The Motorization of American Cities

The Motorization of American Cities

The Motorization of American Cities

The Motorization of American Cities

Excerpt

Traveling in the United States in the 1920s was an experience very different from that of today. Then an American traveling between cities, or any long distance for that matter, would most likely have taken a train or a ship. Commercial air travel was as yet unknown, and travel by automobile was still only for the adventurous. Poor roads, unreliable automobiles, and a lack of motoring services generally limited such travel to short trips about town, commuting, and country outings. To get about in cities and towns across the country in 1920, our traveler would probably have walked, or taken a streetcar, a jitney, or perhaps a taxicab. In a few of the larger cities, subways and elevated railways were also available.

In 1920 the age of mass-produced (and consumed) autos was dawning. Private cars were increasingly plying the streets of both large and small cities and towns across the country, and commuting by auto was on the increase. It didn't take a lot of autos to clog roads that had not been built for such traffic and that were already congested with wagons and streetcars. Public transit, essentially streetcars, still constituted the backbone of urban transportation in all but the smallest cities and towns.

Suburbs were already with us in 1920, most having developed around streetcar and interurban rail lines. Since these suburbs were still very dependent upon public transit, population densities were generally higher than the light densities that we associate with suburbia today. The auto-suburb still awaited a network of highways and expressways that would make widespread automobile commuting practical. Outside of the cities and the suburbs, the automobile held out its greatest promise to rural Americans who were still isolated on farms and in small towns across the country. Overcoming this rural isolation would take much more than the automobile, however; it would take a system of roads that would get the farmer out of the mud. The United States in 1920 did not yet have such a . . .

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