Fall 2003, p.3

Publisher's Letter: Land of Opportunities

Does Mayor Bloomberg know that car and truck drivers strike 15,000 pedestrians and 3,500 bicyclists every year in New York City? Do these very large numbers strike him as a problem? Does he know that of these unfortunate people, many of them children, about 3,700 will suffer severe injuries-lost limbs, brain injuries and the like-that will dramatically alter their lives and require lengthy hospitalization? Perhaps as importantly, does the Mayor know that changing the equation on the streets to make New York City a better and safer place to bicycle and walk is easily in his reach?

In every issue of this magazine and our electronic bulletin, T.A. recommends specific, cost-effective cycling and walking improvements. This issue of the T.A. Magazine looks at six things the Dutch and Germans have done to boost cycling and walking and reduce injuries and deaths to far lower levels than in New York City or elsewhere in the United States. While Americans obsess about bike helmets, which are worn by 2% of cyclists in Amsterdam, the Germans and Dutch are busy building safe streets that result in a rate of cycling fatalities half as high as in this country. It's not just safety. Older people in Germany and Holland actually walk and bicycle as a normal part of their lives. There, half of the trips by people 75 years and older are on foot or bike. Compare that to just 6% by Americans 65 and older.

So, what is New York City's excuse for being so tough on cyclists and pedestrians? More than half of the households here do not have an automobile and most people get to work by public transit.

It is certainly not a lack of money that perpetuates the carnage and chaos on New York City streets. Consider this: Every year, New York City taxpayers pay $145 million for the maintenance and reconstruction of the East River bridges. By comparison, thoroughly traffic calming the streets within a block of the 135 most dangerous city schools, which is the intent of the Department of Transportation's promising, but unfunded, "Safe Schools" pedestrian safety program, would cost, at most, $50 million.
Of course, tolling the East River bridges would do much more than free up money for transforming the streets of New York City and saving thousands of children and adults from death and injury. It would also sharply reduce traffic in long-suffering Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City and reduce delays for motorists using the bridges.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Mayor's low popularity has scared him away from championing bridge tolls. Until after the next mayoral election at the very least, New York City will keep pouring tens of millions into keeping its expensive bridges free to motorists and truckers. In the meantime, motorists will continue to strike hundreds of children around dangerous schools.

Tolling the East River bridges is a prominent example of the sensible things that New York City could do to profoundly reshape the city to the benefit of cyclists and pedestrians; other examples include making Central and Prospect Parks car-free and launching a large Safe Routes to School program.

Fortunately, many of these outstanding opportunities will still be available to my successor at T.A. Yes, after more than a decade of triumphs and tribulations, I will be stepping down as T.A.'s executive director in the spring of 2004. Fulfilling as my work here is, I would like to try something new. In the months ahead, I will be working with the T.A. board, staff and volunteers to ensure that there is a smooth transition and that T.A.'s advocacy does not slow.

T.A. has begun speaking to accomplished professionals in our field to find a suitable successor. But if you meet the qualifications listed on the job posting on our Web site, please let us know.

John Kaehny

P.S. Have a happy Thanksgiving and please be generous when you receive T.A.'s special year-end request for support. Your support for better cycling, walking and sensible transportation matters.