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Old 11-29-08, 07:53 PM   #1
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Fighting Traffic

Originally Posted by MIT Press
Before the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and included children at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily motor thoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians were condemned as "jaywalkers." In Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton argues that to accommodate automobiles, the American city required not only a physical change but also a social one: before the city could be reconstructed for the sake of motorists, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where motorists belonged. It was not an evolution, he writes, but a bloody and sometimes violent revolution.

Norton describes how street users struggled to define and redefine what streets were for. He examines developments in the crucial transitional years from the 1910s to the 1930s, uncovering a broad anti-automobile campaign that reviled motorists as "road hogs" or "speed demons" and cars as "juggernauts" or "death cars." He considers the perspectives of all users—pedestrians, police (who had to become "traffic cops"), street railways, downtown businesses, traffic engineers (who often saw cars as the problem, not the solution), and automobile promoters. He finds that pedestrians and parents campaigned in moral terms, fighting for "justice." Cities and downtown businesses tried to regulate traffic in the name of "efficiency." Automotive interest groups, meanwhile, legitimized their claim to the streets by invoking "freedom"—a rhetorical stance of particular power in the United States.

Fighting Traffic offers a new look at both the origins of the automotive city in America and how social groups shape technological change.
Originally Posted by Peter D. Norton
My case is that the automotive city was not the product of highway engineers or city planners, but of an earlier redefinition of what a street is for. A hundred years ago a city street was something like a city park: open to all comers on condition that no one needlessly obstruct or endanger others. This definition made cars and their drivers unwelcome intruders. Page 99 captures the moment when champions of the automobile first perceived that the traditional conception of the street was a threat to the car's urban future, and began to work together to reinvent the street as a motor thoroughfare.

In 1923, when the people of Cincinnati were distressed by the number of pedestrians (especially children) who were struck by cars, their response was NOT like ours would be today. Living in the motor age, we would discourage jaywalking and increase safety education in schools. But in 1923 all blame was directed at motorists, and the result was a petition--signed by 42,000 people--to install speed governors on all cars in the city. The governor would shut the engine off if the car reached 25 mph. This solution was logical to those who defined streets as public spaces, but it would also have deprived motorists of their cars' chief advantage--their speed. So it was in Cincinnati in 1923--and exactly on p. 99 of the book--that automobile dealers, clubs and manufacturers first organized to redefine streets as motor thoroughfares, where pedestrians (and especially children) do not belong.
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Old 11-29-08, 11:54 PM   #2
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"How the streets were made safe for cars!!"

I've been referencing Norton since I read an article excerpt of his somewhere. I'm going to try and get the local library to order this book if they haven't already...

1923 in cincinnati, very interesting....
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Old 11-30-08, 12:23 PM   #3
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Thank you for the headsup!
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Old 11-30-08, 08:55 PM   #4
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In my town, the trolley was sent to the scrap iron because it traveled too slowly and took up one and a half lanes. The old timers told me the trolley would back up traffic by almost two city blocks and cars on the opposite lane had to pull over to make room.

As a result, the city ended the trolley franchise and forced buses only. Eventually the state had to take over the bus line because the private company could not make money. The bus now comes once an hour where the trolley would come every 15 minutes. Who knows how many were forced to buy cars once serviced was cut by 300%. We all lost out to make room for the motorcar.
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Old 11-30-08, 09:05 PM   #5
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Steve you must be somewhere along Bloomfield ave. When I lived in Caldwell My parents used to speak of the trolley system there. When I was a kid I remember a streetcar that ran on tracks off to the side of Bloomfield between Caldwell and Verona.
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Old 12-05-08, 10:22 PM   #6
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That looks like an awesome book. Might have something to add to my christmas list!!

Also, did anyone else get this ad? Juxtaposition can be funny sometimes...

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Old 12-05-08, 10:48 PM   #7
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A huge part of the problem is the dumbing down of our streets, making them as straight and simple as possible for inattentive motorists to navigate rapidly.
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