When the world’s first elevated highway was completed in 1936 along Manhattan’s west side, the New York Times marveled that “the gleaming new concrete ribbon” would let drivers travel from lower Manhattan “nearly to Poughkeepsie without having to stop for a traffic light or slow up for an intersection.” Legendary city planner and master highway builder, Robert Moses promised the new highway would “eliminate” traffic jams on the city’s west side…
The closure of this major artery along the Hudson River should have resulted in chaos for the city’s transportation system. It didn’t.
A young traffic engineer working in the city’s department of transportation at the time, Samuel Schwartz was assigned to measure the impact of the highway closure on nearby city streets. To his amazement, all of the car traffic—some 80,000 vehicles per day—seemed to disappear.
People figured out they could get around using the existing transportation system. The elevated highway was not rebuilt.
Schwartz would eventually go on to become New York City’s traffic commissioner and the New York City Department of Transportation’s chief engineer during the 1980s. And he would take the lesson of the West Side Highway with him while shaping transportation policy in New York City during that time.
Today, the West Side Highway is no longer a barrier for people to cross the street between the city and the waterfront. It’s dismantling paved the way for the removal of other urban highways after it; from the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, to Rochester’s own Inner Loop.
And this is just one of many stories you can ask Sam Schwartz about when he’s here in Rochester next week.
Sam Schwartz will give a speak at The Little Theatre this Wednesday.
“Gridlock” Sam (as he’s known because he coined the term) is one of the leading transportation experts in the United States today. He is currently a columnist at the New York Daily News. And his firm, Sam Schwartz Engineering, has recently produced a plan for the redesign of East Main Street here in Rochester.
In his new book, Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars , Sam chronicles the history of urban transportation in America. He recounts his own personal experiences, from growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s, to working as a New York City cab driver, and then his professional career planting the seeds of change from within the New York City Department of Transportation.
DATE: Wednesday, February 24
TIME: 6:30 – 8:30 P.M.
LOCATION: The Little Theatre
Lecture and Q&A will be followed by a book signing.
Suggested donation at the door: $5-$15.
Tags: Ed Koch, event, Gridlock Sam Schwartz, infrastructure, lecture, New York City, NYC, Reconnect Rochester, Robert Moses, Sam Schwartz, Samuel Schwartz, Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars, The Little Theatre, traffic, traffic planning, transportation, transportation planning, urban planning, West Side Highway
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