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Old 16 January 2015, 12:08 AM
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thorny locust thorny locust is offline
Join Date: 27 April 2007
Location: Upstate NY
Posts: 9,925
Default The forgotten history of how automakers invented the crime of "jaywalking"

Tripped over this story linked to at the bottom of a page about something else entirely.

prior to the 1920s, city streets looked dramatically different than they do today. They were considered to be a public space: a place for pedestrians, pushcart vendors, horse-drawn vehicles, streetcars, and children at play. [ . . . ] As cars began to spread widely during the 1920s, the consequence of this was predictable: death.[ . . . ] The public response to these deaths, by and large, was outrage. Automobiles were often seen as frivolous playthings, akin to the way we think of yachts today (they were often called "pleasure cars"). And on the streets, they were considered violent intruders.
I knew that when cars were first introduced they were often seen as posing an unreasonable hazard to other traffic; but, perhaps because I've lived all my life in a society that functions under the assumption that wheeled traffic has priority on the road, I'd assumed that what cars wound up replacing in city streets was primarily horse-drawn traffic, and that the pedestrians had already been primarily put out of the street onto sidewalks or road verges.

I like having my assumptions turned inside out -- it's a good reminder to actually look at things, and not just at the inside of one's own head -- but I also wonder how accurate the article is about common street use in cities in the very early twentieth century. I googled city street 1900 images; and I got some pictures that appear to back the article, with the middle of the street full of a wild mix of pedestrians and livestock-drawn traffic, and sales carts parked mostly near the edge but definitely within the street itself; but I also got some images with pedestrians mostly on sidewalks and the traffic out in the street primarily wheeled traffic. Does anybody know which was more common? -- though it may well have depended on where you were.
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