How to fix our transportation nightmare? Former New York City traffic commissioner Schwarz ventures some ideas—and while many are oddly counterintuitive, they just might work.
One projected infrastructure improvement in which “Gridlock Sam” took part would have rebuilt the Williamsburg Bridge into lower Manhattan, costing $700 million and adding a maintenance bill of $20 million per year precisely in order to add more cars to the traffic mix on the most crowded streets in America. “You could say the costs of the bridge outweighed the benefits, if there had actually been benefits,” writes Schwartz, who casts a jaundiced eye on much of the received wisdom, economic and social, around infrastructure improvement. The author instead offers a program that many cities use in part but none in whole. For example, he advocates congestion pricing, a New York innovation applied across the Atlantic in London, to the chagrin of Top Gear but the relief of traffic-trapped drivers. Schwartz’s economic lesson is unimpeachable: “when you give something valuable away for free, demand is essentially infinite. As a result, urban traffic congestion just keeps getting worse.” Other planks in the platform include multimodal transport systems that facilitate a smooth switch from rail to light rail to bus and the like. Overarchingly, though, a livable city, from a transportation standpoint, is one in which people walk and bike. Schwartz allows that cars are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, but he looks to Internet-smart millennials to create demand for a system in which an individual needs not a car but a smartphone. Traffic circles, streetcars, diagonal crossings: they’re all here. And so is Uber, even though Schwartz warns that such an unregulated ride-matching service will mean yet more gridlock: “the numbers won’t add up to more mobility, but less.”
A readable and provocative book making the convincing claim that the best city is one in which people can move around easily.