The man who coined the word “gridlock” during the 1980 New York City transit strike was invited by Ohio State’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis on Tuesday night to present his vision of the city of the future.
He’s been called many things, from an “urban alchemist,” to a “transportation guru,” and has been most famously nicknamed “Gridlock Sam.” But his book “Street Smart: The Rise of Cities And The Fall Of Cars,” which he discussed Tuesday night, is published under the name Samuel I. Schwartz.
Schwartz went from a New York taxi driver to found and CEO of Sam Schwartz Engineering. Harvey Miller, director of CURA and host of the conference, described him as an “expert of getting people out of their cars and into other forms of transportation.”
Schwartz opened his talk with the statistics that are at the origin of his book: Since 2004, the amount of miles driven by car are steadily decreasing. This fall is largely seen to be happening because of millennials, who drive 20 to 25 percent less than their predecessors, Schwartz said.
“A lot of people in this room are making the lifestyle that created the revolution that nobody can take credit for. A silent revolution,” Schwartz said, pointing to the millennials in the audience and congratulating them for doing on their own what he said he’s spent his career trying to achieve.
What is important now for Schwartz is to preserve this trend, this exodus from autonomous vehicles to “mobility as a service.”
“It’s electricity, it’s water, it’s all the things that you get by turning on a button, flipping a switch, hitting an app on your phone,” Schwartz explained. “It’s the same thing for your generation.”
Whether it’s Uber, bikes, car share, public transit — for Schwartz, the future of transportation is multimodal, and smartphone technologies allow this to become reality.
“If in 1970, liberty was a car, today, freedom is your mobility portfolio and the world of transportation at your fingertips.”
Additionally, Schwartz said that multimodal transportation would free poorer populations from the financial burden of the autonomous vehicle.
“Owning a car is very expensive now,” Schwartz told The Lantern in a separate interview. “It exceeds $10,000 a year on average when you can spend $1,000 to $2,000 using all these kinds of transportation.”
But Schwartz also had a warning. He expressed caution about new modes of transportation taking the physical activity out of people’s daily lives.
“Inactivity takes far more lives than car crashes. And in the world, it kills even more than smoking,” Schwartz said.
Thus, Schwartz asserted that making cities friendlier to pedestrians, bikes and public transit is as much a matter of public health as it is of environment preservation, equality and individual comfort.
Yet nothing is to be taken for granted. Schwartz touched on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous speech in which he warned his fellow Americans about the military-industrial complex, and compared it to the “autonomous vehicle-industrial complex” that the young people might have to confront in the years to come.
“Will they capture the young people and say that (the autonomous vehicle) is the way of future? They will certainly try,” Schwartz told The Lantern. “Younger people will have to resist and say, ‘Don’t take my walking away from me, don’t take my biking. I want to be physical, I want to be healthy, I want a planet in which I don’t have a big carbon footprint.’”