September/October 1998, p.2

Surfacing Tensions

"Our nonviolent direct action program has as its objective not the creation of tensions, but the surfacing of tensions already present. We set out to precipitate a crisis situation that must open the door to negotiation."
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Fresh from a stimulating late summer bike commute through Midtown and jousting with cabs on upper Broadway, I wheeled into my apartment. My wife was talking to our friend Joe, who was on the phone from the waiting room of the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Denver. Tragedy in the form of a car crash had struck, killing one of his nephews and leaving the other in a coma. He had flown out from New York the night before to join his family. His voice sounded sad and far away as he worked to maintain hope for his struggling nephew and sought our support.

As I stopped to listen, my daughter Eloise squirmed into my lap. All 18 months of her bouncing with smiles and impatience to play. Of course, I thought about the horror of losing her and of the many families with whom T.A. has worked that have had children hit and maimed or killed by a car.

Could I be as calm and dignified as many of these parents are? I doubt it. If my daughter were hit, I would strangle the City traffic engineers who claim that pedestrian safety improvements can't be built because they impede cars and thus create air pollution. Yep, you heard it here first, pedestrians create air pollution. Are these guys shameless or just stupid? This air pollution irrationality is no joke: millions in Federal support for NYC cyclists and pedestrians is stuck unspent because its air-quality benefit can't be demonstrated. Cyclists on the Queensboro Bridge are being forced to endure great detours so that cars don't get stuck and pollute. Is this making sense yet?

T.A. is criticized by some for being too confrontational. The opposite is true. We maintain patience and reason in the face of staggering provocation. We spend years cultivating support for well thought out and innovative plans, only to see them wrecked because of bureaucratic or political infighting. We face transportation commissioners who explicitly put the needs of motorists before pedestrians, despite the fact that most New Yorkers don't have a car. Heck, we even put up with commissioners and bureaucrats who live in New Jersey and Long Island and are dictating that cars have the run of our neighborhoods.

Mad? You bet I'm mad, shouldn't you be too?

John Kaehny
Executive Director

P.S. T.A. bids a fond farewell to Gian-Claudia Sciara, who has departed to attend graduate school at UCLA. Gian-Claudia served as T.A.'s bike advocate and spark plug since 1996. Good luck! We already miss you.