Mayor Bloomberg Promotes Better Physical Health with Stairs

Written by Lloyd Alter

Architects and developers make it hard to take the stairs. They locate them at the end of corridors to meet fire codes and treat them as dismal spaces that are for emergency use only. This is a shame; stairs are great exercise. Now Mayor Bloomberg of New York has stepped in to make it easier for people to use stairs. They are setting up a Center for Active Design to promote the use of stairs, and to encourage good design that makes it easier. Commissioner Burney is quoted in a press release:

“For years, architects and planners have been making it easier for people to be sedentary, compounding the nation’s obesity problem. The active design movement asks design professionals to be part of the solution and find new ways to encourage movement, both in buildings and on the streets. The benefits of active design can be profound: just two minutes of stair climbing a day – rather than using an elevator – can help prevent annual weight gain.”

This is terrific stuff.

The Center for Active Design promotes four key concepts of active design to reduce obesity through the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods:

  • Active buildings: encouraging greater physical movement within buildings for users and visitors;
  • Active transportation: supporting a safe and vibrant environment for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders;
  • Active recreation: shaping play and activity spaces for people of different ages, interests and abilities; and
  • Improving access to nutritious foods in communities that need them most.

Mayor Bloomberg says: “New York City has been a leader when it comes to promoting healthier eating and now we’re leading when it comes to encouraging physical activity as well. Physical activity and healthy eating are the two most important factors in reducing obesity and these steps are part of our ongoing commitment to fighting this epidemic.”

Legislation will be introduced to require new and renovated buildings to provide access to at least one identified stairwell and to permit the use of holdback devices like electromagnets that are interconnected to the fire alarm.

This is not going to be easy, particularly in the security-obsessed New York office towers. Even when companies occupy multiple floors of a building, one often finds that the fire stairs are all alarmed, and if you want to go down one floor you have to use the elevator where there is an access card reader. Emergency exits are often even covered in confusing illegal signs that will keep people out of them. Elevator lobbies are often sealed off so that people don’t even have access to the stairs unless the fire alarms are set off.

Perhaps New York City (and the rest of the world) should be changing codes to ensure that there is a separate stair accessible to every elevator lobby so that people have an an attractive and easily accessible choice. The dismal fire escape stair isn’t going to do it, even with good signage. One great model is the New York Times building, where they put communication stairs so that people could travel from floor to floor easily. Instead of magnetic holdbacks on doors, they have elaborate horizontal fire shutters that are almost invisible.

My favorite stair

Meanwhile, at TreeHugger, we are going to bring back the Stair of the Week, where we look at stairs that so gorgeous that people just want to use them.

This post was originally published at TreeHugger.

Photo from Thinkstock


Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman5 years ago

Using stairs more often is a great idea. I use them when the stairs are in open spaces. Enclosed stair wells scare me because they could harbor an attacker.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill5 years ago

I don't want government to tell me what to eat, or do. Keep government out of our lives and run their own and do their jobs!

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Christine Stewart

Plenty of people cannot use stairs- I agree with making it easier to use stairs that are there- but not make it more difficult for people with disabilities to find the "non-stair" access....

Sue T.
Susan T5 years ago

Are you kidding me?????
"Architects and developers make it hard to take the stairs"

Shut UP!!!!!! Bloomberg needs to stop being such a nanny stater. are people in NY really that stupid to keep this guy in office? Oh wait now Anthony (Carlos Danger) is in the running.....NYer's deserve what they vote for

Mary K.
M. C5 years ago

Good, Some cant because of physical restraints, but the others, yes.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K5 years ago

Cue all the idiots who'll start screaming about Bloomberg trying to make stair usage easier and more attractive if all you're doing is going a couple of floors because, because, because....Oh well, they won't be able to come up with a legitimate reason, so they'll bring up abortion, because we all know that the right to take an elevator is the same as the right to end an unwanted pregnancy, amirite? What the hell does that even mean, David J?

Hey, Randi L : We're glad you don't live here either. You're way too dumb to make it here, so welfare, public housing, Medicaid and food stamps would be all we'd have to offer you. Congratulations for being coherent today - did they adjust your medication schedule?

Anne Moran
Anne M5 years ago


David J.
David J5 years ago

Someone who identifies themselves as "pro choice" usually means that they favor legally allowing as woman to end the life of any unborn (even viable) child but oppose "choice" when it comes to selecting the size of a soft drink or selecting a method of transportation between floors in one's own building.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

Good for him.