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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

NYC Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz Speaks Truth to Common Observations and Frustrations

It is always difficult to know when to speak up when it comes to sidewalks and walkability here in Nashville.  Despite a common sense of desire for and commitment to the ideal of a great walking city, the actual progress feels glacial. 

Former NYC traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz has written a book entitled No One at the Wheel and he raised a number of interesting points for your consideration during a recent interview on Fresh Air (NPR, Terry Gross, see link below for full interview).  These points speak directly to many of my deepest concerns about the way Nashville is:  a car dominate city which is taking small measured steps toward walkability & public transportation.   We are definitely not being bold. 

Despite discussion in the past of 'Zero Tolerance' for pedestrian deaths, we continue, year by year to beat our prior record (Nashville Pedestrian Death Registry)

Progress is made on NEW sidewalk production but very slowly.  After 5 years of volunteering on this topic alone (The Sidewalk Foundation, #FoundOnFoot, Shade Parade), one still cannot walk from point A to B appreciably safer, quicker or more comfortably. 

The interview with Sam Schwartz, former NYC traffic commission highlighted a few key points which I quote and illustrate here.

1) 'I’d like to change the mindset a bit and remember that for hundreds of thousands of years – since the first cities started – it was the pedestrians that were walking and the carriages had to go around them or move at that the same speed.  Somehow we have accepted the idea that we need lots of cars, lots of vehicles, and the intruders are the bike riders and the pedestrians and they should be 2nd class citizens. 

Nothing makes you feel more 2nd class than literally having no place to walk

2) 'The car is not the villain', JFK.  'BUT, what JFK was calling for was balanced transportation'And, that’s what I am calling for.  What we need is a better balance...The pendulum swung in the direction of too many people driving…There is a better way'.

3) 'What happened in cities like NYC, Seattle and others that really went, I wouldn’t say all out, but at least in the central business districts provide far more pedestrian zones, far more bike lanes, the total number of cars coming in has gone down.  We can get by with fewer cars.  If we get by with fewer cars, then maybe Chestnut and Walnut in Philadelphia could have different uses.  Maybe the cars go very slowly which they do anyhow.  If you go to many European cities, you’ll see the mix of pedestrians and cars moving very slowly.   We may be able to use examples like that but we have to change our mindset'. 

There is zero need to go faster than 20mph on local/residential streets or when pedestrians are present!  This is also an argument for parking once - then running the remainder of your errands on foot.  This could be the desirable choice IF there is a safe walkable option. 

4) ‘Disappointed with the auto-industry reflecting people’s desires to be in bigger cars and to have these front ends that are so high.  That has an impact.  That’s why pedestrian deaths – one of the main reasons pedestrian deaths have soared is that people are getting hit by SUVS.   People are no longer getting hit and developing knee injuries but, and this comes from ER physicians, who note a connection.   In the past, someone hit by a car had a knee injury or a leg injury.  Now, it’s a chest injury and more likely to be fatal'.

5)  'There are bad public transportation systems out there.  90% of the country has lousy public transportation.  It's called a bus that comes around every 1/2 hour or hour.  It largely serves poor people.  When a system only serves poor people, it's a poor system.   Often it's largely people of color.  We have an opportunity to transform public transportation in those areas - not to offer 1/2 hours service - but we could triple the service by using micro-transit autonomous vehicle.  Small buses that are on demand that know where the people are'. 

These are all major issues in Nashville that add to traffic and decreased QOL as they reduce pedestrian comfort and safety.  These factors all have an impact. 

The Revolution Will Be Driverless - Fresh Air


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