Urban Transportation Planning in the United States: An Historical Overview

By Edward Weiner | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Beginnings of Urban
Transportation Planning

During World War II, regular highway programs stopped. Highway materials and personnel were used to build access roads for war production and military needs. With the rationing of gasoline and tires, and no new automobiles being manufactured, the use of transit mushroomed. Between 1941 and 1946, transit ridership grew by 65 percent to an all-time high of 23.4 billion trips annually (American Public Transit Association, 1995) (see Figure 3.1).

When the war came to an end, the pent-up demand for homes and automobiles ushered in the suburban boom era. Automobile production jumped from a mere 70,000 in 1945 to 2.1 million in 1946 and 3.5 million in 1947. Highway travel reached its prewar peak by 1946 and began to climb at 6 percent per year, which was to continue for decades (U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1979a). Transit use, on the other hand, declined at about the same rate it had increased during the war. By 1953, there were fewer than 14 billion transit trips annually (Transportation Research Board, 1987).

The nation’s highways were in poor shape to handle this increasing load of traffic. Little had been done during the war to improve the highways, and wartime traffic had exacerbated their condition. Moreover, the growth of development in the suburbs occurred where highways did not have the capacity to carry the resulting traffic. Suburban traffic quickly overwhelmed the existing two-lane formerly rural roads (U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1979a). Transit facilities also experienced significant wear and tear during the war from extended use and deferred maintenance. This resulted in a deterioration in transit’s physical plant by war’s end. Pent-up wage demands of transit employees were met, causing nearly a 50 percent increase in average fares by 1950. This further contributed to a decline in ridership. These factors combined to cause serious financial problems for many transit companies (Transportation Research Board, 1987).

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