When New York City Tried to Ban Cars

Gridlock Sam Schwartz with Mayor Ed Koch

Gridlock Sam Schwartz with Mayor Ed Koch

My latest is online over at the Guardian, and is a major retrospective on how Sam Schwartz – better known as “Gridlock Sam” – tried to end the dominance of the car in New York City.

Sam literally coined the term “gridlock” with a colleague. He talks about his Ahab-like pursuit of congestion pricing – which continues to this day with the Move New York plan – and his early forays into protected bike lanes and public plazas.  It was a fascinating history to dig into to and I hope you enjoy it. Here’s an excerpt:

The main bridges into New York had originally been built as toll bridges, between 1883 and 1909. In 1911, however, the city removed tolls on the Queensboro, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges. City officials soon realised they had blundered, but discovered that it’s a lot easier to give people something for free than to convince them to start paying for it again. Repeated tolling attempts were beaten back.

This time, however, the stars seemed aligned. “In 1973 we got further than any other time – further than [Mayor] Bloomberg,” Schwartz says. Not only was the then-mayor committed, but New York’s governor backed the plan, too. “He signed the plan to do tolls on all the bridges, and then the feds approved it as part of the Clean Air Act.”

In 1974, Abe Beame took over from Lindsay as mayor and tried to cancel the plan. But the Natural Resources Defence Council and others sued the city to enforce it, and the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the city to put tolls in place by 1977. The city fought back in federal court, and lost. “Only an act of Congress could stop it now,” says Schwartz. And that’s exactly what happened.

“Two of the most progressive elected officials that one would think would be supportive of such a plan … came out and wrote the Moynihan-Holtzman Amendment,” Schwartz says. “It allowed Beame to skate and not implement congestion pricing.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

from Aaron M. Renn


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