The Trafficist




"It seemed to me that what was significantly undermining the ordinary daily happiness and health and economic life of both me and my fellow New Yorkers was the private car."

– Randy Cohen, "The Ethicist"

Who knew? It turns out that one of New York City’s most captivating and articulate voices for Livable Streets is a guy who spends most of his day analyzing right and wrong as the New York Times Magazine’s acclaimed "Ethicist."

Open Planning Project Director Mark Gorton recently interviewed Randy Cohen on the ethics of urban automobility. The result may very well be the best StreetFilm we’ve ever produced. Clarence Eckerson has put together a short teaser to whet your appetite and, perhaps, provide some moral underpinning for this evening’s Livable Streets workshop on the Upper West Side. The full interview will be published later this month.

  • Jason A

    Intersting bit from Randy Cohen in a Gothamist interview from a few years back:

    How does the fact that you live in New York affect your ethics or affect the advice you give on the pages of the Sunday magazine?

    It’s reinforced an implacable hostility to the private car, which I believe is an immoral object. You know, somewhere along the way a fatal decision was made in Western culture in choosing the private car and nowhere does that reveal itself more starkly than in NY where one can get around perfectly fine without it. The fact that you can get around without a car reinforces its utter uselessness in general. Because most New Yorkers don’t depend on a car, were privileged to social transactions that happen a million times a day and bring into focus how we act as members of a community. Ethics is really just the sum total of all these tiny social transactions we have on a daily basis. And New Yorkers have more than most, I’d say because we simply see so many people.

  • @alex

    Who knew? I thought it was pretty obvious from his response to a letter asking whether it was ethical for two cars in “cahoots” to monopolize two parking spaces even when only one car was present (there have been similar diatribes from him on other occasions):

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E02E3DD173FF934A15754C0A9659C8B63

    Two of my neighbors are in cahoots. When one pulls his car out of a spot, the other is always parked directly in front or behind and moves his car just enough to take up two spaces, so no other car can squeeze in. When the first car returns, the other moves back, restoring parking spots for both. Is it ethical for them to save spaces for each other, instead of leaving one for another parking-deprived New Yorker? Joseph A. Moskal, New York

    If either of them were ethical, they wouldn’t use private cars in Manhattan, a city with excellent public transportation. Why should the non-car-owning majority allow the car-owning minority to store their private property, i.e. cars, on public property at no charge? Why should my every walk to the store be akin to a stroll through a parking lot? Why should that majority be subject to the many costs and risks to health and safety attendant on the private car? I’m sorry: could you repeat the question?

  • Clearly, you guys knew.

  • Jonathan

    Mr. Cohen is insightful and has a great soapbox to shout from, but let’s not forget that he is a comedy writer by training and not a philosopher, a politician or a traffic engineer.

    Maybe Alec Baldwin can make a streetfilm too, since he is out of work for the nonce.

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