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Persistent pedestrianism: urban walking in motor age America, 1920s–1960s

  • Peter Norton (a1)

Abstract

Generalizations about ‘car culture’ in the United States, and about American's ‘love affair with the automobile’, have concealed persistent values and practices among millions of Americans that do not suit such stereotypes. Car culture and the car's attractions are not denied. American society, however, is a complex of numerous subcultures, including many that resented and resisted the automobile's growing priority during the twentieth century. Such groups’ resistance to automobile domination has been neglected. Persistent advocacy for pedestrians’ interests is illustrated through numerous examples from the 1920s to the 1960s, the decades when ‘car culture’ rose to its apogee.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email: norton@virginia.edu

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Most of the research and writing of this article were conducted while the author was a visiting faculty member at Technical University Eindhoven with the support of Stichting Historie der Technik and Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, which institutions are hereby gratefully acknowledged, with special thanks to Professor Ruth Oldenziel of TUE and to Frank Schipper. I am also deeply grateful to Colin Pooley of Lancaster University for the opportunity to contribute to this special section on pedestrians.

Footnotes

References

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1 Federal Highway Administration, National Bicycling and Walking Study, Measures to Overcome Impediments to Bicycling and Walking (FHWA Case Study 4; Washington, Aug. 1993), 5.

2 See Norton, P.D., Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Cambridge, MA, 2008), 164, 190–3.

3 Jacobs, J., The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York, 1961).

4 The term was an apparent variant on the older baby carriage brigade, in circulation especially in the years preceding ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920), for mothers marching for woman suffrage or for other causes, or in parades. Indeed, in the 1950s, the press sometimes used baby carriage brigade and baby carriage blockade interchangeably. Both terms could suggest condescension, but participants in such protests sometimes used similar terms themselves, and the deliberate use of baby carriages at blockades suggests that protesters embraced their symbolic value.

5 ‘Blockade continues in Jamaica’, New York Amsterdam News, 7 Feb. 1959, 19; statement of Dorothy Mitchell.

6 H. Miller, letter to editor (‘Racial privilege’), Chicago Defender, 14 Mar. 1963, 14.

7 Survey conducted 1969–70 by the US Census Bureau for the FHWA, in P.V. Svercl and R.H. Asin, ‘Home-to-work trips and travel’, Nationwide Personal Transportation Study, report 8 (Washington, 1973), table A-16, p. 67.

8 Ibid., table A-17, p. 68.

9 Ibid., table A-32, p. 83.

10 R.E. Gish, ‘Characteristics of licensed drivers’, Nationwide Personal Transportation Study, report 6 (Washington, 1973), p. 3, table 1 p. 8, p. 23, table 9 p. 24, table 10 p. 25, p. 27.

11 A. Randill, H. Greenhalgh and E. Samson, ‘Mode of transportation and personal characteristics of tripmakers’, Nationwide Personal Transportation Study, report 9 (Washington, 1973), p. 1, table F p. 14, table 9 p. 39.

12 D.A. Beschen, Jr, ‘Transportation characteristics of school children’, Nationwide Personal Transportation Study, report 4 (Washington, 1972), p. 1, fig. 1 p. 8, table 1 p. 9.

13 ‘Motor killings and the engineer’ (editorial), Engineering News-Record, 89 (9 Nov. 1922), 775.

14 C. Hayes, ‘Auto accidents are not always due to drivers’, Chicago Tribune, 11 Jan. 1920, part 8, p. 11.

15 Graham, address to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Washington, 15 Dec. 1924, published as ‘Cause (and prevention) of accidents’, Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers, 16 (Jan. 1925), 12–13, at 12.

16 See Norton, Fighting Traffic.

17 Ibid., 165–9, 190–3.

18 Norton, P.D., ‘Street rivals: jaywalking and the invention of the motor age street’, Technology and Culture, 48 (2007), 331–59; Norton, Fighting Traffic, 71–9, 225–30.

19 W.B. Cobb, ‘Nation roused against motor killings’, New York Times, 23 Nov. 1924, 5.

20 Beard, H., Safety First for School and Home (New York, 1925), 82.

21 ‘Reid demands walks on road’, Detroit Free Press, 20 Mar. 1930, 12.

22 D.H. Keller, ‘The revolt of the pedestrians’, Amazing Stories, 2, 11 (Feb. 1928), 1048–59.

23 Ibid., 1049.

24 ‘Walkers’ league is born in California’ (AP), Owensboro [Ky.] Inquirer, 8 Sep. 1922, 8; ‘Pedestrians to fight speeders’, Los Angeles Times, 18 Aug. 1924, part II, 1; ‘Pedestrians form protective society’, Baltimore Sun, 7 Jan. 1927, 3; ‘Pedestrians organize for their protection’, Daily Journal-Gazette and Commercial-Star, Mattoon, IL, 8 Feb. 1930, 6.

25 O.O. McIntyre, ‘New York day by day’ (column), Indianapolis Star, 18 Sep. 1926, 6.

26 ‘Pedestrian vows to set tacks for car drivers’, Capital Times (Madison, WI), 4 Mar. 1928, 13.

27 ‘Minister killed by reckless motorist’, New York Amsterdam News, 26 Jul. 1933, 11.

28 ‘Yale to open bureau on traffic research’, New York Times, 12 Apr. 1938, 13; ‘$25,000 Sloan gift aids auto safety’, New York Times, 14 Jan. 1938, 25; ‘Sloan again dives $25,000 for safety’, New York Times, 22 Mar. 1939, 26.

29 Halsey, M., Traffic Accidents and Congestion (New York, 1941), 16.

30 The frequent conflation of circumstantial practices with essential preferences is exemplified in the City and County of Denver's 2008 Strategic Transportation Plan. On page 10, the plan reports that ‘55% of Americans would prefer to drive less and walk more’; three pages later, the plan contends that, in a city crossed and encircled by interstate highways, ‘our behavior illustrates a continued preference to drive’. City and County of Denver, Moving People: Denver Strategic Transportation Plan (Oct. 2008), 10, 13.

31 ‘Safety seminar to close today after three-day meeting’, Daily Clintonian (Clinton, IN), 19 Oct. 1938, 1.

32 William E. Gunther quoted in ‘Assert pedestrian is “spoiled child”’ (AP), Evening State Journal (Lincoln, NB), 17 Oct. 1939, 9.

33 W.D. Johnson, ‘Street cars or traffic jams?’, Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 Jun. 1932.

34 R. Elliott, ‘Safest city envies pedestrian control in Rochester’, Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), 20 Feb. 1940, 12.

35 M. Stearns, ‘Your right to cross the street’, Outlook and Independent, 155 (14 May 1930), 50–3, 80.

36 J.G. Frederick, ‘Too many automobiles’, Forum and Century, 100, 6 (Dec. 1938), 275–9, at 277.

37 American Association of State Highway Officials, A Policy on Arterial Highways in Urban Areas (Washington, 1957), 181.

38 ‘Jaywalk card is ringer!’ Cincinnati Enquirer, 17 Oct. 1952, 1.

39 ‘Wacky walkers: menace to motorists and to automobile sales’, NADA Magazine, 25, 2 (Dec. 1952), 46–7.

40 Foundation for Traffic Safety, American Automobile Association, Planned Pedestrian Program (Washington, 1958), 3.

41 Automotive Safety Foundation, What Parking Means to Business (Washington, 1955), 31.

42 J. Field, untitled commentary, Nov. 1946, in Barnett, J., Express Highway Planning in Metropolitan Areas (New York, 1946), 34–7, at 34.

43 S. Baldock, untitled commentary, Sep. 1946, in ibid., 31–4, at 33.

44 P.Y.K. Howat, ‘Traffic and parking problems’, in Chamber of Commerce of the United States, City Rebuilding Is Tomorrow's Business (Washington, 1946), 12–15, at 15.

45 E.L. Bailey, ‘The pedestrian in traffic’, Traffic Quarterly, 1, 1 (Jan. 1947), 83–8, at 87.

46 Owen, W., The Metropolitan Transportation Problem (Washington, 1956).

47 J.D. Carroll, ‘Implications of highway improvement to mass transit’, in Highway Research Board, Economic Impact of Highway Improvement: Conference Proceedings, March 18–19, 1957 (Washington, 1957), 51–2, at 51.

48 Gruen, address to the National Citizens Planning Conference ‘Main Street 1969’, Little Rock, June 1957, in American Planning and Civic Annual (Washington, 1957), 16–21, at 18.

49 ‘Traffic solution’ (editorial), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6 Jun. 1953, Daily Magazine section, p. 1.

50 ‘Yesterday's darling’, Broadway Romances, 1 (Jan. 1950), 1–9.

51 R. Bradbury, ‘The pedestrian’, The Reporter, 5, 3 (7 Aug. 1951), 39–40.

52 See Eller, J.R., ‘The story of Fahrenheit 451’, in Bradbury, R., Fahrenheit 451 (60th anniversary edn, New York, 2012), 167–87, at 172.

53 ‘Pedestrian assaults auto, pays $32’ (United Press), Wilmington (DE), News-Journal, 20 Jan. 1953, 25.

54 ‘Well, he made it across the street’ (AP), Austin Statesman, 2 Oct. 1954, 3.

55 H. Farrar, Denver Post; reprinted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 Mar. 1955, as ‘For the pedestrian hall of fame’, part 3, p. 2.

56 The Dayton Daily News ran Farrar's column under the title ‘Hood-walkers’ hall of fame’, 24 Sep. 1955, 4.

57 ‘Man tramps over auto in crosswalk’, Los Angeles Times, 26 Mar. 1956, 1.

58 ‘Pedestrians revolt, tie up traffic 40 minutes’ (AP), Tampa Tribune, 6 Feb. 1955, 1.

59 ‘Miami merchants blast jaywalking drive’ (AP), Fort Lauderdale Daily News, 18 Jan. 1957, 9-A.

60 ‘Man of action’, Los Angeles Times, 1 Dec. 1959, part 3, p. 1; ‘“Crusading” dentist paints Ventura Blvd. crosswalks’, Van Nuys News, 1 Dec. 1959, 1, 7; ‘Crosswalk removed; dentist billed $63.55’, Los Angeles Times, 11 Dec. 1959, 2.

61 ‘Irate mothers block street to guard children’, Fresno Bee, 15 Oct. 1941, 10.

62 ‘Women battle traffic deaths’, Los Angeles Times, 2 Jun. 1946, part 2, p. 8; ‘Mothers “strike” against criminally lax driving’, Los Angeles Times, 7 Jun. 1946, part 2, p. 2.

63 ‘Safety “posse” protests lack of traffic signals’, Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1952, part 2, p. 1; ‘White Oak villagers stage intersection demonstration’, Van Nuys News, 5 May 1952, 1.

64 ‘Two men and boy, 13, killed in accidents’, Valley News (Van Nuys, CA), 15 May 1956, 1; ‘Pacoima boy, 9, hit by auto, dies’, Los Angeles Times, 5 Dec. 1958, part 1, p. 2; ‘200 bar cars where 2 children lost lives’, Los Angeles Times, 6 Dec. 1958, part 3, p. 1; ‘Signal installed’, Valley Times (Van Nuys, CA), 10 Dec. 1958, Valley Times Photo Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

65 ‘Mothers’ “sitdown” holds up opening of Rankin Bridge’, Pittsburgh Press, 30 Apr. 1951, 1; ‘Human blockade halts opening of Rankin span; wins sidewalks’, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 May 1951, 1.

66 ‘Mothers block street where car killed boy’, Brooklyn Eagle, 19 Jun. 1949, 3.

67 ‘4 seized in rally for traffic light’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 Jun. 1950, 3; ‘Demonstrators for traffic light fined as disorderly’, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 5 Jun. 1950, George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Temple University Libraries.

68 ‘Traffic light pressure hit’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 Jun. 1950, 33.

69 ‘Crash kills housewife on way from market’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11 Jul. 1953, 1.

70 ‘Scores block street after fatal crash’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 Jul. 1953; ‘Women block intersection in campaign for traffic light’ (photograph), Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 13 Apr. 1956, George D. McDowell Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Collection, Temple University Libraries.

71 ‘Official backs stop signs at fatality scene’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 13 Jul. 1953, 17; ‘Mayfair wins crossing fight’, Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 Jul. 1953, 19.

72 ‘May need pupil right-of-way law, safety unit told’, Binghamton Press, 19 Sep. 1957, 23.

73 ‘Two 10 yr. old girls on a candy buying trip killed by truck’, Chicago Tribune, 14 Feb. 1949, 15; G. Robinson, ‘Death on play street: truck kills two girls’, New York Daily News, 15 Feb. 1949, 3.

74 R. Doherty, ‘Mothers block fatal play street’, New York Daily News, 16 Feb. 1949, 3.

75 ‘Mothers set up 2d barricade’, New York Daily News, 17 Feb. 1949, 17.

76 ‘Funeral joins girls killed by same truck’, New York Daily News, 20 Feb. 1949, 8.

77 ‘Baby carriage brigade stresses parent's ire’, New York Amsterdam News, 12 Jul. 1952, 21.

78 ‘Battle for new stop signs won by Jamaica Civic Assn.’, New York Amsterdam News, 2 Nov 1957, 17, 30; ‘Traffic-light demand flares toward crisis ’, New York Daily News, 4 Dec. 1958.

79 ‘Battle for new stop signs won’.

80 ‘Traffic-light demand flares toward crisis’, New York Daily News, 4 Dec. 1958, Queens section, 3.

81 ‘Blockade continues in Jamaica’, New York Amsterdam News, 7 Feb. 1959, 19, statement of Dorothy Mitchell; ‘UNer hurt in traffic riot’, New York Daily News, 12 Feb. 1959, 5.

82 ‘Blockade continues in Jamaica’, New York Amsterdam News, 7 Feb. 1959, 19.

83 ‘Bulletin’, New York Amsterdam News, 7 Feb. 1959, 19; ‘Bitter pain’, New York Amsterdam News, 21 Feb. 1959, 19.

84 ‘Blockade continues in Jamaica’, New York Amsterdam News, 7 Feb. 1959, 19.

85 ‘Diplomat's car is overturned’, New York Amsterdam News, 21 Feb. 1959, 19; ‘Diplomat's car flipped at blockaded corner’, New York Age, 21 Feb. 1959, 2; ‘UNer hurt in traffic riot’, New York Daily News, 12 Feb. 1959, 5.

86 ‘The battle is won’, New York Amsterdam News, 10 Sep. 1960, 17.

87 ‘7 pickets get the stop sign’, New York Daily News, 30 Jun. 1964, 2. In 1969, black residents of a public housing project in east side Bridgeport, Connecticut, blocked traffic days after a motorist killed nine-year-old James Smith; see ‘Parents push traffic demands, plan East Side school boycott’, Bridgeport Post, 28 Oct. 1969, 1.

88 Marchi, L.Z., ‘Victor Gruen: the environmental heart’, Journal of Public Space, 2, 2 (2017), 7584, at 77–8.

89 ‘Another mall succumbs’, Wilmington [Ohio] News-Journal, 23 Dec. 1960, 4.

90 Cheyne, M., ‘No better way? The Kalamazoo Mall and the legacy of pedestrian malls’, Michigan Historical Review, 36 (2010), 103–28.

91 B. Newkirk, ‘Toledo's shopping mall spurs national interest’, Orlando Evening Star, 2 Oct. 1959, 3.

92 C. Patrick, ‘Shady side of the street is for pedestrians’, Indianapolis Star, 5 Aug. 1959, 16.

93 Highway Research Board, Planning in Highway Administration: Proceedings of a Conference Held March 26–27, 1962 (Washington: National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council, 1962), 52.

94 American Automobile Association, Metro: Toward a Brighter Traffic Future for Cities and Suburbs (Washington, 1961), 1.

95 J.C. Ingraham, ‘Curbs upon autos hit by Ford head’, New York Times, 11 Oct. 1962, 79; ‘Auto spokesmen gripe despite being subsidized’ (editorial), Decatur Herald, 12 Oct. 1962, 10.

96 ‘Ford president defends auto's city role’, Los Angeles Times, 11 Oct. 1962, part 3, p. 9.

97 K. Moskowitz, ‘Living and travel patterns in auto-oriented cities’, California Highways and Public Works, 43, 7–8 (1964), 47–54, at 52.

98 J.M. Fitch, ‘City is still important, even to suburbanites’, Cincinnati Enquirer, 2 Dec. 1961, 13.

99 ‘Rail system urged here for rapid transit’, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Dec. 1964, 3A.

100 S. Lardner and J. Updike, ‘The right to walk’, New Yorker, 27 Aug. 1960, 22; L. Scandur, ‘Pedestrians strike back’, Daily News (New York), 17 Jul. 1960, 30; K. Segrave, America on Foot: Walking and Pedestrianism in the 20th Century (Jefferson, NC, 2006), 69–70.

101 ‘Walking is great exercise but it's sadly neglected’, Janesville (WI) Daily Gazette, 12 Apr. 1962, part 3, p. 11.

102 L. Rowe, ‘Onslaught of autos prostrating metropolis’, Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 Aug. 1961, 1.

103 B. Stengren, ‘Street widening is urged for city’, New York Times, 26 Aug. 1963, 27.

104 I. Robb, ‘Up, up, up’, Pittsburgh Press, 20 Sep. 1963, 25.

105 E.E. Asbury, ‘Residents assail street widening’, New York Times, 13 Dec. 1963, 37.

106 Norton, P.D., ‘Of love affairs and other stories’, in Zavestoski, S. and Agyeman, J. (eds.), Incomplete Streets: Processes, Practices, and Possibilities (London, 2015), 1735.

107 G. McCue, ‘Death and life of American cities’ (review), St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 Jan. 1962, sec. E, p. 5.

Most of the research and writing of this article were conducted while the author was a visiting faculty member at Technical University Eindhoven with the support of Stichting Historie der Technik and Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, which institutions are hereby gratefully acknowledged, with special thanks to Professor Ruth Oldenziel of TUE and to Frank Schipper. I am also deeply grateful to Colin Pooley of Lancaster University for the opportunity to contribute to this special section on pedestrians.

Persistent pedestrianism: urban walking in motor age America, 1920s–1960s

  • Peter Norton (a1)

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