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Traffic Problems:Authority, Mobility, and Technology in Mexico's Federal District, 1867–1912

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2021

Michael K. Bess*
Affiliation:
Center for Research and Teaching of Economics (CIDE) Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, Mexicomichael.bess@cide.edu

Abstract

This article examines how people in Mexico's Federal District (Distrito Federal) contested transit policies and responded to the introduction of new technical infrastructures, like the electrified tram network. District officials published transit guidelines that reflected elite preoccupation with order, but their heavy-handed policies faced resistance from poor, working-class, and middle-class residents. This defiance took different forms: noncompliance, rule-breaking, public protests, and written complaints to officials and the press. Municipal governments wielded considerable power to shape policy and clashed over jurisdiction and authority over taxation and police mobility. National leaders serving the strongman president, Porfirio Díaz, undermined this influence and consolidated decision-making authority in the office of the district governor and the city council of Mexico City. They justified limiting municipal authority and democratic participation in the district as necessary to improve urban transportation infrastructure, improve tax collection, and streamline transit policy. Nevertheless, this attempt at centralization failed amid public complaints about continuing service problems and allegations of official incompetence in the Dirección de Obras Públicas (directorate of public works). After 1910, when the Mexican Revolution brought a new generation of political leadership to power, the policy was reversed, serving as an important symbolic and administrative break with the past.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Academy of American Franciscan History

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Footnotes

The author thanks his colleagues Lina-Maria Murillo, Catherine Vezina, Catherine Andrews, Pablo Mijangos, José-Juan López-Portillo, Elizabeth Pérez Chiques, and Oliver Meza for comments on drafts of this work, and extends thanks also to the anonymous reviewers for The Americas and to his research assistants, Berenice Hernández and Ángeles Paredes.

References

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66. In 1916, tram workers successfully convened a general strike that paralyzed mobility in the district. See J. Brian Freeman, “‘Los hijos de Ford’: Mexico in the Automobile Age, 1900–1930,” in Technology and Culture in Twentieth-Century Mexico, Araceli Tinajero and J. Brian Freeman eds., (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013), 220.

67. “Las calzadas del Distrito,” El Imparcial January 18, 1905.

68. Barbosa, “La política en la Ciudad de México en tiempos de cambio,” 370–373. The revolutionary governments that followed also grappled with the question of autonomy and centralization. Ultimately, they would go further than Díaz, with the proposal to eliminate the federal district's municipalities and create the delegation system, concentrating power in the hands of the district governor. This system remained in place until 2016.