|About the Book|
Before the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and includedchildren at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily a motorthoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians wereMoreBefore the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and includedchildren at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily a motorthoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians were condemned asjaywalkers. In Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton argues that to accommodate automobiles,the American city required not only a physical change but also a social one: before the city couldbe reconstructed for the sake of motorists, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as placeswhere motorists belonged. It was not an evolution, he writes, but a bloody and sometimes violentrevolution. Norton describes how street users struggled to define and redefine what streets werefor. He examines developments in the crucial transitional years from the 1910s to the 1930s,uncovering a broad anti-automobile campaign that reviled motorists as road hogs orspeed demons and cars as juggernauts or death cars. He considersthe perspectives of all users--pedestrians, police (who had to become traffic cops),street railways, downtown businesses, traffic engineers (who often saw cars as the problem, not thesolution), and automobile promoters. He finds that pedestrians and parents campaigned in moralterms, fighting for justice. Cities and downtown businesses tried to regulate traffic inthe name of efficiency. Automotive interest groups, meanwhile, legitimized their claimto the streets by invoking freedom--a rhetorical stance of particular power in theUnited States. Fighting Traffic offers a new look at both the origins of the automotive city inAmerica and how social groups shape technological change.Peter D. Norton is Assistant Professor inthe Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.