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Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Inside Technology) Hardcover – April 18, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0262141000 ISBN-10: 0262141000
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In this exquisitely researched book, Norton guides us through the complex and passionate debates that cleared the street to make way for the car. These decisions made decades ago still shape our cities, so they are vital to understanding the future of the automobile, as well as its past."--Zachary M. Schrag, author of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro

(Zachary M. Schrag)

"In this exquisitely researched book, Norton guides us through the complex and passionate debates that cleared the street to make way for the car. These decisions made decades ago still shape our cities, so they are vital to understanding the future of the automobile, as well as its past." Zachary M. Schrag , author of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro



"This is rigorous scholarship the history of technology, and the history of the automobile in particular, will truly benefit from. Norton's fascinating, in-depth history shows the automotive revolution was fought in the streets, reshaping the use of public space and impacting perceptions for generations thereafter." Gijs Mom , author of The Electric Vehicle: Technology and Expectations in the Automobile Age



"We forget that the search for mobility in urban areas has also led to a massive increase in mortality. Fighting Traffic makes the linkage between mobility and mortality explicit. This is a cutting edge work in mobility history and a major contribution to urban history." Clay McShane , author of Down the Asphalt Path

About the Author

Peter D. Norton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.
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Product Details

  • Series: Inside Technology
  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (April 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262141000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262141000
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,618,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Norton is a historian of technology at the University of Virginia. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife Debby and his sons Will and Paul. He likes to uncover forgotten stories from the past, and he likes to rediscover things we thought we already knew. He wrote Fighting Traffic because he saw opportunities for both of these things in American city streets.

Customer Reviews

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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Harold Henderson on August 9, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The product description is good, except that it wasn't just an anti-automobile "campaign" exactly. Streets had always been public places, open to all comers under reasonable public regulation. Automobiles were fast, deadly, unregulated intruders in this world. Yet "common sense" was reversed 180 degrees in two decades.

Norton has documented a forgotten history that is more complicated, and more interesting, than the after-the-fact "consumer demand" theory of the right and the corporate conspiracy theories of the left. Another piece of the story is that traffic engineers weren't always automobile promoters. At the beginning, they used impartial efficiency models that showed the obvious: streetcars were far more efficient users of public streets than private cars. (Full review at [...]
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dom Nozzi on February 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City. By Peter D. Norton. Published 2008 by MIT.

Review by Dom Nozzi

This book is provocative, exceptionally enlightening, and a must-read for all pedestrian and bicycle professionals, urban designers, traffic engineers, elected and appointed officials.

Another title that the author could have considered to accurately describe the message of this book is "The Fall of the Pedestrian Street."

The book is an analysis of how the American street, its perceived purpose, and its design paradigm has been transformed over the past century. Up until the dawn of the 20th Century, the rights of and sympathy for the pedestrian were supreme. Street rules (to the extent that any existed) and street design were focused on pedestrian travel.

The emergence of the motor vehicle, however, radically changed all of this.

Motorists and auto makers united and organized in the first few decades of the 20th Century to overthrow the prevailing paradigm of the street. As motor vehicles started to be found on streets, they were quickly seen as inefficiently consuming an enormous amount of space. And combined with their horsepower, weight, and high speeds, motor vehicles were soon killing an alarmingly high number of pedestrians--particularly children and seniors.

Huge numbers of citizens at this time rallied to fight against the motor vehicle. There was a consensus that in a crash, the motorist was always at fault and the pedestrian (particularly children) were innocent. The media regularly faulted motorists for being "speed maniacs." And "murderers.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By D. D. Levinger on July 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Fighting Traffic is a remarkable and important book. Many visions of change are inspired by travel--when we are transported to other worlds of possibility. Many Americans get the bug of inspiration when they visit walkable European cities. But Norton transports us through time travel, to our own world where our public space and streets operated according to different expectations.

Norton's own inspiration came from living in the archives of photos that preceded contemporary streets. Scenes depicted therein were a stark contrast from the present-day, and he sought to understand that social transformation. In so doing, he puts on display the tangle of struggles involved in overturning the existing order of the city.

His meticulous account of this journey from 1910 to 1930 is so rich and layered with theory of cultural and technological change that there is no substitution for reading the entire book. The rise of "Motordom" is told as a story of upending the world through transformations in language and justice.

Since reading the book, I've wanted to relate the story to friends. But I find it difficult to encapsulate my experience or summarize without leaving out key parts of the story. To me, few books succeed in making use of their medium the way this one does. Put simply, there is no substitute for reading Fighting Traffic. This is not a book that could have been published as an article. Norton has truly lived in this material and he has woven it together compellingly. Reading the book completely can shift your perspective on traffic on a fundamental level.

Fighting Traffic also succeeds in providing valuable concepts that explain technological change.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on December 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
Before the 1920s, streets were shared space- pedestrians, horses and cars intermingled on major streets, while children played in minor ones. But as automobile speeds kept rising, thousands of pedestrians were slain. As a result, by the early 1920s, the automobile industry and related industries such as the auto parts, tire and rubber companies (or, as some industry representatives called them, "motordom") were on the run. Because of autos' bad public relations and the difficulty of driving in congested downtown traffic, dealers sold 12 percent fewer vehicles in 1923. And yet a decade or two later, American streets were being torn up in order accommodating the automobile, and street laws were changed to limit pedestrian access. How did this happen? Norton explains how motordom hijacked local government in a variety of ways.

First, motordom decided to take over the street safety issue. While much of the public understandably blamed cars for dead pedestrians, motordom began a public relations campaign of "blaming the victim", by mounting anti-jaywalking campaigns and persuading cities to enact anti-jaywalking ordinances. For example, Packard (one of the early car companies) built an imitation tombstone resembling some cities' monuments to child pedestrians killed by cars. However, its tombstone was marked "Erected to the Memory of Mr. J. Walker: He Stepped From the Curb Without Looking." In this campaign, motordom often had the support of local media; car companies advertised heavily in local newspapers, and occasionally used the threat of lost advertising revenue as a club to bring newspapers into line.
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