Summer 2000, p.3

Publishers Letter: Eat Less, Exercise More
My pants are shrinking

Yesterday morning the buttons popped off of two pairs. The third pair is tight around the waist, but still holding. The problem has got to be the washer and dryer in my building. They're probably too hot or too cold or alternate in a way that contracts the fabric and weakens the threads on the buttons.

My wife doesn't think so. She recommends that I lose some weight or take a trip downtown to a store named "The Infinite Belt."

H'mm, I really hope this button holds until after this meeting… Man, the subway is really crowded today… What is this meeting about anyway? Oh yeah, traffic, my favorite topic…

Which reminds me, losing weight is a lot like reducing motor vehicle traffic. Hundreds of books are written but in the end, they both boil down to a handful of basic things: Losing weight requires the willpower to eat less and exercise more. Reducing traffic requires the (political) willpower to reduce driving and provide good transit, cycling and walking alternatives.

Normally it takes a crisis like exploding buttons or traffic jams to get people to try to reduce poundage or traffic. Both goals are tough to achieve because they require changing deeply ingrained habits.

For instance, motorists in New York City (and nationally) have been on a century-long feeding frenzy--a 100-chocolate-donut-50-zeppoli-20-cheese-cake-orgy of gluttony--that's gobbled up half of the city's public space. Over the years, city streets have gotten wider and wider. Look at the narrow sidewalks on Lexington, Madison and 6th Avenue, and 23rd and Canal Street. They, like the NYC trolley system and Central and Prospect Park, are victims of the automobile's voracious consumption of space.

Interestingly, when T.A. calls for wider sidewalks and bike and bus lanes, apologists for the motoring-first status quo respond by urging us to take a more "balanced" approach. But "balance" in this case is really a code word for maintaining the imbalance that exists between the insatiable collective desire of motorists and the well-being of the city as a whole.

Former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern says in an interview on page eight, "The closer people get to responsibility, the better they understand the problem of balancing of interests." Stern is referring to creating a car-free Central Park--a goal he continues to oppose. Yet, he might as well be explaining why sidewalks in Midtown, where pedestrians outnumber motor vehicles 20 to 1, shouldn't be widened or why, in a space-starved city, cars are allowed in the parks. The reality is that, at least in NYC, transportation priorities reflect political power and influence, not smart decision making, creative ideas or good government. As a result, NYC's transportation status quo is unhealthy. There are too many cars; the result is too much noise, air pollution and the crowding out of cyclists and walkers.

As for me, I'm going to try to eat less and exercise more. New York City needs to do the same.

John Kaehny,
Executive Director

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