Transportation is one of my favorite topics here at The New Localization. It’s so basic and yet it’s such an economic, environmental, social, and political heavyweight. It has everything to do with the design of our cities. As late as the 1970s, we Americans were still dreaming of new and innovative ways to move people from Point A to Point B, but fresh ideas today seem a bit harder to come by.
A few weeks ago I penned what I considered a clever narrative about the rise of the automobile to the point of our present-day near complete dependence upon it. In that post, I made the assumption that the automobile earned its preferred status by out-competing all other modes of transportation in the hearts and minds of the American people and our policymakers. Well today I take up my (virtual) pen once again to tell you that in making this seemingly safe assumption, I mistakenly left out of this narrative a chapter of our public transportation history so dripping with drama and intrigue that when I found out about it this past week I could hardly sleep soundly at night. It is the story of the humble electric streetcar (also known as the trolley, tram, or urban rail), the undisputed king of public transportation in the early part of the twentieth century. Continue reading