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Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City (Inside Technology) Paperback – January 21, 2011
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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 [...]
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Peter Norton describes a long-forgotten aspect of the appearance of mass motoring in America, the war between motorists and pedestrians. Read morePublished 10 months ago by John Forester
Peter provides as comprehensive a history on public rights-of-way as any I've ever seen. His work is thoroughly-researched and very well-organized. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Luke H. Klipp
It was the central text in my class, and it did that job well. However, it certainly needed articles to supplement it. Not very exciting read. Read morePublished 22 months ago by PrintedWords
This is a very thoroughly researched book. Almost a third of the last part of the book consists entirely of the author's footnotes. Read morePublished on February 15, 2014 by Rex F
In 18th and 19th century Britain, Parliament passed a series of Enclosure Acts removing previously existing rights of local people to their use of the commons. Read morePublished on July 24, 2013 by Vince Graham
For those of us that recognize the American automobile as a vicious and murderous machine in the hands of a people incapable of responsibility to one another, this book is an... Read morePublished on April 28, 2013 by brewstefer
Seldom have I read a book that so profoundly changed my understanding of history. The author maintains a neutral tone, not showing bias towards or against any industry or interest... Read morePublished on March 13, 2013 by John Duval