Spring 2004, p.3

Publisher's Letter: What I Learned

John Kaehny

Executive Director,

A big thank you to Paul S. White, T.A.ís new Executive Director, for letting me write this final column. This is dedicated to my mother-in-law and all my friends who forgot I was stepping down as T.A.ís executive director, and called me in surprise when they saw Paulís name on the T.A. E-Bulletin or their membership renewal letter.

In the last couple of months Iíve been asked quite a few times what the most important things Iíve learned at T.A. are. Here is what comes to mind at deadline. Iíve listed the least important first to add to the suspense.

  • Many people believe the mayor sets transit fares. He doesnít, the governor does.
  • New Yorkers arenít easily impressed. No matter how many times I was in the newspaper or on TV, someone at a community meeting was sure to let me know they had never heard of me, T.A. or any of our advocacy campaigns. As a free bonus they often added, that while I seemed like a nice, normal, guy, what I was trying to achieve was doomed to failure.
  • New York City is not ďStar Trek: The Next Generation.Ē One of the most entertaining things about Star Trek is the idea that rational dialogue and logic can sway even the most hostile aliens. Donít believe it. Here in New York City, even the best packaged appeals to the enlightened self interest of others often wonít produce agreement. Witness the unrelenting hostility to East River bridge tolls from Brooklynites who would enjoy huge traffic reductions in their neighborhoods or the steadfast belief that more and cheaper parking will reduce traffic along retail shopping strips.
  • Winning better cycling and walking is always fun, but doing the advocacy required to win isnít. Yes, I know this may be a bit of shocker, but this T.A. advocacy stuff isnít always a glamour parade. Sometimes itís an endless series of setbacks and frustration.
  • Good ideas arenít worth much unless they are backed with vigorous and persistent advocacy. Both T.A. and the City Department of Transportation have dusty shelves full of interesting plans for new bicycle networks and traffic calming schemes that will never see the light of day. In the world T.A. works in, if someone tells you their focus is developing new ideas, not fighting for their implementation, they are really saying: ďDonít take me seriously.Ē Coming up with new ideas is the fun part. Iíd do it for free.
  • One person can make a difference. Yes, this is actually true. From the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx to affluent Brooklyn Heights, I met people who, through great perseverance, got big trucks off their streets, got the police to crack down on speeding, won safer school crossings and won speed humps.
  • Winning positive change in New York City takes time and tenacity. This is a fundamental law. You cannot get around it. But ironically, to be effective at winning change requires being impatient for progress. In other words, youíve got to want things to change now, but be willing to spend a lot of time fighting to change them.
  • T.A. is delivering results and making a difference. No doubt about this one. We are delivering real successes for cyclists and pedestrians like you and me.

Well, thatís it for me folks. Ten years, fifty some issues of Transportation Alternatives Magazine, three kids, four bikes, a couple of broken arms, many friendships, hopes, frustrations and successes later, I am out of here. My thanks to T.A.ís staff, board of directors, membership and many fine volunteers for making it a great run.

John Kaehny

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