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The Car and the City

Summary and Keywords

The relationship between the car and the city remains complex and involves numerous private and public forces, innovations in technology, global economic fluctuations, and shifting cultural attitudes that only rarely consider the efficiency of the automobile as a long-term solution to urban transit. The advantages of privacy, speed, ease of access, and personal enjoyment that led many to first embrace the automobile were soon shared and accentuated by transit planners as the surest means to realize the long-held ideals of urban beautification, efficiency, and accessible suburbanization. The remarkable gains in productivity provided by industrial capitalism brought these dreams within reach and individual car ownership became the norm for most American families by the middle of the 20th century. Ironically, the success in creating such a “car country” produced the conditions that again congested traffic, raised questions about the quality of urban (and now suburban) living, and further distanced the nation from alternative transit options. The “hidden costs” of postwar automotive dependency in the United States became more apparent in the late 1960s, leading to federal legislation compelling manufacturers and transit professionals to address the long-standing inefficiencies of the car. This most recent phase coincides with a broader reappraisal of life in the city and a growing recognition of the material limits to mass automobility.

Keywords: automobility, city planning, environmental pollution, postmodern city, suburbanization, mass transit

Defining the Relationship between the Car and the City

Take a casual drive through any American city and, inevitably, some common questions arise: why do the streets and highways seem incapable of reducing traffic congestion? Why are there so many cars and so few suitable alternatives to access the city? Why do urban residents tolerate the many inconveniences to their daily lives caused by the automobile? These issues form the backbone of the scholarly inquiry into the historical relationship between cars and the city, highlighting the conflicting perspectives that provide some answers. From the vantage of the lived urban experience, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass-transit commuters appreciate the automobile through a subjective lens of personal mobility, safety, ease of access, and a host of other impressions related to a desired quality of life. By contrast, commercial interests—from auto manufacturers and mass-transit providers to land developers, employers, and other urban businesses—perceive the car primarily as a tool to achieve more material ends. Between them stands a wide array of transit specialists and public advocates—like city planners, highway engineers, landscape architects, preservationists, and environmentalists—hoping to reconcile these contradictory impulses to achieve, in the words of automotive historian James J. Flink, “a social order based upon technical efficiency in which traditional cultural values would be preserved and enhanced.”1

The Car and the CityClick to view larger

Figure 1. Americans’s frustration with “Crowded Highways” and their growing dependency upon the personal passenger car for urban transit were widely shared by mid-century. Cartoon by Hy Rosen. Courtesy of Library of Congress, 2016684046.

This awkward mixture of the subjective, lived experience and utilitarian efficiency led to the somewhat paradoxical relationship between the car and the city. On the one hand, Americans eagerly embraced the freedom and personal mobility offered by the passenger car. Ownership climbed sharply—from less than one million registered automobiles in 1912 to more than two hundred million in 2018—as vehicles became more affordable, easier and (when measured by miles driven) far safer to operate. For their part, transit planners successfully identified the bottlenecks and other inefficiencies that produced the most bothersome congestion, opening new opportunities in both the city and its hinterland.2

Yet these pleasures, opportunities, and efficiencies remain rooted within the context of their times. The decisions by millions to leave the city for America’s growing automotive suburbs, from the 1920s to the 1960s, prodded transit planners to rethink the urban form in ways that often ignored or even harmed those who remained. Spread out over more than a century, the accumulated result produced a vicious cycle of growth, road expansion, sprawl, automotive dependency, and a proportional increase in congestion and waste. The problems facing today’s car country, as historian Christopher Wells argues, are particularly vexing because “car dependency is [now] woven into the basic fabric of the landscape” of American life. This recurring dialectic, where short-term solutions privileged fewer transit options and reduced the long-term flexibility of future societies, remains the most compelling lesson drawn from the twinned histories of the car and the city.3

Three Chronological Phases of the Car and the City

The periodization of the car and the city was influenced by the social and cultural experiences of the citizenry. Falling into three broad phases, the first lasted roughly until the onset of the Great Depression and witnessed the rise and fall of the “streetcar city.” Here, transit planning remained largely a local phenomenon that served proximate needs for mobility, geographic expansion, and the displacement of the “ugly” remainders of the premodern past. The automobile gained its ascendency during the second phase, spanning from the late 1920s until the late 1960s. During these decades, the desire for transit efficiency, economic growth, and suburbanization surpassed those of urban aesthetics and were increasingly directed by state or federal authorities. Earlier planners in Chicago, New York, and Detroit, for example, struggled to balance these new urban priorities with established patterns of living while later planners and city officials, particularly in Los Angeles, generally accepted that the needs of the driver over those of the urban resident. The interstate system—enacted and built from 1956 to 1970—revealed a national commitment to the car and suburb. While the city was not wholly abandoned—and many raised concerns about the new urban form which the car had spawned—nondrivers were largely ignored. In the final phase the limits and “hidden costs” of these policies became more apparent. Armed with new regulatory powers to stop or delay highway construction, citizens challenged the assumption that regional or national economic growth superseded the desires of local residents who experienced life in the city on a daily basis.

Understanding the City, Urban Planning, and Drivers

The shifting interpretations of the city, drivers, and urban planning plays an influential role in the historical assessment of change. For example, recent urban scholars have moved away from understanding the city merely in terms of population densities within municipal boundaries to seeing their subject as a unique physical space offering a distinct, rapidly changing, and often highly subjective use value to those who reside there. Here, density is linked to human volition and transit systems evaluated for how well they maximize the public’s access to desired housing, work, commerce, and leisure. Two generic yet crucially distinct forms of urban congestion emerged over time. The first was caused by traffic to-and-from a city, in the form of working commuters or cultural tourists. The second was that produced within a city’s functional spaces. Density alone did not produce a transit crisis (or, said another way, congestion was always accompanied by the concentration of people within a specific physical space). Rather, the time-dependent concentration of street activity and its relationship to commuting drew the ire of citizens and the attention of planners.4

Transit planning has also embodied a variety of meanings. Viewing automobiles as part of a diffuse yet logical transit “technology system,” scholars examine policymakers within the material realities of modernization—like mass production, skyscrapers, suburbanization, and various forms of geographic segregation. These and other realities drove the concerns of transit planners who sought to anticipate and maximize the efficiencies of each alternative. Ironically, successful plans often generated more congestion, thereby sowing the seeds of their own obsolescence. The automobile did not create the desire to suburbanize, for example, but “solved” the problem of how this might be most easily achieved. Seeking to maximize the car’s advantage, planners widened city streets, provided street-level parking, mandated auto-friendly traffic patterns, and encouraged suburban growth in areas underserved by existing traction companies. Such reforms, and the popularity of the car, then produced congestion that rapidly overwhelmed the limited resources available. A dynamic common to many modern technologies—from the television to the internet—the difference here was the profound material cost weighing on Americans who had grown dependent upon the car. Property values, personal income, and the price of essential consumer items rose and fell in response to these decisions, just as perceptions about the quality of life, ease of access, and community within a city assayed the efficiency of the resulting material reality. Planners’ emphasis on “rational behavior” appeared justified—given the strict calculus of material change—and most reforms did ameliorate the inefficiencies of existing problems.5

But the concept of rational behavior—isolated through material metrics—breaks down when viewed through the perspective of drivers over an extended historical arc. For people of color, for example, individual automobility allowed them to avoid the humiliating experiences of mass transit segregation. Women drivers participated in the public sphere as equals behind the wheel decades before the right to vote. Before World War II, American drivers from all regions and walks of life expressed a set of shared positive values toward driving that can loosely (hence, problematically) be termed an automotive “love affair.” While evident through numerous letters, essays, and other popular formats, these values—including a pride in mastering modern technology, equal access to the public sphere, and an embrace of the experiential thrills of driving—remained indeterminate and highly contingent upon the times. That these values failed to persist into the modern era or are often seen today as self-defeating or hypocritical does not undermine their presence or profound influence over American drivers. As historian Clay McShane writes, “the importance here is not whether or not cars really did these things, but that motorists believed they did . . . More than any other consumer good the motor car provided fantasies of status, freedom, and escape from the constraints of a highly disciplined urban, industrial order.”6

Phase I: Adopting and Adapting to Mass Automobility

The need for mechanized mass transit emerged as the country outgrew the “walking city.” Confined to the distance an average resident could reasonably walk each day from home to work, most cities exhibited high population densities (far greater than today) where property values rose the closer one lived to the central business district. The streets were narrow and chaotic, surfaced, if at all, by cobbles or loose gravel, and provided for a variety of uses. Only the wealthy could afford horses or cabs for regular or extended urban travel. Since most street improvements were then paid by owners whose property directly abutted the road, little incentive existed for citywide upgrades to the transit system. Proximity to open spaces near the center of town including markets, parade grounds, and public greens was highly prized while the distant periphery housed the poorest citizens and most offensive commercial endeavors, such as tanneries and slaughterhouses.7

Beginning in the early 19th century, the geographic separation of the urban population by class began to put pressure upon the limited transit options of the walking city. The concentration of low-skill factory labor and overall rising populations produced undesirable living conditions for those without the economic means to avoid them. While central business districts retained their commercial exclusivity, the suburban ideal of quiet, healthy, open spaces drew many, including skilled artisans, the emerging middle class, and merchant capitalists, to the unincorporated periphery. Heavy rail saw little profit in servicing the core (and was often legally barred from doing so), but emerging main line suburbs surrounding cities like New York and Boston handled thousands of daily commuters (regular riders could purchase discounted monthly passes, thus “commuting” a portion of their expenses) producing a familiar “star” density pattern radiating from the center. Within the city, lighter, privately owned transit options like the horsedrawn omnibus and cable cars emerged as the primary form of intraurban traffic. While affordable, these conveyances were slow, crowded, and did little ease congestion over the obsolete streets.8

The well-chronicled travails of urban light rail, which first appeared in the 1850s, are only fully understood within this context of early urban geographic migration. Congestion was not new, but commuter congestion to and from the city posed unique problems for planners. After developing low-profile rails that did not prohibit cross-traffic (as the tie-and-rail system did in the countryside), the success and growth of private traction companies turned the walking city inside-out. Steam and cable cars appeared first, after the Civil War, only to be replaced by electric vehicles during the last decade of the 19th century. Many progressive reformers in cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Toledo viewed low-fare streetcars as the best means by which the working poor might leave urban tenements for the suburbs. But service often proved intermittent, with delays caused by overextended lines, missed transfers, strikes, accidents, and the fiscal needs of the increasingly despised “trolley rings.” In Philadelphia, for example, public frustration with the corrupt practices of boss Jim McManes (stoked by the writing of Lincoln Steffens) left the city “in no mood to seek municipal rapid transit.” Moreover, the privatized sensibilities of the emerging middle class—concerned with male status as professionals, the cult of female domesticity, and a growing segregation between the private home and the public sphere—rankled commuters forced to share straps with recent immigrants and the working class. The timing of suburbanization also mattered greatly to the long-term structure and automotive dependency of most major cities. Those with well-established downtowns before automobility tended to retain the function and allure of the core, while those lacking these roots diffused their economic and cultural functions far more readily.9

The bicycle craze gave the first hint that Americans would trade their reliance on the rails for a new form of personal transportation. Peaking in the 1890s, enthusiasts promoted the notion of a “Cycling City.” According to historian Evan Friss, cycling offered city residents “a new way to understand their environment” through individual mobility. Early cycling advocates formed a lobby, the League of American Wheelmen, to push for better roads and sing the praises of individual travel for commerce and pleasure. Progressive urban reformers, concerned by deteriorating sanitary conditions, joined with the League to press for the formation of the Office of Road Inquiry (ORI; later the Bureau of Public Roads) within the Department of Agriculture, in 1893. The ORI gave legitimacy to the search for transportation alternatives to fixed rail and spotlighted the “need” for municipalities to pay for significant road improvements. By 1900, well before the adoption of the car, municipalities spent more than $850 million on street improvements. The experience of biking was also critical to its popularity. Gone were the inconveniences and boredom of mass transit, replaced by an apparatus that easily changed speed, maneuvered, and went wherever one desired. As Flink writes, the bicycle “created an enormous demand for individualized, long-distance transportation that could only be satisfied by the mass adoption of motor vehicles.” The bicycle craze gave way to auto-mania, Friss adds, not because it represented a “fading technology rendered obsolete” but due to the “interplay among people, bicycles, and cities.”10

The Automotive Revolution

European innovators far outpaced those in the United States in the development of automobile technology. As a result, early adopters of the car were typically the very wealthy with means of enjoying their purchases beyond the city limits. In 1901, Ransom Olds began selling a dependable, low-cost automobile with interchangeable parts. This revolutionary “Oldsmobile” opened the car market to Americans of more modest means. Henry Ford’s Model T (1907) and General Motors’s (GM) Model 20 (1908) were both the product of managerial skills that harnessed the immense scale of mass production that lowered the cost of owning a reliable car to less than a year’s wages for the average American worker.11

The eventual dominance of internal combustion engines—rather than steam or battery power—was not the result of mass production, however. The United States boasted more than 4,000 cars by 1900, but less than 1,000 used internal combustion. These devices were loud, caused noticeable vibrations, emitted noxious fumes, and proved quite dangerous when cranking them to life. Steam offered more power and was familiar to most Americans (and could easily be fueled by cheap petroleum products) while electric cars offered the advantages of being quiet, producing no exhaust, and driven without the need for manual shifting. Yet both foundered on the marketplace due to limits related to their use by consumers. Steam-engine car drivers needed to monitor the boiler pressure (or face a catastrophic explosion). Electric-powered vehicles suffered from the limited capacity of their batteries (allowing for little more than twenty miles of service, in 1900, and roughly twice that by 1910). The fear of boiler explosions and early association of the electric vehicle as a “lady’s car” drained both products of their mass market appeal and, with it, venture capital. Regardless of the power plant, Americans proved eager consumers of automobiles. By 1907, American manufacturers outpaced their European rivals. Less than a decade later half of all cars owned in the United States were made by Ford.12

The earliest car owners were overwhelmingly urban. By 1910, city residents were four times more likely to purchase a car than their rural counterparts. While most city roads remained substandard, they far exceeded the rutted and muddy traces found in the countryside. Moreover, urban residents relied on at least minimal service and repair facilities. This balance shifted with Ford’s manufacturing success (the Model T’s simplicity and low cost tapped a vast opportunity with rural consumers) and the mass market exploded. From less than a half a million vehicles on the streets (or 5 vehicles per 1,000 persons) in 1910, ownership mushroomed to 26.7 million (or 190 vehicles per 1,000 persons) by 1929.13

The rapid growth of American automobility radically shifted planners’ conception of the city. Ironically, most of the infrastructure needed for mass automobile use—particularly improved roads arranged in a grid-like pattern—was in place well before the rise in car ownership. Early urban planners, like Frederick Law Olmsted of Boston and Daniel Burnham of Chicago, promoted landscape designs that accentuated civic beauty, pride, and uncluttered green space. This “City Beautiful” movement, which by 1908 included more than 2,500 civic improvement societies, also advocated manicured boulevards and parkways as a means to decrease crime, disease, and overcrowding—that is, to improve the lived experience of urban residents. But as historians Joseph F. C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis show, by the 1920s traffic engineers, state highway officials, and pro-highway urban growth coalitions succeeded in shifting planning from city beautification to transit efficiency. “City Efficient” planners, they write, “downplayed . . . aesthetic and moral concerns” to advance “the scientific analysis of street patterns in order to move traffic.” By the 1920s, architects like Raymond Hood, Harvey Wiley Corbett, Fritz Malcher, and Hugh Ferriss drafted plans for idealized future cities featuring limited access parkways that included “elaborate road hierarchies and turning lanes required to accommodate the uninterrupted movement of the motorized vehicle.” Planning for Detroit’s “Super Highway” (1924), Chicago’s split-level street designs (1928), and New York City’s “Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs” (1928)—which included the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Gowanus Parkway, and the West Side Highway—revealed the shifting ambitions of planners seeking to integrate high-volume auto traffic into the existing city.14

The Car and the CityClick to view larger

Figure 2. The Automotive City eased individual transit to and from the hinterland, but did little to build upon existing urban transit systems. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-H824-T01-2396.

The priority given to traffic throughput by these municipal planners—now also pursued in Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, and scores of smaller cities—not only encouraged more drivers to rely on personal means to access the city but also limited the range of transit options available to future designs. The influence of state highway engineers and federal officials also increased. In 1896, the ORI counted 2,151,570 miles of road in the United States, but only 153,662 (or 7 percent) of these were improved. After more than a decade of reform, less than 9 percent of the nation’s streets were surfaced. The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 authorized $75 million to, in effect, match state funds for local road construction. In 1921 the U.S. Congress strengthened the 1916 legislation by providing $75 million per year. Nine years later more than 90,000 miles of roadway were improved because of these two statutes. By the 1930s, the funds went into projects that more typically bypassed existing neighborhoods and street traffic, creating “a kind of moat around the downtown, separating the office and retail uses of the CBD from the blighted areas of the core frame.” As historian Christopher Wells argues, the shifts led transit reformers to consider roads not as a public realm but rather “as technologies that government agencies—staffed by experts—could use to overcome what earlier generations had always seen as fundamental environmental limits on private transportation. ” These were changes “that slowly but permanently transformed the relationships that Americans has with their roads and streets, with one another, and with the natural world.”15

Phase II: The Automotive City

The second phase in the relationship between the car and the city, spanning from the late 1920s until the early 1970s, proved to be particularly damaging to many urban residents. Clearly, this was not the intent of planners nor were these changes seen in a negative light by those leaving the city for the suburbs. During the Great Depression new road and home construction served as a means of national economic recovery, not urban renewal, and while highway designs retained their focus on the centers of traffic congestion, “planners did not perceive that the motor vehicle,” as historian Mark S. Foster writes, “permitted both the concentration and the outward movement of households and business firms.”16

Public financing for road construction increased dramatically. Federal legislation in 1944, 1947, and, most famously, the Highway Act of 1956 pumped billions of dollars into the road construction industry. The Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954 tied suburban home ownership and property development to these new highways. By 1966, more than half of the $25 billion allocated to improve, widen, and create high-speed thoroughfares was devoted to expressways flowing into and out of the central business districts of most American cities. Unlike the requirement placed upon transit companies to pay for their own infrastructure, the Highway Trust Fund tapped user fees (on gasoline, tires, and new car sales) to pay for 90 percent of these physical improvements. Urban renewal projects designed to clear away slums and abandoned industrial sectors also championed new highway construction as a means to facilitate transit around these troubled regions.17

Robert Moses and Thomas MacDonald

The projects initiated by Robert Moses of New York and Thomas MacDonald of Washington D.C. serve as useful examples of this trend. Moses bridged the “City Beautiful” versus “City Efficient” divide, but saw his public works projects as opportunities to grant urban residents easier access to residential and recreational hinterlands. The Henry Hudson Parkway, completed in 1937 for the then-staggering price of $109 million, allowed for much faster transit along the western shore of Manhattan yet also undermined the vitality of existing neighborhoods, replaced the city’s last freshwater marsh with acres of concrete, and introduced new and permanent sources of noise and air pollution.18

Representing the growing influence of federal authorities, Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) chief Thomas H. MacDonald used the revenues supplied by the Highway Act of 1938 to radically reconceptualize automotive transit. Rather than treat roads and highways as means of local efficiencies, MacDonald spearheaded the move toward a national interstate system that drove radial freeways deep into the city. The BPR’s Interregional Highways report (1944) was sensitive to the needs of local communities. The report noted how rapid decentralization would harm existing urban neighborhoods and called for greater cooperation with local officials. In operational terms their highest priority remained “the efficient movement of high volumes of traffic through the cities,” historians DiMento and Ellis report, “with other city planning concerns such as land use and coordination with mass transit pushed into the background.”19

Yet their support failed to account for the ancillary damage done to otherwise healthy residential and commercial regions existing within the city. Coupled with widespread racial and economic discrimination, the work of Moses and MacDonald divided and isolated traditional urban neighborhoods, introduced unwelcomed noise and unsightly vistas from congested multilane highways, reduced existing property values held by home owners (just as clearance projects removed residential inventory and increased rental costs), and hastened the flight of white-collar tax payers from the city. Early skeptics, like St. Paul’s George Herrold, doubted whether these thoroughfares would even lower congestion and viewed them as introducing a new “disrupting force to all the factors of good living.” By the late 1950s, the urbanist and social critic Lewis Mumford offered data to back up these claims. Watching the hidden costs of the automotive city reveal themselves, he lamented how “the current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism.”20

A significant role in the crisis can be ascribed to the periodic instability and short-term profit motives of American automakers. The late 1920s saw a saturation point in the market – where nearly three-fourths of new car sales replaced existing vehicles rather than serving a new driver—and a growing public concern over the “motor menace” responsible for rising casualty figures. In response, the industry followed a two-pronged marketing approach that featured technical innovations, greater personal comfort and power, as well as a heightened differentiation of their product lines through styling. The war years limited drivers far more than Detroit (which received $29 billion in military contracts, or nearly a fifth of all war production funds). By 1945 the industry constricted into a small yet stable oligarchy that prevented the entry of new and innovative providers (like Preston Tucker) which, in the words of James Flink, set a pattern of complacency “that would characterize automobile manufacturing in the United States into the 1970s with only minor variations.” Perhaps justifying their smugness, by 1950 the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) controlled 82 percent of the world market and 94 percent of the massive American niche. Their reliance upon styling and consumer comfort to spur new car sales produced heavy, over-powered, expensive, and spatially large products that far exceeded the needs of most motorists (who, on an average trip, typically carried a payload of one or two people traveling less than fifteen miles over congested streets). By 1958, again facing slow sales, manufacturers sought to differentiate their product lines by adapting existing designs to produce smaller, more affordable cars. The results, such as the AMC Rambler, Ford Falcon, and Chevy Corvair, suffered from handling and safety concerns. The twin shocks produced by foreign oil embargoes (in 1973 and 1979) and the appearance of low-cost, high-quality Japanese and European imports broke the grip of domestic suppliers and added to the deindustrialization experienced in many Northern and Midwestern cities.21

Inefficiencies of Time and Space

The growing awareness of the limits to an urban mass transit system tied to individual automobility emerged along three tracks. The first involved the inefficient use of time and space. Cars did not create urban congestion, sprawl, or inner city economic decline. But unlike the fixed pathways offered by mass transit, the flexibility of the automobile gave transportation planners and officials the ability to address transit delays for all commuters. Indeed, the public’s willing embrace of this approach soon overwhelmed transit planners and created a vicious cycle of street expansion, geographic dispersal, and increased congestion. These delays then spread from the core to the periphery. By 1956, the number of cars in the United States (more than 65 million) far exceeded the number of total households (49 million). Carmakers were thus encouraged to target young people and suburban women for the purchase of a family’s second car. One of the many signals that urban transit now required the personal passenger car appeared that same year, as Ford Motor Company began its campaign warning homemakers to avoid being “stranded in suburbia.” The suburban station wagon served as the most fitting icon of 1950s automobility, designed for multistop, short-haul uses yet packaged to meet the suburban cultural dream of the postwar generation, much as the sport utility vehicle (SUV) aspired to do at the turn of the 21st century. While the additional local transit added only a minor load to urban commuter thoroughfares, the randomness of traffic stymied transit planners and produced “rush hour” conditions in many older bedroom communities.22

The growth in suburban car ownership also pointed to the greater spatial demands that these automobiles made on the city. By the 1960s, more than half of all urban acreage was devoted exclusively to cars, including streets, parking, and auto-related services. This number varied based on the maturity of various downtowns. Los Angeles, for example, devoted nearly 60 percent of its central space to cars while in Chicago the number was closer to 40 percent. What was shared across the country, however, was the significant decrease in space devoted to pedestrians and bicycle traffic. Given that a car is parked for more than 90 percent of its useful service, the ceding of such large chunks of limited urban space prohibited other, more varied uses of land from developing to offset the dispersal of the population.23

The result of these inefficiencies was the inevitable spatial reorganization of the urban environment. By 1970 a majority of Americans now lived within a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). These inhabitants, however, were spread out over significantly larger space. Retail businesses seeking patrons (increasingly frustrated by the lack of parking) and manufacturers frustrated by the delays caused by automotive congestion moved their activities to the fringe. The suburbanization of commerce redefined the very notion of a “bedroom community” and abandoned those without the means to afford an automobile to the shrinking services remaining within the core. This spatial mismatch, where job growth appeared in areas largely unserved by public transit, was only exacerbated by the financial advantages enjoyed through Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans and other federal initiatives designed to decentralize the city. In 1954, federal tax code changes, for example, allowed for the accelerated depreciation of new commercial construction in the suburbs. Responding to the incentive, developers added more than 10 million square feet of new suburban retail space per year from 1957 to 1962.24


Environment and health concerns linked to mass automobility attracted greater public attention after 1970. Some of these were localized, emerging from the massive infrastructure built to oblige car owners. The additional roadways, for example, served as collectors of refuse and, accentuated by run-off, conduits for toxic chemicals deposited far from their source of origin. In 1956, a result of the steel industry’s discontinued use of open-hearth furnaces, demand for scrap iron fell by half. Lacking the economic incentive to collect and ship derelict cars for recycling, American cities saw a rapid rise in the number of abandoned vehicles. In New York City alone the number grew from 2,500 hulks left on the streets in 1960 to more than 70,000 by 1969. Isolated within the automotive city, poorer and often minority communities viewed the resulting waste as a sign of political neglect. Maggie Landron, a journalist and advocate for the Mexican American community living in heavily-industrialized East Houston, asserted in 1970 that residents were “fed up choking on our own exhaust fumes; fed up looking at cement ribbons crisscrossing our cities; fed up with homes and people being destroyed to build more and more freeways; and fed up with others determining what is good for us.”25

The Car and the CityClick to view larger

Figure 3. Photo-chemical smog, caused by the incomplete combustion of petroleum products, led to major health crises in cities like Los Angeles, Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-114346.

The gaseous byproducts of internal combustion were less discriminating. Air pollution affected all citizens, not merely those who used the car. By the 1950s, photochemical smog, which generated air with a brownish-grey tint and irritated air passages in the body, led to major health crises in Baltimore, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington. The predicament in Los Angeles, which suffered through air quality emergencies in 1953, 1955, and 1958, compelled the federal government to begin research on automotive air pollutants and their effects on the populace. Researchers discovered that half of all hydrocarbons—produced from the incomplete combustion of gasoline and primarily in the form of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide—and nearly two-thirds of all air-born pollutants (the remainder in the form of ozone, nitrogen oxides, and lead) were derived from the automobile. California first mandated, in 1959, stricter emission standards for all cars sold and licensed in the state. Pressed to install technologies—such as Positive Crankcase Ventilation (PCV), fuel-injection, catalytic converters, and electronic timing systems—designed to cut down on incomplete combustion and capture nitrogen oxides, the automobile industry’s obvious delays and foot-dragging convinced many of Detroit’s willing complicity with these ills. The Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Act of 1965 and Clean Air Act of 1970 set national emission standards that domestic suppliers claimed were impossible to meet. Foreign imports like Honda, however, quickly achieved the new standards.26


Driver and passenger safety brought about a third crisis in urban automobile use. By the 1930s, manufacturers had greatly simplified the operation and experience of driving a car (thus reducing distractions that often caused accidents), but their design choices and consumers’ fixation on speed resulted in more than 50,000 traffic fatalities in 1966 alone. While these numbers—when considered in relation to the total miles driven or number of cars owned—remained well within the statistical range of other industrialized countries, the lack of transit options in American metropolitan areas and the open hostility shown by the industry to design critics like John Keats and Ralph Nader (who, it was learned, was placed under surveillance by GM) created conditions that compelled Congress to act.27 Federal legislators, using the power of their budget—which purchased a massive number of vehicles each year—passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 and formed the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration in 1967 to set design standards, demand crash performance data from manufacturers, and require mandatory recalls for cars known to possess defective parts.

The recognition of the hidden costs buried within mass automobility signaled the end of this second phase of the city’s relationship with the car and presaged the rise of a postmodern urban environment. While most scholars no longer hold that the car caused the massive exodus from the inner cities it remains true that commuter suburbs made automobile ownership essential for most Americans. This transit enslavement, driven by planners seeking to increase land values in the periphery, penalized existing nonautomotive functions and effectively trapped those without the means to drive within an environment where work disappeared. As the urbanist Jane Jacob concluded, “swiftly or slowly, greater accessibility by car is inexorably accompanied both by less convenience and efficiency of public transportation, and by thinning-down and smearing-out of uses, and hence by more need for cars.” Detroit, which once promised to solve the problems of fixed transit schedules and widespread suburbanization, appeared to be equally trapped by the irresistible momentum of mass automobility. In the words of industry critic John Keats, by the 1970s the public’s “marriage to the American automobile [was] at an end” and “only a matter of minutes to the final pistol shot, although who pulls the trigger [had] yet to be determined.”28

Phase III: The Postmodern Quandary

The rapid rise in the cost of living, led by the instability of foreign oil markets, served as that pistol shot. As many critics noted, most of the hidden costs of America’s car-based transit system were found to be external to the purchase and operation of the vehicle itself. Seeing the car as a more flexible option, automobile consumers proved willing to pay for their own transit “system.” But the obvious environmental degradation, threat of accidents, and growing awareness of our dependency on limited resources produced a fundamental reevaluation of both the practical and theoretical arrangement of the urban environment. Accordingly, the third and final phase of the car-city relationship was clouded by both the postmodern sensibility that emerged following the collapse of the industrial city as well as a tendency to scapegoat the automobile as the source of all the city’s ills.29

In response to the “urban crisis” of the 1960s and 1970s, planners reassessed the primacy of economic growth, demanded by land developers, when conceptualizing the new field of “urban design.” As the planner Edward Relph concludes, “The planning equivalent of postmodernism is urban design, just as the planning equivalent of modernism” in the 1940s and 1950s “was the institutional practice of planning by the [fiscal] numbers.” For urban designers, a city required mixed-used zoning that reenvisioned access to the public amenities offered by high-density living. Where planners once sought to guide economic growth through social controls that favored underdeveloped land, designers now hoped to engage with the expressed needs of local citizens who already lived and worked in urban neighborhoods. In many ways, this renewed emphasis on place and the character of a city echoes the much earlier works of planners like Camillo Sitte, Raymond Unwin, and Frederick Law Olmsted who looked to the interrelation between objects of the built environment and their linkages and discontinuities, rather than a fixation on the object itself.30

Both Universal and Subjective Trend Lines

True to the times, this sensibility resulted in diverse yet often reinforcing trends. Building upon the linkages exposed through the study of ecology, a new universalism infused urban design to consider how the built environment worked with the natural one, rather than each standing in opposition to the other. Experiments, like those of architect Paolo Soleri, building outside of Phoenix in 1970, embraced the unique local conditions to construct a “solar-powered mini-city” that combined housing, work, and leisure activities and made the car unnecessary. The interdisciplinary nature of these endeavors involved community-based planning that encouraged the formation of groups like the Institute for Architecture and Urban Planning (1972).31

A second trend, by contrast, responded to a rising subjectivity in the minds of many urban residents toward the automobile. Faced with external risks they were unable to control—from pollution to auto accidents—and with little confidence in elected officials to mitigate these threats, many turned to a “reflexive modernization” that measured well-being through more personal and less material means. Scholars like Ulrich Beck theorized a “risk society” where citizens expressed greater concern over the abuses within the existing transit system than past planning failures that they could not avoid. A host of initiatives, including zero-tolerance laws for convicted drunk drivers; zero-emission requirements compelling laggard automakers; and mandatory seat-belt, child restraints, emission inspections, and liability insurance shifted attention from those poorly served by the automobile to those who should be prevented from driving altogether.32

Post-Suburbia and Edge Cities

The Car and the CityClick to view larger

Figure 4. A growing network of urban highways encouraged businesses to develop property far from traditional commercial hubs, further accelerating the post-suburban sprawl. Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-highsm-15949.

The loss of a clear consensus, past failures of centralized planners, and the breakdown of traditional distinctions between urban, suburban, and rural cultures also shattered the strict dualism between the core and periphery. In its stead emerged a focus on borders, edges, and multicentered urban living. Notably, the shift here was in the reconception of space and the cultural fusion produced from the merger of suburbs and white-collar work, and not on the form of transit, which remained almost exclusively automotive. The result, popularized by the writer Joel Garreau and historian Robert Fishman, preserved the suburban ideal by bringing the amenities of the core nearer to the intersection of high-volume automotive transit. Edge cities may have cut down on the distance of one’s daily commute, and perhaps offer cultural pursuits that could rival the core, but they elided all efforts to address the inefficiencies, economic segregation, and pollution that accompanied mass automobility. Garreau left unanswered the problems of sprawl, social isolation, and the cultural uniformity typically found amid these indistinguishable interchanges. His quaint reference to fax machines as an example of the “dematerializing technologies” that rendered transit moot presaged the as yet unknown, yet clearly significant shifts that resulted from the internet and mobile cell phone use.33

City residents also appeared intent on dematerializing the aging urban highways built to achieve the dream of the automotive city. Beginning in the late-1970s and gaining momentum in the 1990s, communities in Portland (OR), Chattanooga, Milwaukee, and San Francisco removed whole segments of their highway systems in the hope of urban redevelopment. In Boston the “Big Dig” literally buried the elevated Central Artery highway while in New York City the West Side Highway redesigned the Henry Hudson Parkway to allow for more mixed use. Both projects reopened these cities to their waterfronts and reclaimed hundreds of acres of land. Many other municipalities, such as Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis, and Cincinnati, are well along the path to repurposing similarly reclaimed urban space.34


Transportation and environmental reforms adopted after 1960 mitigated some of the inefficiencies of mass automobility. While still a leading polluter, hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide emissions were reduced 96 and 76 percent, respectively from 1960 to 2000. The number of ozone “alert days” in Southern California declined from 208 in 1977 to 36 by 2001; “first-stage” smog episodes fell from 121 to 0 during the same years. Measured by statistical averages, the fatality rate per vehicle miles of travel (VMT) declined between 1970 and 2000 by more than 68 percent. Manufacturers, too, have responding to changing consumer tastes. The development of electric cars (like GM’s ill-fated EV1, which was leased then decommissioned, to the outrage of users, in 2003); those powered by hydrogen fuel cells (which, like cars running on natural gas, show great improvements on emissions yet limited savings in total energy costs); and particularly the introduction of hybrids—like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius, which combine internal combustion and electric power—suggest as well that consumers retain some agency in demanding low-cost and environmentally sound alternatives.35

A more substantive problem was the political will of the driving majority. The lack of early public funding for light rail and then the improvement and expansion of streets and highways did significant damage to existing mass transit systems before the 1960s. Since then, federal law attempted to rectify this historical oversight. Beginning in 1973 and then institutionalized in 1982, highway funding mandated that 20 percent of all gas tax revenues be set aside for public transit. By 1992, more than $3.7 billion had been spent by federal authorities and $18.7 billion by state and local agencies on such projects. Yet many of those not living within easy distance to mass transit remain unwilling to restructure their transit or consumer behaviors around these utilities. Within the city’s core, reliance by women, people of color, and those at or near the poverty level on public modes of transit further “others” them from the car-owning majority. While only 9 percent of households today do not own a car, they represent more than 25 percent of the overall population. In many ways, the problem cycles back to where the relationship between the car and city first began: with economic expediency and consumer-based expressions of individuality. The booming markets for light trucks and SUVs, which surged in the 1990s and remain the most profitable products sold by American automobile manufacturers, offer consumers end-runs that avoid strict emission, mileage, and safety standards. Crashes involving both trucks and SUVs are also far more deadly, particularly for those they hit, and result in nearly twice the number of fatal “roll-over” accidents than passenger cars. Like the initial success enjoyed by cars, the popularity of both trucks and SUVs appears to rest on perceptions of how consumers might avoid the problems of urban mass automobility reality rather than an efficient management strategy to deal with the realities of congestion.36

The dependency of Americans on the automobile, the petroleum products that keep them in motion, and the physical infrastructure required to maintain this technology as the primary means of transit are difficult to overstate. In 1995, citizens saw for the first time the number of vehicles equal the number of licensed drivers. Only eight years later, the average number of cars per household exceeded the average number of drivers per household. Cities at the dawn of the age of automobile once offered choices to its residents, but it was the affordability, flexibility, and invigorating culture of driving that, ironically, curtailed these options for future generations. The hidden costs of these decisions—and the economic limits reached by many American consumers—forced both planners and everyday citizens to reexamine the shrinking cost-benefit ratio derived from the car. While the city thrived throughout this period of reimagining the urban and suburban environments, the nation’s continued dependency on the car suggested that only a significant external crisis will compel the country to resuscitate viable transit alternatives for the hundreds of millions trapped in “car country.” The response will not occur quickly. As DiMento and Ellis caution, “It has taken us more than half a century to build our way into this predicament. It may take nearly as long to find a way out.” That this transition will occur within the expected lifetimes of the majority of Americans living today and that this shift will likely carry a significant economic, social, and cultural cost to the nation is no longer in doubt.37

Discussion of the Literature

The scholarship on the car and the city is vast. Those dealing with the rise to prominence of the automobile and American automotive industry serve as the essential starting point from which to access modern transit technology. The work by John B. Rae and James J. Flink remain the best starting point in understanding the contingencies of this development and the many paths not taken.38 Rudi Volti offers a more condensed narrative of the life of the internal combustion automobile as a consumer technology. More recent interest in electric-powered vehicles, by David A. Kirsch and Gijs Mom, show both the limits of early electrics and the cultural burdens they carried when compared to their gas-powered rivals.39

The relationship between mass transit, the car, and changes to the American city is best approached first through the work of Joseph F. C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis, Kenneth T. Jackson, and Clay McShane and Joel Tarr. They show the contextual struggles faced by light rail in the light of early automobility. While there exists a number of fascinating case studies, Paul Barrett’s work on Chicago, Kyle Shelton on Houston, and Peter Derrick on New York demonstrate the value of nuanced, case-specific histories of urban planning within the broader rise of American automobility.40 The role of federal funding for road improvement and, particularly, the interstate highway system—as discussed by DiMento and Ellis, Mark S. Foster, Bruce E. Seely, Tom Lewis, and Raymond A. Mohl—prove essential in wedding the narrative of suburbanization to the automobile.41 Finally, the focus on the growing frustrations of motorists offers an important bridge between the unchallenged rise of America as a car country and more recent concerns over its hidden costs. Works by Robert Fishman, Joel Garreau, Jon Teaford, Dolores Hayden, William T. Bogart, and Peter S. Norton are necessary starting points in understanding these continuities.42

The social and cultural adaptation by urban drivers to the automobile plays an important role in the early success and often illogical persistence of mass automobility. Beginning with Warren Belasco and continuing through several volumes written by John A. Jackle and Keith A. Sculle, scholars have looked to the changes in the built and consumed environments of a motorized citizenry.43 The experiences behind the wheel by women and people of color differed significantly from those of white men, as shown by Virginia Scharff, Andrew Weise, and Georgine Clarson.44 David Blanke and Brian Ladd explore the conflicted love-hate relationship expressed by Americans for driving and how these affected critical debates surrounding auto safety and suburbanization.45 Cotton Seiler’s more recent work summarizes this diverse literature and points to ways that the culture of driving shapes and is shaped by the broader historical forces of the 20th century.46

Building upon the groundbreaking work of Martin Melosi, recent environmental histories of the automobile by Tom McCarthy, Christopher W. Wells, and David B. Lucsko offer convincing arguments for how rising health and environmental concerns, coupled with a new emphasis on material sustainability, have fundamentally restructured the historical interpretation of mass automobility. The sweeping scope of Wells’ work, in particular, offers a model for others to follow and remains the best place today for students to begin to understand the paradoxical relationship between urban Americans, the environment, and cars.47

Primary Sources

Given its importance to urban transit, a wide range of readily available primary sources exists on the car and the city. Even a cursory glance at most municipal, state, and federal archives will reveal scores of traffic and transit studies exploring the source of urban congestion and the growing auto-centered worldview of most public officials. A sampling of examples include:

State highway and municipal and county road departments provide detailed physical specifications for transit bottlenecks and other perceived problems. Their annual reports, most found in hard copy form in state historical archives, detail significant road improvements, budgets, revenues, and contractors. Examples include,

  • Texas Department of Public Safety, Records (1935–1995).

  • State of Texas. State Highway Department. First Biennial Report of the State Highway Commission (issued biennially)

  • State of California, Department of Public Works, Division of Highways. Reports (annual)

  • New York State Engineer and Surveyor. Record of Contracts Awarded for Improvement of Public Highways (1898–1908)

  • New York State Highway Commission. Report of the Commission of Highways (annual)

    The U.S. federal government provides official summary data on the material nature of our driving infrastructure, often with extensive details on numerous locales. The most relevant, showing examples of selected digital archive reports, include,

  • U.S. Bureau of Public Roads.

    • o Report of a Study of Highway Traffic and the Highway System of Cook County, Illinois (1925)

    • o Report of a Survey of Transportation on the State Highway of Pennsylvania (1928)

    • o Highway Statistics: Summary to 1945 (1947)

    • o General Locations of National System of Interstate Highways (1955)

    • o Highways and Economic and Social Change (1964)

    • o Literature References to Highways and Their Environmental Considerations (1969)

    • o Highway Joint Development and Multiple Use (1970)

  • U.S. Department of Commerce.

    • o A City Planning Primer: By the Advisory Committee on City Planning and Zoning (1924)

    • o Freeways to Urban Development (1966)

  • U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

    • o Highway Statistics (published each decade)

    • o The Freeway in the City: Principles of Planning and Design (1968)

    • o Social and Economic Effects of Highways (1976)

    • o Urban System Study (1977)

    • o Highway History (including links to the work of Thomas H. MacDonald)

  • U.S. Federal Housing Administration, Successful Subdivision: Principles of Planning for Economy and Protection against Neighborhood Blight (Washington, DC: Federal Housing Administration, 1940)

  • U.S. Bureau of the Census

Periodical literature and newspapers remains quite useful in gauging the public’s response to automotive congestion yet need to be read with caution in terms of the assumptions they make about their subscribers. The same is true for professional organizations, which are numerous and led by groups like the American Automobile Association, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and numerous civil engineering groups.

  • American Auto News

  • American City

  • American Society of Civil Engineers: Journal of Professional Practice

  • Automotive Industries

  • City Manager Magazine

  • Environment and Planning

  • Highway Research Bulletin Board

  • Horseless Age

  • Journal of the American Institute of Planners

  • Journal of the American Planning Association

  • Landscape Architecture

  • Motor

  • Motor Age

  • Motor Life

  • Motor Travel

  • Motor World

  • Planning

  • Proceedings of the Institute of Traffic Engineers

  • Public Interest

  • The American Magazine

  • The American Motorist

  • The Chauffeur

  • Traffic Digest

  • Traffic Quarterly

Many early “traffic engineers” found success publishing their work as guides for others. Notables include,

William Phelps Eno:

  • Street Traffic Regulation (Chicago: National Safety Council, 1909)

  • Fundamentals of Highway Traffic Regulation (Washington, DC: Eno Foundation, 1926)

  • Setting Forth How Traffic Regulation May Be Improved in Town and Country: A Supplement to Simplification of Highway Traffic (Saugatuck, CT: Eno Foundation, 1936)

  • The Story of Highway Traffic Control, 1899–1939 (Saugatuck, CT: Eno Foundation, 1939)

Albert Russel Erskine Bureau:

  • A Report on the Street Traffic Control Problem of the City of Boston (Boston: N.p., 1928)

  • A Traffic Control Plan for Kansas City (Kansas City: N.p., 1930)

Miller McClintock:

  • Report and Recommendations of the Metropolitan Street Traffic Survey (Chicago: Chicago Association of Commerce, 1926)

  • A Report on the Street Traffic Control Problem of San Francisco (San Francisco: Traffic Survey Committee, 1927)

  • The Street Traffic Control Problem of the City of New Orleans (New Orleans: N.p., 1928)

  • A Report of the Parking and Garage Problem of Central Business District of Washington, D.C. (Washington, DC: N.p., 1930)

  • The Greater Chicago Traffic Area: A Preliminary Report on the Major Traffic Facts of the City of Chicago and Surrounding Region (Chicago: Illinois Commission on Future Road Program, 1932)

Further Reading

Blanke, David. Hell on Wheels: The Promise and Peril of America’s Car Culture, 1900–1940. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007.Find this resource:

    Clarson, Georgine. Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

      DiMento, Joseph F. C. and Cliff Ellis. Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.Find this resource:

        Flink, James J. America Adopts the Automobile, 1895–1910. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970.Find this resource:

          Flink, James J. The Automobile Age. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1988; 2001.Find this resource:

            Foster, Mark S. From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, 1900–1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.Find this resource:

              Hayden, Dolores. Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000. New York: Vintage, 2004.Find this resource:

                Jackle, John A. and Keith A. Sculle. Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                  Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.Find this resource:

                    Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage, 1961. Reprint 1992.Find this resource:

                      McCarthy, Tom. Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                        McShane, Clay. Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

                          McShane, Clay and Joel Tarr. The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                            Melosi, Martin V. “The Automobile Shapes the City.” Automobile in American Life and Society, 2018.Find this resource:

                              Mom, Gijs. Electric Vehicle: Technology and Expectations in the Automobile Age. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

                                Norton, Peter D. Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.Find this resource:

                                  Rae, John B. The Road and Car in American Life. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971.Find this resource:

                                    Wells, Christopher W. Car Country: An Environmental History. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012.Find this resource:


                                      (1.) This essay will use specific job titles when appropriate to clarify the shifting power relations among the professions. Elsewhere, the idea of transit planners is treated generically to include everyone working to revise or reform street and highway usage to best suit contemporary and anticipated conditions. For a discussion of the various forms of planners affecting automotive transit, see Joseph F. C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis, Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2013), xi-10. James J. Flink, “Three Stages of American Automobile Consciousness,” American Quarterly 4, no. 4 (1972), 457.

                                      (2.) U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003 (No. HS-41, Transportation Indicators for Motor Vehicles and Airlines, 1900 to 2001), 77–78.

                                      (3.) Christopher W. Wells, Car Country: An Environmental History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012), xxx–xxxi.

                                      (4.) For examples of how transit flow influences street design, see Jonathan Barrett, Redesigning Cities: Principles, Practice, Implementation (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2003); and Galina Tachieva, The Sprawl Repair Manual (Washington: Island Press, 2010).

                                      (5.) For two noteworthy examples of “rational behavior” planning, see Miller McClintock, Report and Recommendations of the Metropolitan Street Survey (Chicago: Chicago Association of Commerce, 1926); and William Phelps Eno, Fundamentals of Highway Traffic Regulation (Washington: Eno Foundation for Highway Traffic Regulation, 1926).

                                      (6.) Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 147–148. For a complete account of the cultural expression comprising the early automotive “love affair” and its role in the rising accident crisis, see David Blanke, Hell on Wheels: The Promise and Peril of America’s Car Culture, 1900–1940 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007), 63–89.

                                      (7.) Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 14–20. See also Elizabeth Blackmar, “Re-Walking the ‘Walking City’; Housing and Property Relations in New York City, 1780–1840,” Radical History Review 21 (Fall 1979): 131–148; Patricia Mooney-Melvin, “The Neighborhood-City Relationship,” in American Urbanism: A Historiographical Review, ed. Zane Miller and Howard Gillette (New York: Praeger, 1987), 257–270; and Thomas W. Hanchett, Sorting out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 18751975 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).

                                      (8.) The foundational work remains Sam Bass Warner, Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870–1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). For the ways that the streetcar influenced later urban transit design, see Mark S. Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, 1900–1940 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981); Paul Barrett, The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900–1930 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983); Peter C. Baldwin, Domesticating the Streets: The Reform of Public Space in Hartford, 1850–1930 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1999); Clay McShane and Joel Tarr, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007); and Robert C. Post, Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007).

                                      (9.) Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway, 16–23. For Philadelphia, quoting Charles W. Cheape, Moving the Masses: Urban Public Transit in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, 1880–1912 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 177.

                                      (10.) James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 6. Evan Friss, The Cycling City: Bicycles and Urban America in the 1890s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015), 3, 9. See also David Herlihy, Bicycle: The History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004); Zach Furness, One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010); and Lorenz J. Finison, Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880–1900: A Story of Race, Sport, and Society (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014).

                                      (11.) Flink, The Automobile Age, 27–40.

                                      (12.) Rudi Volti, Cars and Culture: The Life Story of a Technology (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004), 7–14.

                                      (13.) U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2003 (No. HS-41, Transportation Indicators for Motor Vehicles and Airlines, 1900 to 2001); U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington, DC, 1960), 462.

                                      (14.) Joseph F. C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis, Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), 1–20. This text serves as an essential starting point for those interested in the subtle shifts in power and authority of transit planners throughout the 20th century.

                                      (15.) John B. Rae, The Road and Car in American Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971), 32. Wells, Car Country, 8. Assessing the effect of two major highways traversing through the heart of Syracuse, New York, and displacing numerous neighborhoods, DiMento and Ellis, concluded that future residents “paid a steep price in quality of life for this experiment in urban reconstruction.” DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 65, 211.

                                      (16.) Foster, From Streetcars to Superhighways, 44.

                                      (17.) For a concise summary and useful timeline of “Major Urban Freeway Decision-Making Events,” see DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 133–142.

                                      (18.) For Moses’s complex and controversial career, see Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Knopf, 1974); and DiMenton and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 38–41.

                                      (19.) DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 68.

                                      (20.) DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 38–41, 55, 68, 76–78, 103–104. For Herrold see Alan Altshuler, The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1965), 52–57. Lewis Mumford, “The Highways and the City,” Architectural Record 123 (April 1958): 179–182; and Mumford, The Highway and the City (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1963), 244–248.

                                      (21.) Flink, The Automobile Age, 277–278.

                                      (22.) For Ford’s campaign, see Tom McCarthy, Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers, and the Environment (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 148–149.

                                      (23.) Melosi, “Automobile in American Life and Society,” 2018. See also John A. Jackle and Keith A. Sculle, Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004).

                                      (24.) Wells, Car Country, 262–269.

                                      (25.) For the problems of physical waste linked to the automobile, see David B. Lucsko, Junkyards, Gearheads, and Rust: Salvaging the Automotive Past (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016). Landron quoted in Kyle Shelton, Power Moves: Transportation, Politics, and Development in Houston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 107.

                                      (26.) Volti, Cars and Culture, 120.

                                      (27.) Volti, Cars and Culture, 116–119.

                                      (28.) Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage, 1992), 351. Keats quoted in Flink, The Automobile Age, 281.

                                      (29.) An example of American’s unwillingness to accept the problems caused by modern automotive dependency is seen in Holtz, Asphalt Nation. She concludes the book’s introduction with a distillation of these sentiments: “A nation in gridlock for its auto-bred lifestyle, an environment choking from its auto exhausts, a landscape sacked by its highways has distressed Americans so much that even this go-for-it nation is posting ‘No Growth’ signs on development from shore to shore.” Jane Holtz Kay, Asphalt Nation: How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 9.

                                      (30.) Edward Relph, The Modern Urban Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 229.

                                      (31.) Nan Ellin, Postmodern Urbanism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 67.

                                      (32.) Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: SAGE, 1992), 49.

                                      (33.) Garreau defines an “edge city” as possessing at least 5 million square feet of office space and 600,000 square feet of retail space, as being an employment location rather than a residential location, as being perceived as a separate place in itself, and as having been once wholly residential or rural as recently as thirty years ago; see Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 425. As part of a widespread reassessment of urban form, often associated with the “Los Angeles School of Urbanism,” recent scholars have significantly qualified Garreau’s observations. For example, see Robert Fishman, Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987); John R. Stilgoe, Borderland: Origins of the American Suburb, 1820–1939 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988); Jon Teaford, Post-Suburbia: Government and Politics in the Edge Cities (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); William T. Bogart, Don’t Call It Sprawl: Metropolitan Structure in the 21st Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Michael Dear and Nicholas Dahmann, “Urban Politics and the Los Angeles School of Urbanism,” Urban Affairs Review, 44, no. 2 (November 2008): 266–279; Robert E. Lang, Thomas W Sanchez, and Asli Ceylan Oner, “Beyond Edge City: Office Geography in the New Metropolis,” Urban Geography 30, no. 7 (October 2009): 726–755; and Nicholas A. Phelps, Andrew M. Wood, David C. Valler, “A Postsuburban World? An Outline of a Research Agenda,” Economy and Space, 42, no. 2 (February 2010): 366–383.

                                      (34.) For a list of such projects, see DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 220–229.

                                      (35.) Volti, Cars and Culture, 149–153.

                                      (36.) McCarthy, Auto Mania, 239–243; and Volti, Cars and Culture, 143–145.

                                      (37.) DiMento and Ellis, Changing Lanes, 230.

                                      (38.) John B. Rae, The American Automobile Industry (Boston: Twayne, 1984); and James J. Flink, America Adopts the Automobile, 1895–1910 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970).

                                      (39.) David A. Kirsch, The Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000); and Gijs Mom, Electric Vehicle: Technology and Expectations in the Automobile Age (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

                                      (40.) Paul Barrett, The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900–1930 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983); Peter Derrick, Tunneling to the Future: The Story of the Great Suburban Expansion That Saved New York (New York: New York University Press, 2001); and Kyle Shelton, Power Moves: Transportation, Politics, and Development in Houston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017).

                                      (41.) Bruce E. Seely, Building The American Highway System: Engineers as Policy Makers (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987); Tom Lewis, Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life (New York: Penguin Books, 1997); and Raymond A. Mohl, The Interstates and the Cities: Highways, Housing, and the Freeway Revolt (Washington, DC: Poverty and Race Research Action Council, 2002). See also numerous essays by Mohl in the Journal of Urban History.

                                      (42.) Dolores Hayden, Building Suburbia: Green Fields and Urban Growth, 1820–2000 (New York: Vintage, 2004); Peter D. Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008); Jon Teaford, Post-Suburbia: Government and Politics in the Edge Cities (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); and William T. Bogart, Don’t Call It Sprawl: Metropolitan Structure in the 21st Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

                                      (43.) Warren J. Belasco, Americans on the Road: From Autocamp to Motel: 1910–1945 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1979). For a sample of their diverse catalog, see John A. Jackle and Keith A. Sculle, Lots of Parking: Land Use in a Car Culture (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004).

                                      (44.) Virginia Scharff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (New York: Free Press, 1991); Andrew Weise, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); and Georgine Clarson, Eat My Dust: Early Women Motorists (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008).

                                      (45.) Brian Ladd, Autophobia: Love and Hate in the Automotive Age (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

                                      (46.) Cotton Seiler, Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008).

                                      (47.) Martin Melosi, Coping With Abundance: Energy and Environment in Industrial America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984); and Martin Melosi, The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).