snopes.com  


Go Back   snopes.com > Urban Legends > Automobiles

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 16 January 2015, 12:08 AM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust thorny locust is offline
 
Join Date: 27 April 2007
Location: Upstate NY
Posts: 7,759
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.

Quote:
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.
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 16 January 2015, 02:15 PM
Samwise Z Samwise Z is offline
 
Join Date: 02 December 2014
Location: Highland Park, IL
Posts: 50
Default

From 1859, Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities, Book II, Chapter 7, "Monseigneur in Town" (I'm copying from Gutenberg edition):
Quote:
It appeared, under the circumstances, rather agreeable to him to see the common people dispersed before his horses, and often barely escaping from being run down. His man drove as if he were charging an enemy, and the furious recklessness of the man brought no check into the face, or to the lips, of the master. The complaint had sometimes made itself audible, even in that deaf city and dumb age, that, in the narrow streets without footways, the fierce patrician custom of hard driving endangered and maimed the mere vulgar in a barbarous manner. But, few cared enough for that to think of it a second time, and, in this matter, as in all others, the common wretches were left to get out of their difficulties as they could.
So, while there may not have been laws, there was clearly a problem with horses and carriages in roadways. (There's a question of whether this was really the situation in the 1780s in Paris where the story is set, or whether Dickens was describing 1850s London because those were streets he knew. I don't think it matters, he's clearly raising the point, way before automobiles.)

The story goes on with the famous incident of the Marquis killing a child, throwing a coin, etc, but the next paragraphs are relevant:
Quote:
With a wild rattle and clatter, and an inhuman abandonment of consideration not easy to be understood in these days, the carriage dashed through streets and swept round corners, with women screaming before it, and men clutching each other and clutching children out of its way. At last, swooping at a street corner by a fountain, one of its wheels came to a sickening little jolt, and there was a loud cry from a number of voices, and the horses reared and plunged.

But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would not have stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their wounded behind, and why not? But the frightened valet had got down in a hurry, and there were twenty hands at the horses' bridles.
Note especially: "But for the latter inconvenience, the carriage probably would not have stopped; carriages were often known to drive on, and leave their wounded behind, and why not?" Implies to me that this isn't a post-automobile problem...
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 16 January 2015, 09:48 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 25,125
Default

I read a similar article in The Guardian a year or two ago and it surprised me, in some ways but not in others. The USA and the UK are different in this respect - a lot of the USA was built for cars, but most roads in the UK predate cars by centuries (at least, roads to places rather than streets with housing), and a lot of country roads still aren't ideal for cars.

As a walker I'm sometimes very conscious, when walking down country lanes, that they're not very safe for pedestrians at all. But the foot traffic is much closer to the original traffic the road would have been designed for, and it would make more sense to say that the roads aren't safe for cars.

I hadn't remembered that passage from Dickens, but I like it. Dickens was also a great walker, and when I'm planning my walks I often think that in his day, it was easier to walk from town to town as I do. He could just have directly followed the main roads, whereas these days the main roads aren't safe to walk along - the biggest ones, motorways, aren't even legal to walk along - so you have to plan more roundabout routes along little footpaths which are often longer, less convenient, hard to find and overgrown. They're picturesque, but without the cars, country roads are picturesque too. Dickens once walked overnight from London to Rochester on a whim. I've walked from High Wycombe into London during the day, but it would be much harder to do that at night on a whim (and without a map) because it wouldn't be safe to follow the roads, and you'd never find the paths.

If I were in charge, I'd ban cars from country roads, rather than from town centres. You could have bikes, pedestrians, horses, all happily co-existing - the bikes would have to take a bit of care if they were going fast - and leave the cars out, and to my mind it would be a lot better and safer, and better for people's health, than now. I'd designate one road for cars in and out of each town or village, and anybody who needed to drive could use that.
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 16 January 2015, 11:28 PM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust thorny locust is offline
 
Join Date: 27 April 2007
Location: Upstate NY
Posts: 7,759
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
If I were in charge, I'd ban cars from country roads, rather than from town centres. You could have bikes, pedestrians, horses, all happily co-existing - the bikes would have to take a bit of care if they were going fast - and leave the cars out, and to my mind it would be a lot better and safer, and better for people's health, than now. I'd designate one road for cars in and out of each town or village, and anybody who needed to drive could use that.
But how would all the people who live along the country roads and need to drive -- perhaps because they live many miles out of town -- get to the one road you'd be letting them drive on? They might well live miles away from that road, also.

Alternative transportation is a lot easier to provide in the town center than along all the country roads.

-- Samwise, that bit makes it sound as if the problem was common with horses before it became a problem with cars; which may well have been true. I guess I was wondering how common it was, by the early 1900's, for the horses to have already driven the pedestrians out of the busier city streets; and to what extent, again by the early 1900's, provision had been made for pedestrians on sidewalks or equivalent -- though I'm sure that depended a whole lot on where you were.
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 17 January 2015, 02:35 AM
A Turtle Named Mack's Avatar
A Turtle Named Mack A Turtle Named Mack is offline
 
Join Date: 21 June 2007
Location: Marietta, GA
Posts: 21,445
Default

It was almost certainly a gradual process, and depended on the traffic conditions. I know towns that to this day, you would feel comfortable ambling about the roads. If a car is coming, you'd hear it well in advance. But you take 1840s NYC or Philly, and there were enough wagons, horse-drawn buses, and other horsey conveyances (and even, increasingly, bicycles) that it would have been much safer to segregate foot traffic from wheeled and/or hooved traffic. Even then, the locals probably laughed at 'bumpkins' who did not know enough to keep out of the streets. Whether it required a law initially or people just naturally segregated types of traffic, it was a sensible development that in many areas predated cars, but was made more imperative by cars.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 17 January 2015, 03:30 AM
quink quink is offline
 
Join Date: 22 June 2005
Location: Calgary, AB
Posts: 3,193
Default

I'm reading Walkable City right now, and one of the points brought up is that a lot of the things brought in to make roads supposedly safer - like wider lanes, one way streets and wide turning - actually make things less safe, partly because they make cars so dominant that drivers see other forms of transportation like foot traffic and cyclists as invaders. I've ranted about the victim blaming in pedestrian accidents for years. The more things are geared toward personal vehicles, the more other traffic becomes the outsider, in the wrong simply for being in the same space. And the more pedestrians and cyclists are in danger, the more we're told to stay off the roads all together, which just makes cars even more dominant.

The second you try to fight back the tiniest bit and ask drivers to give up a single lane for a cycle track or wider sidewalks, all hell breaks loose. I think there are cities in the US that are too far gone to even try. Really, I think the biggest issue with pedestrian safety is that drivers simply don't expect us. In places where it's dangerous or horribly inconvenient not to drive, it's no wonder, because everything has been designed to tell non-car traffic that they don't belong. We've gone from pushing pedestrians into designated zones (which is safer), to trying to remove them entirely. Now it's starting to bounce back a bit, but it's a fight.

My city is pretty well equipped for paths and sidewalks, but I have one small chunk on one of my normal routes where I have to run on the road to get to a major park. It's a narrow, twisting road down a big hill, and it's one of the few places where I don't feel uncomfortable on the street. I think that because it's not a 'safe' road, and it's used heavily by runners, cyclists and cars trying to get to the park (it doesn't connect to anything other than a parking lot at the base), drivers are a lot more careful. Non-drivers are more careful and alert too, since they know they're sharing the road and have to pay attention. When I do occasionally see a car, they're usually polite and will pull over to give me space and wave - which is a lot friendlier than a lot of drivers I encounter in other areas where I'm completely separated from the road.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 17 January 2015, 01:22 PM
Lainie's Avatar
Lainie Lainie is offline
 
Join Date: 29 August 2005
Location: Suburban Columbus, OH
Posts: 73,214
Default

Pierre Curie died in an road accident involving a carriage.

The place I'm most often a pedestrian is in downtown Columbus. IME most drivers observe crosswalks and yield to pedestrians, but I've had some scary moments -- a limo that turned left almost in arm's reach of me as I crossed a street with a walk light (in the rain, bonus points); drivers that barreled through the zebra crossing in front of my office without even slowing down (they're required to stop, and there's ample signage instructing them to); and scariest of all, a dump truck that sped over a rise in the road and through a red light.

Most recently, a driver turning right honked at me when I was a few steps away from the curb, crossing on the light (I don't jaywalk in downtown Columbus, crossing legally is adventurous enough). Apparently I wasn't walking fast enough to suit him.
Reply With Quote
  #8  
Old 17 January 2015, 02:16 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 25,125
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by A Turtle Named Mack View Post
Whether it required a law initially or people just naturally segregated types of traffic, it was a sensible development that in many areas predated cars, but was made more imperative by cars.
It still doesn't require a law in the UK, or in many other places, though. One effect of the law is that in an accident involving a car and a pedestrian, the blame tends to get placed on the pedestrian because well - they must have been doing something wrong if they were breaking a law.

Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post
But how would all the people who live along the country roads and need to drive -- perhaps because they live many miles out of town -- get to the one road you'd be letting them drive on? They might well live miles away from that road, also.
It wasn't a hugely serious suggestion, but people managed to live in those places long before cars were even invented, so they must be able to find some way to get around that doesn't involve cars. Of course, it's possible to drive a pony and trap recklessly fast too.

Most traffic on these roads isn't people getting to and from their houses on the road, though - there would be much less of it if that were the case. It's through traffic from other places, that could be routed away onto a different road. There could be a "resident's exception" and it would still reduce traffic hugely and perhaps mean that the resident drivers had to fit in better and accomodate the other, non-automotive traffic. Many of the people driving might even prefer to use a different means of transport along that road if it were safer to do so. I'd be much more likely to cycle if there was less traffic - although I really enjoy walking too, and it would make the walking much better.

Last edited by Richard W; 17 January 2015 at 02:21 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #9  
Old 17 January 2015, 04:34 PM
quink quink is offline
 
Join Date: 22 June 2005
Location: Calgary, AB
Posts: 3,193
Default

I've always liked the idea of a limited car zone in a place like a downtown core. It'll be interesting to see how much of this comes to pass in Paris. It can be achieved, but it takes a huge cultural shift. It is promising that a lot of cities are moving to a more multi-modal design, even if it's kicking and screaming. I've had a bit of a philosophy change as I've gone from being an involuntary pedestrian (couldn't afford a car) to choosing a lifestyle with extremely limited car use. I used to be overly respectful of cars, feeling like I was invading their space and that I was second-class. Now I'm a lot more assertive. I follow the rules to the letter (I don't jaywalk, follow the lights, etc), but I absolutely won't apologize for taking my place as another form of traffic, and I will fight to make sure the city is accommodating more than cars. Bitching about spending $500,000 on a cycle-track network that will dramatically increase bike commuting and reduce shared road accidents is ridiculous when they're looking at spending $5 BILLION on a quarter of a ring road.

I'm always interested in the history of how cars became the only tool in the toolbox, and how the entire design of cities changed to accommodate them until it became a runaway beast.
Reply With Quote
  #10  
Old 17 January 2015, 04:51 PM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust thorny locust is offline
 
Join Date: 27 April 2007
Location: Upstate NY
Posts: 7,759
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
people managed to live in those places long before cars were even invented, so they must be able to find some way to get around that doesn't involve cars. .
Society has become structured around the existence of cars, in a fashion that also didn't exist before cars were even invented. People's daily lives before the introduction of rapid travel didn't include "getting around" in a modern fashion. Places of work would have been within walking distance; stores would have been close enough to get to, or else most items used would have been produced within the household so that rare shopping trips and/or deliveries by travelling salespeople would have been sufficient. The people socialized with would have been primarily those also within walking distance.

I agree that reclaiming the possibility of travelling without a car is a very good idea. But accomplishing this by means other than allocating more travel lanes to non-motor-powered traffic requires revamping society nearly as drastically as the cars did. quink brings up a very interesting point about the existence of such lanes potentially making the drivers of cars even less willing to share spaces; but I'm not sure how we start the revamping by other means. We need enough of a critical mass of people living otherwise in order to make it possible to make wider changes.
Reply With Quote
  #11  
Old 17 January 2015, 06:13 PM
quink quink is offline
 
Join Date: 22 June 2005
Location: Calgary, AB
Posts: 3,193
Default

Calgary is an interesting study for this right now. It's traditionally been a conservative (for Canada) oil city with sprawling suburbs. When I was growing up here and moved back for university in 1998, it was very difficult to get around without a car. It was still possible (which is good, because I wouldn't have survived as a broke student), but not at all easy.

Over the last decade, and especially the last five years, there's been a major shift. We've gained a lot of population, and our city council and mayor are mostly lefty urbanists. While the opposition is vocal, I don't think they make up the majority anymore. There's still the perception that we're a car city like we were from the 70s - 90s, but Calgary's actually shaping up nicely to allow alternatives. Transit is functional, we have one of the biggest path systems in North America, and many people bike, even in the winter. The seeds of the infrastructure are there, but it always takes longer for the attitude to shift. I think that now that more people are discovering it's an option and now that there's a cultural shift where people actually want that option, the infrastructure can grow. I work with a lot of older, male engineers (so usually the exact type who'd be seen as very pro-car), and I'd say about a third of them bike to work at least some of the year. My company promotes it and the city makes it possible, so it's good to see.

It's a chicken and egg thing, though - if cars are the only easy way to get around, people won't try the alternatives and they'll be left as an option only for people who can't afford to drive. I know that in some places, buses are for poor people, bikes are for kids, and walking is for people whose car just broke down. I'd love to see us get to the point where transit is how I get to work, walking is how I get to the grocery store, cycling is how I get downtown on the weekend, and the car is how I go to Home Depot. Unfortunately, if you don't already have a user group in place, cities are really reluctant to build for future users.

I think the start is good, viable transit, followed by walkable communities. If you can free people from needing their car in all situations, even if it just means being able to walk around your neighbourhood on the weekend, you can start to push a little further. I've noticed that new communities are following more of the walkable village design rather than the unending cul-de-sac mazes, and that's a start, even if the communities themselves are still isolated. People who love to drive will still drive, but there are a lot of people out there who would use alternatives if they were an option.
Reply With Quote
  #12  
Old 18 January 2015, 06:15 PM
Samwise Z Samwise Z is offline
 
Join Date: 02 December 2014
Location: Highland Park, IL
Posts: 50
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
... The USA and the UK are different in this respect - a lot of the USA was built for cars, but most roads in the UK predate cars by centuries (at least, roads to places rather than streets with housing), and a lot of country roads still aren't ideal for cars....
Varies by city in the US. Boston, for instance, was clearly designed pre-dating cars with twisty narrow lanes that wind and turn. Chicago (whence I) was burned down in 1871 and so was rebuilt on a grid; that's before cars, but still an era when there was lots of carriage traffic. I don't know how/why NYC is grid-like, seems odd.

And yes, I also love walking when I'm in London.
Reply With Quote
  #13  
Old 20 January 2015, 11:39 AM
Blatherskite's Avatar
Blatherskite Blatherskite is offline
 
Join Date: 06 February 2006
Location: Yorkshire, UK
Posts: 3,893
Default

Some old footage of UK roads - Manchester street scene (1901), Jamaica Street, Glasgow (1901), Ride on the tramcar through Belfast (1901).

The pedestrians seems to stay mainly on the pavements in these clips, but I couldn't help noticing their cavalier attitude towards crossing the road in front of traffic. Occasionally you see a pedestrian rushing to cross, but a lot of the time the pedestrians walk in the road with barely a glance towards oncoming traffic.
Reply With Quote
  #14  
Old 20 January 2015, 12:28 PM
Lainie's Avatar
Lainie Lainie is offline
 
Join Date: 29 August 2005
Location: Suburban Columbus, OH
Posts: 73,214
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samwise Z View Post
I don't know how/why NYC is grid-like, seems odd.


Seriously, I wonder if it was the Dutch influence. Washington DC was laid out systematically long before cars -- I think that was L'Enfant's doing.
Reply With Quote
  #15  
Old 20 January 2015, 12:41 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 25,125
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samwise Z View Post
Varies by city in the US. Boston, for instance, was clearly designed pre-dating cars with twisty narrow lanes that wind and turn. Chicago (whence I) was burned down in 1871 and so was rebuilt on a grid...
Ooh, I can tell my joke again!

I was in Zurich talking to an American guy, and he said "I still haven't got used to these windy European streets". So I asked where he was from, and he said "Chicago". So I said, "But I thought Chicago was the Windy City."

I was quite pleased with myself for that one.

Last edited by Richard W; 20 January 2015 at 12:53 PM.
Reply With Quote
  #16  
Old 20 January 2015, 02:30 PM
Beachlife!'s Avatar
Beachlife! Beachlife! is offline
 
Join Date: 22 June 2001
Location: Lansing, MI
Posts: 27,972
Jolly Roger

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samwise Z View Post
Varies by city in the US. Boston, for instance, was clearly designed pre-dating cars with twisty narrow lanes that wind and turn. Chicago (whence I) was burned down in 1871 and so was rebuilt on a grid; that's before cars, but still an era when there was lots of carriage traffic. I don't know how/why NYC is grid-like, seems odd...
I don't believe that is correct. Chicago was build on a grid system decades before the great fire.

Most of the Midwest is built on grid systems, but I think it is due to surveying and the way land was sold rather than designing roads for cars.
Reply With Quote
  #17  
Old 20 January 2015, 02:35 PM
Lainie's Avatar
Lainie Lainie is offline
 
Join Date: 29 August 2005
Location: Suburban Columbus, OH
Posts: 73,214
Default

I think so, too -- for one thing, the grids usually extend beyond the cities.
Reply With Quote
  #18  
Old 20 January 2015, 02:37 PM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust thorny locust is offline
 
Join Date: 27 April 2007
Location: Upstate NY
Posts: 7,759
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blatherskite View Post
Some old footage of UK roads -

The pedestrians seems to stay mainly on the pavements in these clips, but I couldn't help noticing their cavalier attitude towards crossing the road in front of traffic. Occasionally you see a pedestrian rushing to cross, but a lot of the time the pedestrians walk in the road with barely a glance towards oncoming traffic.
Thanks, Blatherskite! That's exactly the sort of thing I was after.

The existence of the sidewalks (is that pavements? here pavement's what you've got in the street, presuming it's not a dirt road) shows that the separation of traffic had indeed started before the cars showed up -- but it seems to keep wheeled traffic off the sidewalks far more thoroughly than it keeps pedestrians out of the middle of the road: which rather backs the OP article's claim that the pedestrian traffic was at the time considered the primary use.

I noticed also that the horse-drawn traffic was for the most part not moving any faster than the pedestrians are. I'm used to horse-drawn carriages around here; while they're certainly slower than motor vehicles, they're usually moving faster than a walking human. Much of the city traffic, however, was pretty obviously using horses not for greater speed, but to move a greater load: it's not carriage horses at a trot or pace, but heavy horses moving at a slow walk. The amount of this traffic in some of the scenes shown, plus the presence of pedestrians in the road, probably contributed to the fact that many of the carriages shown are also moving only slightly faster, if at all, than a human walking pace.
Reply With Quote
  #19  
Old 20 January 2015, 05:32 PM
Richard W's Avatar
Richard W Richard W is offline
 
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 25,125
Default

I was surprised in the Belfast clip by the man on the bike which appears to have racing "drop" handlebars - well, what I call racing handlebars anyway. They're the sort I had on my "racer" in the 1980s, and the sort that road racers still seem to use. I would have expected those to be far more recent than 1901.
Reply With Quote
  #20  
Old 21 January 2015, 07:27 PM
Samwise Z Samwise Z is offline
 
Join Date: 02 December 2014
Location: Highland Park, IL
Posts: 50
Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Beachlife! View Post
I don't believe that is correct. Chicago was build on a grid system decades before the great fire.
It appears you are correct, and I was misremembering. Thanks for clarifying. According to the Chicago Historical Society, grids were laid out according to an Act of 1785: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohisto...es/410050.html
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
"Password" unseated by "123456" on SplashData's annual "Worst Passwords" list snopes Techno-Babble 32 04 February 2014 12:42 AM
"Lincoln" film distorts history, some historians say snopes History 60 19 September 2013 09:04 PM
Cracked.com "27 Great Moments in History if the Internet Was Around." JoeBentley Snopes Spotting 6 03 April 2012 01:25 AM
The "Not Invented Here" list snopes Science 5 27 May 2009 08:56 AM
SC Republican Fiercely Opposes "North American Union" and the "Amero" Bohemian Rhapsody in Blue Sightings 13 31 May 2008 11:46 PM


All times are GMT. The time now is 01:39 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.