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date: 23 July 2024

Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban Americafree

Infrastructure: Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century Urban Americafree

  • Jay YoungJay YoungOutreach Officer, Archives of Ontario


Mass transit has been part of the urban scene in the United States since the early 19th century. Regular steam ferry service began in New York City in the early 1810s and horse-drawn omnibuses plied city streets starting in the late 1820s. Expanding networks of horse railways emerged by the mid-19th century. The electric streetcar became the dominant mass transit vehicle a half century later. During this era, mass transit had a significant impact on American urban development. Mass transit’s importance in the lives of most Americans started to decline with the growth of automobile ownership in the 1920s, except for a temporary rise in transit ridership during World War II. In the 1960s, congressional subsidies began to reinvigorate mass transit and heavy-rail systems opened in several cities, followed by light rail systems in several others in the next decades. Today concerns about environmental sustainability and urban revitalization have stimulated renewed interest in the benefits of mass transit.


  • 20th Century: Pre-1945
  • 20th Century: Post-1945
  • Urban History
  • History of Science and Technology

Mass transit—streetcars, elevated and commuter rail, subways, buses, ferries, and other transportation vehicles serving large numbers of passengers and operating on fixed routes and schedules—has been part of the urban scene in the United States since the early 19th century. Regular steam ferry service connected Brooklyn and New Jersey to Manhattan in the early 1810s and horse-drawn omnibuses plied city streets starting in the late 1820s. Expanding networks of horse railways emerged by the mid-19th century. A half century later, technological innovation and urban industrialization enabled the electric streetcar to become the dominant mass transit vehicle. During this era, mass transit had a significant impact on American urban development, suburbanization, the rise of technological networks, consumerism, and even race and gender relations. Mass transit’s importance in the lives of most Americans started to decline with the growth of automobile ownership in the 1920s, except for a temporary rise in transit ridership during World War II. In the 1960s, when congressional subsidies began to reinvigorate mass transit, heavy-rail systems opened in cities such as San Francisco and Washington D.C., followed by light rail systems in San Diego, Portland, and other cities in the next decades. As the 21st century approached, concern about environmental sustainability and urban revitalization stimulated renewed interest in the benefits of mass transit.

The history of urban mass transit in the United States is more complex than a simple progression of improved public transportation modes before the rise of the automobile ultimately replaced transit’s dominance by the mid-20th century. Transit history in American cities is rooted in different phases of urbanization, the rise of large corporate entities during the industrial era, the relationship between technology and society, and other broad themes within American history. At the same time, mass transit history shows the value of emphasizing local contexts, as the details of urban transit unfolded differently across the United States based on municipal traditions, environments, economies, and phases of growth.

Ferry Boats, Omnibuses, and the Beginnings of Mass Transit in the Early 19th Century

The ferry boats that regularly crossed the waters of a few American cities in the early 19th century provided an important precedent to the mass transit industry that emerged later in the century. Before the age of industrialization, the cities of the American merchant economy were primarily sites of commercial exchange of goods and services. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and most other urban centers were dense, port cities located along rivers, bays, and other bodies of water. And while this geography facilitated the transshipment of goods, it also impeded the expansion of urban settlement. During the early 1810s, Robert Fulton, an engineer and inventor, established a regular ferry service using steam power. The service linked lower Manhattan with Jersey City over the Hudson River, as well as the village of Brooklyn, at the time a small suburban settlement across the East River. The early development of regular ferry service illustrates the dominant role that New York City would play in American urban mass transit—not surprising considering the city’s rapid demographic and physical growth and dominant position in the hierarchy of American cities during the 19th century. Ferries also demonstrate the early connections between transit and urban expansion, as the service allowed commuters living in areas such as the newly subdivided Brooklyn Heights neighborhood to overcome obstacles for continuous settlement posed by bodies of water. Typically, regular users of this service enjoyed above-average incomes and social positions. Unlike most working people, they could afford the expense of a daily fare.1 By the 1860s, the annual ridership of New York’s ferry industry had expanded to more than 32 million people. Thirteen companies employed seventy steamboats for more than twenty different ferry routes.2 Similar service had also spread to other northeastern cities, such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Ferry service is still an integral part of daily commuting in some cities today. Despite its success, however, ferry boat service could do little to improve transportation over land.3

By the late 1820s, New York also became home to the first significant form of land-based mass transit: the omnibus. This operation—a large horse-drawn wheeled carriage similar to a stagecoach yet open for service to the general public at a set fare—originated in Nantes, France, in 1826. Omnibus service spread to Paris two years later and to other French cities as well as London by 1832.4 Abraham Brower brought the service to New York in 1828 when he launched a route running a mile and a quarter along Broadway. Brower’s original vehicles, Accommodation and Sociable, held approximately twelve passengers.5 Three years after Brower inaugurated service, more than one hundred omnibuses traveled on New York streets.6 By the 1840s, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other American cities had omnibus service. It spread from larger to smaller cities in subsequent decades.7

The omnibus had weaknesses. Since most vehicles featured unpadded seats and typically travelled on uneven cobblestone roads (if paved at all), passengers experienced an uncomfortable ride.8 The fare—generally 12 cents—was too expensive for most urban dwellers. Nonetheless, the omnibus initiated a “riding habit” of regular transit use within its main segment of users: members of the urban middle class. This growing demographic found private stagecoaches too expensive, but they had the affluence and desire to commute to work instead of walking.9 Although getting around by foot remained the main source of mobility for most urban dwellers, the “walking city” was slowly eroding.

Horsecars: The “American Railway”

A vehicle with less surface friction could reduce the shortcomings that had plagued the omnibus. Horse streetcars—commonly known as horsecars—traveled on rail instead of road, and had numerous advantages over the omnibus. The use of rails provided a faster, quieter, more comfortable ride, while enabling a more efficient use of horse power. This fact allowed for larger cars that carried approximately three times as many riders as the omnibus. Importantly, the horsecar’s lower operating cost per passenger mile translated to a cheaper fare for users (typically 5 cents compared to the 12-cent omnibus fare) and a growing “riding habit” within the American urban population.10 Horsecars reduced the time and cost of commuting to and from the central core, and, thus, they expanded the area of development along the urban fringe. Following a slow start, other American cities adopted horsecars by the 1850s, part of the wider context of rampant urbanization during the second half of the 19th century. Typically, a private company ran lines under a franchise awarded by the municipality that outlined the public roads on which the company could build rails and operate routes, along with other stipulations. By the end of the 1850s, New York, New Orleans, Brooklyn, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Cincinnati provided horsecar service. Further expansion developed during the 1860s.11 Two decades later, almost twenty thousand horsecars traveled on more than thirty thousand miles of street railway across the United States. Such expansion was particularly notable in contrast to comparatively slower growth in Europe (where people called the technology “American Railways”).12 The horsecar’s initial development in the United States, and its early spread across the country, exemplified how the country was often at the forefront of transit use and technological innovation during the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century.

The world’s first horsecar line began service in 1832, when the New York and Harlem Railroad Company inaugurated a horse-powered rail car route along Fourth Avenue. The franchise owners, including banker John Mason, intended the line to serve as the first stage of a passenger steam railway linking lower Manhattan to Harlem. However, fears of noise, smoke, and boiler explosions from those living along the right-of-way prompted the city to prohibit the railroad from operating steam engines within the built-up area south of Twenty-Seventh Street, so the company relied upon horse power within the restricted area.13 Despite the operating advantages of horsecars, its “technology transfer” to other American cities was slow until the early 1850s. This phenomenon reinforced the value of local contexts, as horsecar lines developed differently in each city based on factors such as local politics, geography, and population density. Horsecars—and the rails upon which they travelled—began a process of redefining the meaning of city streets that continued with electric streetcars and automobiles. The street became more a place for mobility, diminishing the centrality of sociability, recreation, and other traditional street uses. Initially, popular sentiment opposed the placement of rails along streets, especially since rails were not flush with the street surface and impeded cross movement until the invention of grooved rails in 1852. That same year, New York saw its first horsecar operation distinct from steam railroads, and the service soon spread to many other American locales.14

Historians Joel Tarr and Clay McShane demonstrate that horsecars exemplify how the rise of industrialization and urbanization during the 19th century led to a growing exploitation of horse power. Ironically, steam power, an essential component of the first Industrial Revolution, created a greater demand for this older form of energy in industrial cities.15 Yet the horsecar’s reliance on these “living machines” presented the greatest weakness of the technology, especially as cities sought to expand their systems once easily commutable distances from the urban fringe via horsecar were reached. Horses were expensive to maintain. They ate their value in feed each year, required large stables and care from veterinarians, stablehands, and blacksmiths, and their average work life lasted less than five years.16 In terms of social costs, horses produced massive amounts of pollution as their manure and urine fell on city streets. And once horses met their ultimate fate, their bodies had to be removed. New York alone disposed of fifteen thousand horse carcasses annually.17 Sudden disease outbreaks were common. The most dramatic occurred in 1872, when an equine influenza epidemic—the “Great Epizootic”—hit North America (especially eastern seaboard cities). Thousands of horses died during the epidemic, which created operational upheaval for the horsecar industry. Not surprisingly, the event further reinforced the need for cheaper, more reliable forms of transit power.18

Steam was one alternative source of power. It had provided power for ferry services since the 1810s and passenger railways two decades later. By the mid-19th century, commuter railways using steam locomotives (essentially short-haul passenger rail) connected affluent residents living in small suburban areas to places of work and entertainment in large cities. For example, upper-middle-class towns, such as New Rochelle and Scarsdale in Westchester County, New York, grew with commuter rail service to New York City, while Evanston, Highland Park, Lake Forest, and other commuter towns emerged around Chicago.19 Yet steam power presented challenges for urban transit. Many city dwellers living along crowded streets considered the noise, pollution, and other dangers associated with the technology to be nuisances. Steam operation also generally cost more than horse power until the 1870s. A few New York companies gambled on steam-powered conveyances during the 1860s, but they all soon ceased their experiments.20 Nonetheless, transit companies in greater New York and Chicago began building elevated railroads using steam power above urban thoroughfares. This proved to be among the earliest forms of rapid transit, since vehicles operated on their own right-of-way, not in mixed traffic. By 1893, Jay Gould’s New York Elevated Railroad Company carried half a million daily passengers from lower Manhattan to the Bronx, while Chicago saw the first line of its “L” system open in 1892. Although short-lived “elevateds” existed in the smaller cities of Sioux City, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri, high capital costs made them mostly a big city phenomenon unlikely to become a dominant mode of transit across the United States.21 Elevateds also darkened the street below. Once electricity became a possible power source by the 1890s, city dwellers clamored for rapid transit to burrow underground.

Power generated from a stationary central source—rather than within a moving locomotive—offered another alternative. Cable cars traveled on rail, similar to horsecars and steam railways, but these vehicles clasped on a moving cable within a street conduit. This feature eliminated much of the noise, smoke, and danger of boiler explosions that plagued urban steam locomotives (although such nuisances were still present at the stationary power source). Cable car operation began in San Francisco in 1873, when Andrew Hallidie began his service on Clay Street. San Francisco’s hilly terrain required four horse teams to pull a single omnibus, with some hills too steep for any kind of horse service.22 Since various transit experiments in steam, compressed air, chemical engines, and electricity failed to produce an inexpensive method of propulsion, cable cars seemed the best alternative to horse power by the 1870s. Following Hallidie’s successful operation, most large cities across the United States built cable car networks.23

With hindsight, the cable car emerged as a temporary solution for the transit industry until the refinement of a more efficient power distribution method. Cables had advantages over horse power, but they also carried particular weaknesses. Cables were always under the threat of snapping. Maintenance and replacement constituted a complex, expensive process that negatively affected service. Ice buildup produced issues in colder cities. The cable had to run at the same capacity no matter the service level, which meant power generation could not diminish at off-peak times. Twenty years after Hallidie’s first run on Clay Street, more than three hundred miles of cable car tracks had been laid across the United States. But numbers declined soon after electric streetcar operation became practical in the 1890s. By 1913, only twenty miles of cable car track were still in use.24 Electric streetcars and other electric transit technologies exacerbated the changes in urban life that horsecars and cable cars had unleashed.

Transit Becomes Electric

Technological innovations, demand from the transit industry for improved operations, and a desire for mobility enabled the electric streetcar to become the dominant mass transit vehicle in the United States by the turn of the 20th century. The streetcar’s use of electricity makes it a key technology of the second Industrial Revolution. “[N]o invention,” urban historian Kenneth Jackson has argued, “had greater impact on the American city between the Civil War and World War I than the visible and noisy streetcar and the tracks that snaked down the broad avenues into undeveloped land.”25 The idea of transmitting electrical current to move vehicles had existed since the 1840s, but no practical technique could generate sufficient electrical power. Experiments with battery power also failed in terms of feasible, everyday operation.26 Early streetcar pioneers such as Leo Daft and Charles van Depoele made significant advances to the technology; however, Frank Sprague (1857–1934) is most commonly associated with the vehicle’s development. Similar to names associated with other critical technologies, Sprague was not the sole “inventor” of the electric streetcar. Rather, as transit historian Brian J. Cudahy explains, Sprague’s success derived from “his ability to blend aspects of previous experiments with his own developments into a fully orchestrated whole.”27 A former Edison employee, his key technical contribution was a trolley poll and wheel design that overcame previous flaws whereby overhead electrical wires detached from vehicles (and thus the power source). Sprague’s system also demonstrated operational reliability and financial feasibility when it was put to the test along twelve miles of track for the Union Passenger Railway in Richmond, Virginia, in 1888. Twelve years later, 90 percent of all streetcars in the United States relied on his patents, and few horsecars were still in operation.28

Street railway companies quickly adopted electricity. Often, they used existing rails and even former horsecar vehicles.29 Electric streetcars transformed the transit industry. New forms of expertise related to electricity replaced veterinarians, blacksmiths, and other horse-related professions. The new technology also generated mergers with large companies swallowing up smaller enterprises, monopolizing service in urban areas, and employing corporate business forms in order to raise capital needed for investment in electricity infrastructure (in some cases, electrical utility companies were also transit providers). Transit remained within the private market in most American cities until the second half of the 20th century, but the organizational structure of the industry became more complex.30

Electric streetcars rapidly spread across the country. Like horsecars decades earlier, electric streetcars accommodated heavier passenger loads compared to predecessors. This reduced passenger cost per mile, lowered fares, and stimulated greater transit use by wider segments of society. Two years after Sprague’s Richmond success, the vehicle carried twice the number of passengers in the United States compared to the rest of the world, with thirty-two thousand electric streetcars traversing American streets from small towns to major metropolises—a number that nearly doubled by the turn of the century.31

Electric traction also removed an obstacle for underground transit. The London Underground had operated steam-powered trains when it opened in 1863, but most commentators believed Americans would avoid smoke-filled subway tunnels. The massive construction cost also impeded subway building. In 1894, the Massachusetts legislature authorized Boston to build the first subway in the United States. The line, which was completed four years later, buried 1.5 miles of a busy streetcar under Tremont Street’s retail district. The Boston Transit Commission, a public body, financed construction, while the private West End Street Railway operated the line and serviced its debt.32 Public money was also required to build the country’s largest subway network in New York—foreshadowing the growing role of the state in mass transit in the second half of the 20th century. In 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company’s service began connecting the Bronx to Manhattan, followed by the construction of hundreds of more miles of subway in New York during subsequent decades.33

The Effects of Electric Streetcars on Urban Life

Streetcars and other forms of electric traction had a tremendous influence on the shapes and sensations of urban life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In many cases, the technology exacerbated trends that began with the horsecar. Streetcars continued the horsecar’s role in enabling the seemingly contradictory yet related forces of centralization and dispersal in American cities. In essence, this entailed the general separation between major commercial activities in the downtown and districts of residence and other activities, such as manufacturing, in less dense areas surrounding the core and along the urban fringe. The American walking city—in which the dominant mode for the journey to work was by foot—came to an end, although many workers still walked to their places of employment.

The many streetcar lines that radiated from central business districts across the United States increased accessibility to and from downtown. The shapes, spectacles, and symbols of what is still associated today with “downtown”—business skyscrapers and other tall buildings as well as large theaters, department stores, hotels, and other palaces of consumption—emerged with the arrival of horsecars, but they reached a new scale with electric streetcars. Electric traction had a centralizing effect by increasing land values in the core and creating the economy of large buildings and places of entertainment during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These attractions relied upon other technologies such as the elevator, telephone, and electric light, yet the rise of skyscrapers and other iconic elements of the modern urban landscape would have been unlikely without streetcars.34

Streetcars played a dramatic role in suburbanization. Unlike the natural limits of horsecars, electric streetcars could journey well beyond the existing city once trackage was laid. In Boston, for example, the area of urban settlement expanded from two miles outside the old walking city core during the horsecar era to four miles during the first decade of electric streetcar service.35 Suburban living was more readily available to Americans of the growing middle class and in the skilled trades from cities as varied as New York City to Milwaukee. Those who worked within the older city but could not afford the daily ten-cent round trip fare were forced to stay (or walk long distances from the urban fringe).36 The characteristics of “streetcar suburbs” differed across and within cities, yet they also shared similarities. For example, accessible, cheap land enabled suburban residential developments of semi-detached or detached dwellings set back from the street and surrounded by a yard (apartments also existed). Walkability remained important for at least some daily tasks and, of course, for the journey to the nearby streetcar stop. Thus, on the whole, streetcar suburbs had fairly compact forms and high population densities compared to the automobile-centric suburbs that developed later in the 20th century, although such forms and densities varied based on local influences, levels of affluence, and other factors. Real estate speculators knew the value of streetcar service to their developments. In many cases, transit companies held real estate interests along the urban fringe, which they connected via streetcar to spur development, even if the line itself was unprofitable. Yet the many streetcar suburbs that still dot the American landscape today were not simply the result of ambitious developers, but also the desires and actions of many people, from local politicians to the varied residents who made such places home.

Various social factors joined the development and expansion of the electric streetcar to create the new scale of suburbanization at the turn of the 20th century. The streetcar did not solely create the suburbs; the relationship was more complex. The experience of suburbanization in the United States evolved differently from that in Europe, where dense row housing continued to develop along the urban fringe. Demand existed for suburbanization—and its distinct shapes and forms—as well as the technologies that made it possible. Scholars have often explained such demand through the value placed by Americans on private property ownership and the 19th-century belief in the “rural ideal.” To these factors, historian Clay McShane has added popular ideas about public health that emerged during the second half of the 19th century. The miasmic theory of disease contended that vapors emanating from rotting organic matter caused illness. To counter these miasmic threats, Americans sought suburban environments filled with grass, trees, and fresh air.37 Ironically, the new scale of suburbanization generated by electric streetcars created new social issues, such as the growing geographic division of wealth and political fragmentation within the American metropolis.38

Transit also enabled new social experiences associated with the modern age. Whereas streetcars linked people to department stores, theaters, and other attractions of downtown, the technology also connected riders to attractions at the end of the line. Amusement parks were the most prominent. Transit companies often owned such parks as a means to generate more passenger traffic in outer areas and on off-peak times: weekends and holidays. For example, Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Park originated as a natural springs attraction served by omnibus service and became a large amusement park after the Atlanta Street Railway assumed control of it by the turn of the 20th century. Even one of the greatest attractions at amusement parks—the rollercoaster—had a connection to transit technology; it turned apprehensions about new transit technology (such as the fear of accidents) into a sensorial thrill. According to David Nye, destinations at both ends of the streetcar line—the downtown department store and the amusement park along the urban fringe—promoted a consumerist, mass society that “subverted the Victorian moral code” of thrift and self-restraint.39

Electric streetcars, along with subways and elevated railroads, allowed for new ways of seeing the city and its inhabitants. Riding within a swift, enclosed transit vehicle emphasized a visual understanding of the urban landscape. In particular, elevateds allowed for a comprehensive, panoramic view of the city that was unattainable by walking on the ground. The interiors of transit vehicles also became essential public spaces by forcing face-to-face contact between people of varying racial, class, and gender identities. Crowded rush-hour cars such as those of the New York elevateds and subways made social contact particularly common.40 Ironically, transit interiors became points of intimate contact at the same time that the American city, through suburbanization via transit technology, was becoming more residentially segregated by race and class.41

Yet streetcars or other forms of transit also reinforced social differences. They were “moving theaters” of racial conflict, according to historian Robin Kelley.42 In antebellum America, omnibus companies in New York and Philadelphia forbade African Americans from riding in their vehicles, while slaves sometimes rode with their white owners or in separate conveyances in southern cities.43 Segregated transit was at the center of Jim Crow–era discrimination in the South. Although the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1956—sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat to a white passenger—is rightly remembered as a major moment in the Civil Rights movement, African Americans participated in failed protests in at least twenty-five southern cities against the injustice of Jim Crow laws during the first decade of the 20th century. These laws, following the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessey v. Ferguson (1896), dictated black riders sit in the back of transit vehicles and give up their seat to white riders if they sat in the middle section.44 Women had mixed experiences using transit. Spaces within a transit vehicle were common sites of sexual harassment, especially after streetcar companies switched to one-man operations by eliminating guards and ticket collectors who used to watch over passengers in the early 20th century. Such harassment led Julia D. Longfellow of the Women’s Municipal League in 1909 to request the operator of New York’s Interborough Rapid Transit to provide a female-only car during rush hours (higher operating costs motivated the private company to reject her request).45 On the other hand, streetcars and other forms of mass transit allowed for opportunities for greater freedom, through urban mobility, for women, who constituted a high percentage of transit users. A ride on a streetcar embodied the complex contradictions of American urban life during the age of modern technology.

The Decline of Mass Transit in 20th-Century America

Mass transit’s importance in the lives of city dwellers decreased by the 1920s. This decline lasted until the 1970s, and, in many ways, it has continued to the present. The roots of this trend emerged during the early 20th century. From 1890 to 1905, annual streetcar ridership across the country more than doubled from two billion to five billion passenger trips. However, over the next two decades ridership grew at a slower rate. From 1917 to 1923, the industry added only one billion more annual trips. Annual transit ridership (all modes including subway, streetcar, and bus) peaked in 1926 (excluding exceptional war-related conditions during the 1940s and early 1950s), with more than seventeen billion passenger trips—a figure since unmatched. The slowdown in transit ridership growth coincided with an explosion of automobile ownership and use: in 1910, Americans owned less than half a million automobiles, a figure that rose to eight million vehicles in 1920.46 Mass transit’s fall in prominence is more complicated than simply the invention and popularity of the private automobile, for as historians of technology remind us, no technology is innately superior to another. Rather, social values and practices influence the acceptance of technologies based on complex factors. Multiple reasons within and outside of the transit industry explain declining passenger numbers during the 20th century.

Starting in the 1910s, inflation imposed pressure on the overwhelmingly private-owned transit industry. Transit companies began to reduce investment in their capital stock before World War I.47 Inflation led to increased prices for materials (the value of steel rails rose by 50 percent after the war) and other costs. Labor, the largest part of the industry’s operating costs, also became more expensive as more workers unionized.48 Greater demand for better service from interest groups—not only users who protested against any hike to the common five-cent fare, but also politicians and business groups—compounded these economic forces by making more difficult the implementation of positive reforms that could have improved the competitiveness of transit against the automobile.

Another challenge originated with jitneys: privately owned automobiles operated by entrepreneurs who cruised streets (typically those with transit routes) in search of possible customers. Passengers enjoyed the jitney’s flexibility, especially its ability to drop off riders closer to their destination compared to the same cost as a streetcar. Unlike transit companies, jitneys usually were unlicensed and paid no municipal fees or taxes. Transit operators saw jitneys as unfair competition and pressured local governments to prohibit the service in many cities. The jitney enjoyed only short-lived success, but it provided but one example of how the automobile threatened the transit industry.49

The popular perception that transit was a private business, rather than a public service deserving government aid, added to the industry’s woes. Years of negative sentiment from passengers, politicians, and other interest groups about poor service, corruption, and large profits hindered the industry. Historian Paul Barrett argues that municipal ordinances passed in Chicago in 1907 enforced levels of service on the city’s private transit provider, but they failed to provide a subsidy that would make such service financially feasible. Instead, either complete municipal ownership or minimal regulation constituted better alternatives. San Francisco had municipalized transit in 1912, but few cities followed suit until the 1950s.50 Transit was not alone in suffering from negative opinion; the automobile did too, despite its relative newness. Historian Peter Norton has shown that a consensus of politicians, city planners, and most citizens believed automobile use on city streets should be highly regulated to ensure not only the safety for other road users (especially pedestrians), but also the efficient flow of traffic. The young automobile industry countered such sentiment by branding its product as the symbol of individual freedom. It also lobbied policymakers. This strategy allowed “motordom” to gain policy concessions for items such as parking restrictions, often at the expense of the transit industry and other street users.51 The private nature of the automobile also may have influenced transit users to drive cars, especially women. The automobile created its own problems, but many ex-transit passengers believed it offered a better alternative to the mixed company in a crowded streetcar, often filled with cigarette smoke and other harassing passengers.52

The bus, a vehicle on wheels employing an internal combustion engine, also illustrates the changing tide of transit between 1920 and 1940. Bus service emerged during the first decade of the 20th century and its use grew during the 1920s, when enterprising companies decided to service new suburban developments located past the termini of streetcar lines. Although most streetcar companies initially feared the bus, they increasingly saw it as a flexible vehicle with low capital costs that competed with the automobile and served areas with lower ridership levels. A survey in 1924 revealed that little more than one thousand buses plied American streets, but this figure jumped to at least twenty thousand buses eight years later.53 Buses slowly replaced streetcar lines across the country. While more than seventy thousand streetcars operated in 370 cities in 1912, only 1,200 vehicles serviced seven cities five decades later.54

Scholars and other analysts offer varied explanations for the replacement of streetcars by buses across the United States. One interpretation claims that the phenomenon emerged as part of a conspiracy by General Motors. This argument became popular in the early 1970s, when lawyer Bradford Snell testified in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee. He contended that General Motors, under its National Coach Lines subsidiary, purchased a number of transit companies during the 1930s and 1940s in order to convert streetcar lines to bus operation, with the purpose of weakening or eliminating transit service so that disgruntled passengers would purchase automobiles. The theory even entered popular culture as inspiration for a plotline in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Although the investigation ultimately found that GM broke anti-trust laws, the central conspiratorial charge—the provision of poor transit service in order to increase automobile sales—was not the basis of the investigation. In fact, most transit historians and other scholars generally disregard the conspiracy theory. National Coach Lines controlled approximately 10 percent of the country’s urban transit systems, yet a majority of the remaining 90 percent of companies also switched to buses. Moreover, a consensus within the transit industry believed that buses—operating without the capital concerns of rails—possessed economic and operational benefits compared to streetcars, especially on lower density systems and lines.55 The case of bus substitution in New York City during the 1920s and 1930s suggests politics played a role in the shift rather than rational cost-benefit considerations of each mode of transport. Historian Zachary Schrag argues that the streetcar-bus debate served as a “proxy” for other issues such as public ownership, regulation, and fare prices.56 Technological novelty also played a part; to most passengers, a new bus seemed more modern in comparison to streetcars, which many passengers saw as the antique relics of corrupt private transit companies.57 Regardless, buses likely saved the mass transit industry during the post–World War II era, when ridership numbers continued to plummet. Implementation of diesel engines and automatic transmissions in buses by the 1940s also reduced energy costs even as these innovations led to noise, pollution, and other negative consequences on the urban environment.58

World War II saw a steep but temporary rise in ridership—in fact the highest in the mass transit industry’s history. The booming war economy created a strong demand from passengers requiring transit for work trips, especially compared to the rampant unemployment and declining rider figures during the Great Depression. Wartime gasoline and rubber rationing, and an automobile production ban, also led to increased ridership. Yet the boom failed to solve the transit industry’s larger issues, which were evident before the war. In fact, the wartime riding experience hurt transit in the long run. Passengers in Detroit and other industrial cities crowded into packed, often dilapidated transit vehicles, which created uncomfortable riding situations and even racial conflict. These memories surely remained with former riders who decided to purchase automobiles once the conflict ended.59

After the war, the longer trajectory of declining passenger numbers resumed. Numerous transit companies faced financial ruin, which led to public ownership in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other larger cities in the immediate postwar era. In smaller towns, transit often ceased operation. Despite the wave of public takeovers during the late 1940s and 1950s, the popular conception of transit as a service run on a cost-recovery basis remained unchanged. Service failed to improve significantly enough to curtail declining ridership.60 At the same time, the postwar years marked the growth of automobile-dependent suburbs and car ownership as well as a rapid push for road building. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act, which dedicated twenty-five billion dollars to build more than forty thousand miles of limited-access roadways across the country.61 Although transit’s decline began decades before the federal government constructed new highways in the postwar era, the interstate program—which funded 90 percent of urban expressway costs—demonstrated the federal government’s enthusiasm for automobility. By the 1950s, the United States had become “car country,” according to Christopher Wells.62 Meanwhile, the transit industry suffered. But change was around the corner.

Federal Funding and a Return to Ridership Stability

Mass transit has made a modest comeback since the 1960s, when the federal government began to subsidize transit expansion on a broad scale. The push for federal funding originated from a coalition of railroad executives and big city mayors. In the late 1950s, rail companies with major freight operations cut many of their unprofitable commuter rail services that served large metropolitan areas. Together, the mayors and rail companies fought for a national transportation policy from the federal government that recognized the importance of mass transit, not just highways and automobiles. Older cities worried that further decline of transit would diminish the competitive advantages of their central cores over more peripheral areas in terms of business services and manufacturing. And middle-class suburbanites who relied on commuter rail worried about the loss of a service that connected them to places of work, consumption, and leisure. A few precedents for capital funding from government existed, for example, municipal funds for subways in Boston and New York City, and federal funding for the Chicago subway during the Great Depression and World War II.63

These lobbying efforts came to fruition in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act (UMTA). The legislation enabled capital grants from the federal government to cover a maximum of two-thirds the capital costs of equipment and facilities for transit systems.64 Over the next decade, Washington provided more than three billion dollars, which cities used to purchase private systems, improve existing vehicles and infrastructure, and build new systems. From 1965 to 1974, the number of publicly owned transit systems rose from less than sixty to more than three hundred. Yet federal funding alone did not solve transit’s woes, as ridership across the country continued to decline in the years following the passage of the act in 1964.65

More dramatically, a few cities used new federal funding to construct rapid transit systems. The idea that transit operating in its own right-of-way could best compete with the automobile and the nation’s growing expressway network constituted a major impetus for such large-scale, expensive transit systems. Postwar rapid transit was often debated within the wider context of desires for regional government and planning. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), approved by area residents in a municipal referendum in 1962, took advantage of federal funding after 1964. Although the original push for BART came from downtown business interests, it was also supported by politicians, the media, and residents, who believed that rapid transit could improve the growing region’s traffic congestion, especially following the end of streetcar service across the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland during the mid-1950s. When BART opened in 1972, it made use of unproven, space-age technology designed by aerospace firms in an attempt to create a more modern transit riding experience. This reliance on unproven technology led to cost overruns and technical problems, but BART quickly became a key part of the San Francisco Bay area’s distinctive urban landscape.66

The other new major system developed in the nation’s capital. The Washington Metro originated from ideas within planning circles during the 1950s to build a small rapid transit system in conjunction with a larger network of automobile freeways. Inner-city residents feared the damage that the controversial Three Sisters Bridge over the Potomac River as well as other freeway plans would have on their communities and the local environment. They pushed for a larger rapid transit system as an alternative to the expressway web. The eventual 100-mile Metro system faced challenges, including a period of stalled capital funding from expressway proponents before a congressional vote stopped the logjam. The first leg of the system opened in 1976 with subsequent sections opening during the next three decades. Despite initial ridership numbers that were lower than originally projected, Metro historian Zachary Schrag argues that the project embodied admirable goals of Great Society–era liberalism: the value of the public realm and the belief in the ability of government to improve the daily lives of its citizens.67

Federal funding since the 1960s has had a mixed legacy. Both contemporary scholars and historians looking back at the program are critical. For example, they question UTMA’s endorsement of rapid transit systems, which often had ridership numbers far lower than initial projections that were used to promote such networks. An early articulation of this argument came from John Meyer, John Kain, and Martin Wohl in their The Urban Transportation Problem (1965). Published soon after President Johnson signed UTMA and based on quantitative analysis, the study criticized transit funding from an economic perspective.68 Promoters of the Washington Metro had naively argued that ambitious ridership projections would mean that fares alone could cover all operating and even some capital expenses, a belief that became untenable with inflation during the 1970s. But others, such as Schrag, believe that quantitative critiques overlook the more qualitative benefits that public funding for transit in general—and rapid transit more specifically—has given cities. Schrag cites the positive impact of the Metro on Washington, where rapid transit has reduced the city’s reliance on cars, freeways, and gasoline, created more sustainable developments, and improved the mobility of residents—especially those who choose or are unable to own a car because of personal finances, age, or disability.69

The 1970s marked a turning point for transit in the United States. Transit historian Brian Cudahy has even suggested that the decade saw the beginning of a “transit renaissance” in the United States.70 In statistical terms, the long decline of annual passengers since the late 1920s (with the exception of World War II) ended in 1973, although per capita rides continued to decline. This resurgence arose from many factors: growing ecological consciousness from the environmental movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, revolts by citizens against the negative consequences of urban freeways, energy crises, and general disillusionment with the dominant car culture and other problems in American cities. To those searching for an alternative to the automobile, transit seemed like a viable solution to various urban issues, from redevelopment to social equity. Federal subsidies also influenced transit’s reversal of fortunes. By the 1970s, funding from Capitol Hill that began in the previous decade started to make its mark. Major rapid transit systems in San Francisco, Washington, and Atlanta opened for use. 71 In 1973, Congress listened to expressway protesters and authorized cities to use funds for transit projects that had been earmarked for the Interstate Highway System. These funds failed to go as far as expressway dollars. Whereas federal funds covered 90 percent of expressway projects, Washington provided only four dollars for every dollar spent by local authorities for transit.72 Federal funds also began to provide operating subsidies for transit the following year, with passage of the National Mass Transportation Assistance Act.73

Since the 1980s, numerous cities have built light rail transit (LRT) systems. With LRT, vehicles operate on lines with dedicated rights-of-way but power is supplied by overhead wires instead of a third rail. LRT requires lower capital costs and ridership levels compared to heavy rail systems, and LRT projects have become more common than capital-intensive heavy rapid transit systems such as BART and the Washington Metro. Escalating construction costs and a more restrictive environment of federal funding for capital projects is one motivation for LRT’s rise, which began in the early 1980s.74 In a development that has proved fascinating to the historian, nostalgia and heritage have also contributed to the popularity of rail transit developments since the 1980s. Cities have kept or built “heritage” streetcar lines (or cable cars in San Francisco) along downtown streets with tourist dollars in mind. When the first LRT line in the United States opened in 1981, it was called the “San Diego Trolley,” despite little similarity between the new line and the trolleys that served the city until the late 1940s. Most passengers today have no personal memory of riding streetcars, and so LRT and heritage lines are commonly associated with a vibrant urbanism of the early-20th-century American city rather than the more negative streetcar sentiments and experiences held by many people at the time.75 The place of the past within current transit branding demonstrates just one example of why the history of mass transit matters today.

Discussion of the Literature

Urban mass transit has been a focus of academic historical research since the 1960s. Sam Bass Warner Jr. produced the first major academic work on the subject.76 He examined the connections between changing forms of transit technology (namely horsecars and electric streetcars) and residential growth in the Boston suburbs of Roxbury, West Roxbury, and Dorchester. Relying on sources such as censuses, land deeds, government reports, and local histories, Warner focused on the impact street railways and other institutions—as well as the choices of individual builders and residents—had on the metropolitan landscape. He also paid attention to the relationship between commuting and the geography of class, as he noted the overwhelmingly middle-class nature of the new suburbs in contrast to the higher proportion of poorer residents concentrated in the inner city. Warner, writing during the era of suburban “white flight” and the transformation of the inner city through urban renewal, defined this process of suburban–inner city segregation by class as “the central event of the 1870s–1900 era.”

Historical research on mass transit history continued during subsequent decades. Such interest developed as part of the growth of urban history during this time, as scholars sought to uncover the historical roots and wider contexts of housing issues, racial segregation, and economic inequality that came to the surface in American cities during the postwar “urban crisis.” In the wake of rising concern over air pollution, energy use, and the impact of automobiles on the urban fabric, several works focused on the historical factors that had led to the rise and fall of mass transit (and related, the rise of urban automobile use). Increased attention to transit also followed federal funding starting in the 1960s.77 Brian J. Cudahy has looked at the issue from a national perspective. Other authors have selected single cities—Scott Bottles on Los Angeles or Paul Barrett on Chicago, for example—as their case studies or took a comparative approach in order to emphasize how such processes unfolded in different locales. A common thread running through much of this work emphasized the technological choices behind various transit forms and the political relationships among private transit providers, local governments, and various interest groups.

A growing body of work by urban historians surveys the impact of suburbanization on American life since the 19th century.78 The connections between suburbanization and mass transit, along with the growth in automobility and road building, serve as major aspects of the work. Clay McShane used an innovative approach to examine the impact of transportation patterns on urban life.79 He argued that the rising popularity of the automobile in the early 20th century derived from changing social perceptions of the street as traffic corridors rather than public spaces, a trend that had begun with the railway and mass transit in the 19th century. Peter Norton built on this approach to uncover the highly contested nature of the street in American cities as different interest groups, including mass transit operators and users, fought for or against its transformation via the automobile.80

More recently, the influences of environmental history and cultural history have made their mark on the study of mass transit. Clay McShane and Joel Tarr have focused on an integral part of the horsecar that historians had previously ignored: the animal that powered the vehicle. They show the essential role that horses had on not only mass transit, but also the wider processes of change in the industrial American city. David Nye’s work on electricity has emphasized the need to consider the creation of social meaning as key in understanding the influence of the electric streetcar and other transit technologies. To Nye, the electric streetcar emerged as part of a constellation of technologies at the turn of the 20th century that influenced the transition to the modern American city based on consumerism and spectacle. Recent scholarship has also focused less on the elite decisions made within corporate boardrooms and political offices and more on the daily experiences of transit passengers. Robin Kelley and others have conceptualized the transit vehicle as a contested public space in which the practices of racial and gender inequality in everyday life were reinforced and challenged. Others, influenced by a growing emphasis on the user within the history of technology and mobility studies, have examined how unfavorable experiences of transit may have influenced former passengers to purchase automobiles.

While the dynamics of mass transit during the 19th and early 20th century has received a fair amount of attention from scholars, the subject’s more recent history has received far less attention. For instance, broad histories of mass transit in the United States rightly emphasize earlier eras when more Americans used transit per capita, while giving much shorter accounts of transit since the mid-20th century. To give one example, no extensive study examines San Francisco’s BART—one of the largest megaprojects of the 1960s and 1970s—from a historical perspective. Fortunately, historians are beginning to focus more attention on mass transit during the eras after World War II. Leading this trend is Zachary Schrag’s fine work on the Washington Metro, which has brought a postwar perspective to the literature on subways by Clifton Hood and other historians.81 Public concern about environmental sustainability, alternative transportation forms and energy sources, and the consequences of an automobile-based lifestyle suggest that research on more recent transit history will continue to grow.

Primary Sources

Historians of mass transit use a variety of primary sources to understand issues related to the topic. Such breadth reflects the fact that the study of mass transit requires knowledge of both technical matters and social dynamics, since both elements are interconnected. The voices of elites—politicians, company executives, and technical experts—are often found in reports, trade publications, government records, and other official documents. Uncovering the thoughts and behaviors of ordinary people (whether they be users, observers, or workers) is more challenging but can be gleaned from newspaper reports, literature, and photographs and other forms of visual art as well as the census and other quantitative sources. Scale is a further consideration in the study of mass transit, as transit may be approached from a national to a local perspective. Depending on the research question, scale influences the types of sources used by the historian.

Historical Tables presented in the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) annual Public Transportation Fact Book is a good place to begin research on general statistical trends. Information dates to 1890 for some categories and draws from the census and APTA records. George Mason University is home to the American Public Transportation Association records. The collection, featuring materials related to APTA, its predecessor organizations, and the Institute for Rapid Transit, is arranged in seven thematic series from meetings and publications to local transit files. Industry trade publications are also excellent sources for understanding mass transit developments. These magazines are usually devoted to a specific transport mode or the industry more generally. A short list of publications includes: Street Railway Journal (published 1884–1908); Electric Railway Journal (published 1908–1931); Bus Transportation; Bus World; Motor Coach Age/Motor Coach Today (published 1950–2003); Mass Transit; Passenger Transport; Metro; Headlights; National Railway Bulletin; Railway Age (published 1856–present).

Several institutions contain historical information on mass transit at a national level. The National Transportation Library of the Department of Transportation features digitized sources with an emphasis on statistical, technical, or policy documents. The collection is more useful for the study of the recent past since a majority of its documents date from the late 20th century to the present. The Transportation Research Board operates TRID, a massive search database that covers more than one billion transportation documents, including conference proceedings, technical reports, books, and journal articles related to transit. More than thirty institutions across the United States form the University Transportation Centers program. These centers often feature strong transportation libraries, such as the Harmer E. Davis Transportation Library of Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

Local collections—archives, museums, libraries, and other repositories—are essential for historical research on mass transit in a specific city or region. These collections often feature reports, meeting minutes, and other documents related to local transit activities. For example, the New York Transit Museum houses an extensive collection of materials related to the transit history of the New York metropolitan area. The Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive—operated by the Los Angeles Metro transit authority—caters to research devoted to Southern California’s transportation history. Since transit held a prominent place in public debates and daily life during the 19th and 20th centuries, local newspapers are also excellent sources for research on significant developments as well as more quotidian matters related to local transit history.

Further Reading

  • Barrett, Paul. The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900–1930. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
  • Cudahy, Brian. Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: A History of Urban Mass Transit in North America. New York: Fordham University Press, 1990.
  • Hood, Clifton. 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
  • Jackson, Kenneth J. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.
  • McShane, Clay. Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
  • Norton, Peter. Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.
  • Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880–1940. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.
  • Post, Robert C. Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.
  • Schrag, Zachary M. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Warner, Sam Bass. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870–1900. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.


  • 1. Kenneth J. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 31, 28.

  • 2. Brian Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: A History of Urban Mass Transit in North America (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990), 60–61.

  • 3. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 33.

  • 4. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 34.

  • 5. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 8–10.

  • 6. Glen E. Holt, “The Changing Perception of Urban Pathology: An Essay on the Development of Mass Transit in the United States,” in Cities in American History, edited by Kenneth T. Jackson and Stanley K. Schultz (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1972), 325.

  • 7. Robert C. Post, Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007), 14–15.

  • 8. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 35.

  • 9. Joel Tarr and Clay McShane, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 61–62.

  • 10. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 64–65.

  • 11. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 13.

  • 12. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 19, 14.

  • 13. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 63; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 39.

  • 14. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 70–71; Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 14.

  • 15. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 1, 14.

  • 16. David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880–1940 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 89.

  • 17. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 22; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 106.

  • 18. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 14–15.

  • 19. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 92–94.

  • 20. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 5.

  • 21. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 64–71.

  • 22. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 24.

  • 23. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 27–33.

  • 24. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 27–31.

  • 25. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 103.

  • 26. Nye, Electrifying America, 86.

  • 27. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 41, 48.

  • 28. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 108.

  • 29. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 48.

  • 30. Nye, Electrifying America, 90–91.

  • 31. Robert Fogelson, Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880–1950 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 16; Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 48.

  • 32. Fogelson, Downtown, 55–60; Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 84–87.

  • 33. Clifton Hood, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. Centennial Edition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004).

  • 34. Fogelson, Downtown, 20; Nye, Electrifying America, 112; Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier, 113.

  • 35. Sam Bass Warner Jr., Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870–1900 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962), 22.

  • 36. Nye, Electrifying America, 96–97.

  • 37. McShane, Asphalt Path, 23–25.

  • 38. Warner, Streetcar Suburbs, 3.

  • 39. Nye, Electrifying America, 132.

  • 40. Clifton Hood, “Changing Perceptions of Public Space on the New York Rapid Transit System,” Journal of Urban History 22, no. 3 (March 1996): 308.

  • 41. Nye, Electrifying America, 137.

  • 42. Robin D. G. Kelley, “‘We Are Not What We Seem’: Rethinking Black Working Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South,” Journal of American History 80 (1993): 103.

  • 43. Tarr and McShane, Horse in the City, 79.

  • 44. Blair L. M. Kelley, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy V. Ferguson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

  • 45. Hood, “Changing Perceptions,” 319–321; Donald F. Davis, “North American Urban Transit, 1890–1950: What If We Thought about It as a Type of Technology?” History and Technology 12 (1995): 318–320.

  • 46. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 152.

  • 47. David W. Jones, Mass Motorization + Mass Transit: An American History and Policy Analysis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 33.

  • 48. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 67.

  • 49. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 66–67.

  • 50. Paul Barrett, The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900–1930 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), 96–105, 221.

  • 51. Peter Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 8–11.

  • 52. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 69–70.

  • 53. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 98; Post, Urban Mass Transit, 68, 83.

  • 54. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 4.

  • 55. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 151–153; Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 188–190.

  • 56. Zachary M. Schrag, “‘The Bus Is Young and Honest’: Transportation Politics, Technical Choice, and the Motorization of Manhattan Surface Transit, 1919–1936,” Technology and Culture 41 (January 2000): 51–79.

  • 57. Davis, “North American Urban Transit,” 315.

  • 58. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 119; Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 163.

  • 59. Sarah K. Frohardt-Lane, “Race, Public Transit, and Automobility in World War II Detroit,” PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2011.

  • 60. David W. Jones Jr., Urban Transit Policy: An Economic and Political History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1985), 80.

  • 61. Richard F. Weingroff, “Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating the Interstate System,” Public Roads 60.1 (Summer 1996). Available at:

  • 62. Christopher Wells, Car Country: An Environmental History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012).

  • 63. Jones, Urban Transit Policy, 81, 116; Cuhady, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 221; Post, Urban Mass Transit, 135.

  • 64. Edward Weiner, Urban Transportation Planning in the United States: An Historical Overview, rev. ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999), 42–43.

  • 65. Jones, Urban Transit Policy, 83.

  • 66. Peter Hall, Great Planning Disasters, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), 109–137.

  • 67. Zachary M. Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).

  • 68. J. R. Meyer, J. F. Kain, and M. Wohl, The Urban Transportation Problem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965).

  • 69. Schrag, Great Society Subway, 3.

  • 70. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 196.

  • 71. Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers, 196–197; Post, Urban Mass Transit, 147.

  • 72. Schrag, Great Society Subway, 180–181.

  • 73. Weiner, Urban Transportation, 84.

  • 74. Weiner, Urban Transportation, 99.

  • 75. Post, Urban Mass Transit, 5–6.

  • 76. Sam Bass Warner, Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870–1900 (Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).

  • 77. Brian Cudahy, Cash, Tokens, and Transfers: A History of Urban Mass Transit in America (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990).

  • 78. Kenneth J. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).

  • 79. Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

  • 80. Peter Norton, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).

  • 81. Zachary M. Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006).