kitchen Park in Manhattan (to become Lorraine Hansberry Park); and St. Albans Oval in Queens (to be renamed Musicians Oval in honor of influential Black jazz musicians).

It’s Thursday — get outside.


Dear Diary:

My mother loves Denzel Washington. So it was only natural that we would go see him in the “The Iceman Cometh” when she visited a few years ago.

My legs were stiff and my mouth was dry after the four-hour production ended, and I was ready to go home. But my mother loves Denzel Washington. So we waited outside the stage door for the cast to emerge.

My mother was easily the oldest person there, but she was grinning like a teenager about to meet her hero.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked me nervously.

“These actors always carry pens,” I said with confidence. “Don’t worry.”

Soon, though, I was frantically asking everyone around us for a pen while my mother continued to wait for the star to emerge.

When I got back to where she was standing, I overheard her chatting with other members of the cast.

Denzel Washington never came out that night, but my mother still proudly tells everyone back home how she invited half the cast of a Broadway show to visit her in Colorado.

I’m glad I didn’t have a pen.

— Sid Gopinath


New York Today is published weekdays around 6 a.m. Sign up here to get it by email. You can also find it at nytoday.com.

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Regionales

It’s Not Too Late to Discover Louise Meriwether

“My uncle and father were always politically involved,” she said. “And I was with them, so I became politically involved, too.”

Credit…Fern Gillespie

In 1965, Meriwether earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California, Los Angeles. After three years at The Sentinel, she left the paper to become the first African American story analyst at Universal Studios, a job that entails reading and providing feedback on scripts. Around this time, she also joined the Watts Writers Workshop, a collective by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, where she began writing “Daddy Was a Number Runner.” “I remember asking myself: This woman is a great writer. What is she doing in a workshop?” the poet Quincy Troupe said in an interview. “She was way above everybody else.”

When Troupe reminisces on their friendship, he recalls a moment in which he is convinced she saved his life. Driving home from a poetry reading, he was stopped and searched by police officers. Meriwether happened to be on the road with a friend who was a lawyer. When she saw Troupe, she stopped her car and went to question the officers, asking for their badge numbers.

“I said, ‘I’ve got your numbers, and that’s my attorney over there,’ in case they tried to shoot me,” Meriwether said. “That sort of defused the situation, you know?”

In 1969, Meriwether, who had divorced, returned to New York to care for her ailing mother. As she did in Los Angeles, she dove into New York’s artistic and political scenes, starting Committee of Concerned Blacks, an anti-Apartheid group, in 1972, and joining the Harlem Writers Guild, a group whose founders included the writers John Henrik Clarke, Rosa Guy and John Oliver Killens. Her circle of friends encompassed still more writers, including Maya Angelou and Sonia Sanchez.

“I think one thing you can get from Louise is loyalty, support, and undying love for her people,” Hill, her friend and caretaker, said.

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Regionales

Why This Overlooked Residential Island in N.Y.C. Wants Tourists

When Med Abrous, a restaurateur behind trendy establishments in Los Angeles, Nashville and Seattle, got the call about opening a restaurant on Roosevelt Island in New York, he almost hung up the phone.

“The last time I was at Roosevelt Island was probably in the third grade for a class trip, where we took the tram, ” said Mr. Abrous, who grew up in New York City. “All I remember is we learned something about smallpox, and then I never went back.” (In the 1800s the island, now a quiet residential neighborhood, was the repository for several city asylums and hospitals, including one for smallpox, as well as a prison).

The restaurant would be part of Graduate, Roosevelt Island’s first hotel, which opened this month. The property is on the campus of Cornell Tech, a hub for cutting-edge graduate students in tech, design, law and business, which opened four years ago. Although the university has been a boon to the community — which was redeveloped starting in the mid-20th century and has plenty of dated architecture to prove it — would a stylish hotel and restaurant really work out here?

“People who have lived in New York City for 20 or 30 years have never been to Roosevelt Island,” said Ben Weprin, the founder and chief executive of Graduate Hotels. “That is the biggest challenge, to educate people on how close and easy and fun Roosevelt Island is.”

Mr. Abrous and his business partner agreed to at least visit the site, and he was immediately impressed. “I was taken aback just being in the middle of the East River,” he said. New high-rises were plentiful, and the rooftop of the hotel offered views of several New York City landmarks, from the United Nations building across the river to One World Trade Center farther south.

He signed on to create the Panorama Room, a bar and lounge with the very same rooftop views that seduced him, and he is aiming for a splashy midsummer opening. The idea is to make the restaurant a destination unto itself. “I’ll go into deep Brooklyn or Queens for a great meal,” he said, adding that he wants Roosevelt Island to be a destination, too. “We want this place to have the same weightiness as the Rainbow Room or Windows of the World,” he said.

In a way, the combination of Cornell Tech’s opening and the pandemic’s hitting the city has given Roosevelt Island a new chance at the spotlight. In addition to the hundreds of graduate students who have moved there, other New Yorkers in search of green space and affordable rents have gobbled up real estate. Several longtime residents are recommitting to the area, opening yoga studios and restaurants. And then there is Graduate, with its rooftop bar.

“It’s funny, having lived here so long, to see something so artsy and modern and hip coming to the neighborhood,” said Amanda Baehr Fuller, 48, an illustrator who has lived on the island for 15 years. “In the past we used to hear about things possibly opening, and years would go by and it would never happen,” she continued. “Now it’s getting better.”

Although many locals are thrilled about the attention the island is getting, the population of around 14,000 is still not enough to keep these new businesses thriving, said Shelton J. Haynes, the president and chief operating officer of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, which functions like a local government.

“These small businesses definitely need tourists to come in,” he said. “Many were hit very hard during the pandemic. Especially now, they need a hybrid of residents as well as tourism to stay alive.” The corporation is considering a series of free tours, both on foot and by bus, to bring in more people, Mr. Haynes said.

So it all hinges on foot traffic. The island battles an unfair reputation as being hard to reach despite access from the F train, the ferry, the Queensboro Bridge and of course the island’s unique tram. “We are still in the middle of the East River, and I am reminded of it all the time,” Mr. Abrous said. “This may have been a completely crazy idea,” he said of his decision to commit to Roosevelt Island.

In these late-pandemic days, the appeal of the area is obvious. It’s possible to walk through its parks and not see another human. Families, especially, appreciate the open fields, tree-lined promenades and playgrounds. Later this summer, Southpoint Park will open on the southern tip of the island. “It will be similar to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can walk right up to the water,” Mr. Haynes said.

For people interested in living here, there is currently a wait list for three-bedroom apartments, which is unprecedented, according to Chris Schmidt, a senior vice president at the real estate firm Related Companies, which owns eight (and soon to be nine) buildings on the island.

Last summer, Paul Krikler, 60, who owns a consulting and business coaching business, moved to Roosevelt Island from the Upper East Side of Manhattan with his three teenage children. “It’s so calm and peaceful and quiet,” he said. “There is green everywhere and water everywhere and public benches everywhere. During the pandemic having that space was just lovely.” He likes how people bring hammocks and hang them between the trees.

An adjustment for him, however, was the lack of amenities. “There’s very limited shopping here, so you have to use Amazon and make the most use of your time when you’re on the mainland,” he said. “For example, there is no bike shop.” Mr. Krikler is working to change this by getting a mobile bike shop to visit the island regularly.

Before the pandemic there was one of everything, said David Kramer, who oversees Related’s retail spaces for Roosevelt Island. “There was a pizzeria, a Japanese restaurant, a Greek diner, a Chinese restaurant and a supermarket,” he said.

In the past year, however, more specialty offerings have arrived. Wholesome Macelleria, a high-end butcher shop, opened over the winter. Last September came Granny Annie’s, a restaurant that became a go-to spot for cocktails. And this summer, Graduate will introduce two new restaurants overseen by Mr. Abrous.

Jax Schott, who has lived on the island for over 12 years and is a yoga and barre instructor, is opening the island’s first dedicated yoga and barre studio, Island Om, this summer. She’s transforming a 2,000-square-foot space on Main Street that used to be a makeshift batting cage. “We have a lot of wellness people on the island, and I am trying to figure out how to bring them together and make this a sort of hub for the community,” she said.

The hope is that the 224-room Graduate Hotel will lift up the other businesses. The property has gone out of its way to be bold. In the lobby is a 12-foot statue by Hebru Brantley, an artist known for his Afrofuturist style, as well as 5,000 square feet of shelved vintage textbooks. There is a meeting room inspired by the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” with a giant piano mat and a Zoltar machine.

“We need people to come and be, like, ‘Holy shoot, I can’t wait to bring my friends here,’ ” Mr. Weprin said. “We have to make this a landmark of the city.”

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