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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  120 ratings  ·  25 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 396 pages
Published June 1st 2008 by MIT Press (MA) (first published April 18th 2008)
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Payton
Jan 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: transportation
I got excited when I saw this since I've so loved finding out, via Wolfgang Sachs' "For Love of the Automobile," that our public streets were stolen by the auto industry less than a century ago -- and especially excited to see that someone has documented that process as it took place here in the homeland of car culture. Looks quite promising. ...more
Macartney
Oct 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: streets
A well-researched account of how forces redefined the street, its uses and its users in the early part of the 20th Century. Norton documents how the "Motor Age" was not inevitable but actually a concerted effort on the part of automobile manufacturers and enthusiasts to upend ancient pedestrian rights in favor of car domination. A valuable reminder that the paradigm in which we find ourselves is not "natural" or "by happenstance"; once we realize that, we then have the power to be able to change ...more
Alain
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one is right up there with Jane Jacobs' "Death and Life of Great American Cities" as a pivotal text to understand how and why the urbanity of North American cities was subverted by an organized effort from the auto industry to rebuild cities in a way that imposes car use. ...more
Stephen
Stroll into the middle of any American city today, and provided you are not in Detroit, odds are better than not you will be sent flying by a car. Streets are the province of the constant flow of automobile traffic, and anything else -- bicycles, horses, skateboards, pedestrians -- is most unwelcome. This is a comparatively recent development, however; for most of human history, streets were an integral part of the human landscape, the site of markets and ad hoc playgrounds. Fighting Traffic det ...more
Ben Goldfarb
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating (but not shocking) to learn that the car-centrism of our cities did not arise organically, but was the product of concerted auto industry lobbying.
Michael Lewyn
Dec 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Before the 1920s, streets were shared space- pedestrians, horses and cars intermingled on major streets, while children played in minor ones. But as automobile speeds kept rising, thousands of pedestrians were slain. As a result, by the early 1920s, the automobile industry and related industries such as the auto parts, tire and rubber companies (or, as some industry representatives called them, "motordom") were on the run. Because of autos' bad public relations and the difficulty of driving in c ...more
Art
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A common-law tradition going back centuries ensured that all people and users have an equal right to streets and highways. This excellent book details the transition from that traditional expectation to the modern autocentric city in the United States. Battles to define uses of American city streets became most heated in the nineteen-teens and twenties, writes Peter Norton.

Automobiles were considered incompatible with other uses of the street, including pedestrians, bicyclists, streetcars, vend
...more
Erok
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
I like a good origin story. This one is about that awkward time when all of the sudden, a whole bunch of automobiles started showing up in our cities. People without cars, kept doing what they had been doing, walking around, playing baseball in the streets, etc, but they inconveniently kept dying because people kept running them over. Turns out, as soon as the car came around, people with them automatically had a bloated sense of entitlement. The book drills down into the struggle between the ol ...more
David Moss
The great amount of research that went into this work was unfortunately bogged down in the reading by a real issue with redundancy and a mediocre facility with writing in general. This lead me to wonder how much time was spent editing the book. If you are really interested in the topic of the changing use of the street to accommodate the automobile, then you might be able to struggle through it. However, if you're just looking for a fun quick read that seems mildly interesting, you're unlikely t ...more
Sam
Aug 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Academic and a little hard to read, but so much incredible information
Ankita
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, society
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in interplay between technology and society, or anyone passionate about the future of autonomous and electric vehicles.

Fighting Traffic, a historical account of the advent of personal cars, although a dry read at times, highlights the various struggles of introducing cars, the impact it had on different social groups, and the never-ending power struggle between those groups.

More importantly, this book raises concerns such as 1) ownership of shared
...more
Matthew Hall
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent overview of the concerted effort by "motordom" (an amalgam of automobile companies, auto sales, petrochemical companies and driving enthusiasts) to change both the national conversation around street usage as well as to instill a kind of car hegemony in the minds of Americans from the 1920s - 1930s as response to the justifiable rage of the public at the skyrocketing rates of death caused by the onset of the motor age. (of particular note were mass demonstrations in which cars there we ...more
Sri Iyer
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book with the intention to deep dive into understanding road safety behaviours and the source of road design standards. This book very eloquently contributed to my syntheses. While the discussion on the evolution of vehicles from horse carts to automobiles shed light on the parallel influence on road design and space ownership distribution, the brilliant description of the motordom movement makes one realise the presently experienced impartiality towards automobiles.

Unfortunately, al
...more
Nathan
Nov 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, I liked this book. It presents a detailed history of the motor age and it's effect on cities and transportation, which is essentially a history of my own profession of transportation engineering. It shed light on some of the darker elements of that history as well, something that not many discuss. I found parts of the book overly dense and difficult to read, and overall I thought the book could convey the same ideas more concisely. ...more
Nabiul Afrooz
Dec 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent book to read if you are interested about the origin story of America's obsession with cars. The book is well-researched, full of interesting information. The writing and organization leaves something to be desired though. ...more
Christophe Bonnet
A very, very interesting topic, on which Dr Norton gathered a considerable documentation. From that, he draws a compelling narration on how, in a very short time (the 20s, roughly), the American city street was retooled as a space reserved for motor vehicles.

In that respect, it is a nice historian work - even though he sort of falls into an error which, funnily enough, he denounces in his own conclusion: "to miss evidence from social groups that lost the struggle to shape a technology". The 20s
...more
Tom Darrow
This book covers the transition of urban areas from a pedestrian dominated street to one dominated by cars. Norton breaks down the topic into three general topics.

The first is "Justice", where community organizations try to demonize drivers, teach safety to children and memorialize the dead. What results is a patchwork of ineffective local laws.

In the second section, titled "Efficiency", the cities bring in traffic experts and, as an offshoot of the Progressive Movement, they attempt to apply
...more
Nick Black
Aug 25, 2009 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Nick by: Tom Vanderbilt
Shelves: to-acquire
So, aside from textbooks, something like %80 of my recent reads have been from the MIT Press (why doesn't GoodReads provide me these and other stats at the touch of a button? Because Otis is reading malcolm "I sold 43897212098 books for every man, woman, child and barbershop in the world but can't afford a fucking shearing" gladwell during prime hacking hours is why, and because michael hasn't finished Hacker's Delight). I've got to say that I'm entirely satisfied with that ratio, since they bas ...more
Alice
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
This book tells the story (or tells nine semi-simultaneous stories) about how streets might not have just been rivers of cars but that ultimately the cries for "freedom" and "modernity" meant that pedestrians and street cars had to get out of the way. Incredibly well-researched and critical for understanding the alternatives to the urban transportation fabric that we have today.

The visual learner in me enjoyed all the old posters and photographs, but I also really wanted a good time line and so
...more
Lisa Kane
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I am compiling a reading list for transport planners on the 21st century, and this is top of the list. It's an engaging, humorous, but also deeply unsettling exposé of political and commercial interests in the early development of American city streets and it finally answers some of the questions about how they get to be the way they are....and why any country that followed the model is stuck in traffic. ...more
Hunter
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A disturbing expose on the early days of motor vehicles and how they transformed American roads from shared space to the extremely dangerous places they are today.
Timothy
May 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent review of the early days of automobility and the resistance to it in the first decades of the 20th century.
Nicholas Tulach
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If i had to limit myself to one book on transportation "planning" this would be the one. Fantastic piece of work. ...more
Alice Lemon
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
While it was a bit dry even for me, this was an incredibly illuminating book on the origins of modern American laws and social conventions regarding city streets.
Sarah
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Jan 19, 2016
Mark L
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Jan 26, 2017
Gary Kavanagh
rated it it was amazing
Sep 23, 2012
Felipe
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Jul 23, 2014
Nick
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Apr 15, 2018
Graham
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Dec 31, 2015
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