Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

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MIT Press, Jan 21, 2011 - Technology & Engineering - 408 pages
2 Reviews

The fight for the future of the city street between pedestrians, street railways, and promoters of the automobile between 1915 and 1930.

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 a 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.

 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Othemts - LibraryThing

Everyone knows that city streets are for cars and that anyone else seeking to access the street needs to follow the rules so as not to cause traffic congestion. Except that it hasn't always been this ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - esswedl - LibraryThing

This exhaustively researched book looks at the history of the conception of the American street, and how it changed during the 1920s through competing theoretical constructions. From justice and order to efficiency to freedom, this is a very revealing look at how our cities got to where they are. Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

Introduction
1
I Justice
19
II Efficiency
103
III Freedom
173
Conclusion
255
Notes
263
Series List
379
Index
383
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About the author (2011)

Peter D. Norton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.

Wiebe E. Bijker is Professor at Maastricht University and the author of Of Bicycles, Bakelites, and Bulbs: Toward a Theory of Sociotechnical Change (MIT Press) and other books.

Trevor Pinch is Goldwin Smith Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Cornell University and coeditor of The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (anniversary edition, MIT Press).

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