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Traffic and Urban Congestion: 1955-1970

Uploaded by sentiencenerd on Oct 19, 2001

In 1960, Great Britain still had no urban freeways. But with the ownership of private cars becoming ever more common, the problem of congestion in British cities was unavoidable. Investigating the possibilities of freeways as alleviators of big-city traffic jams, the government-sponsored Buchanan Report was pessimistic:

... the study shows the very formidable potential build-up of traffic as vehicular ownership and usage increase to the maximum. The accommodation of the full potential is almost certainly beyond any practical possibility of being realized. There is thus no escaping the need to consider to what extent and by what means the full potential is to be curtailed.1.

In the decades preceding this study, Americans faced much the same problem with transportation in their cities. But the American plan for dealing with urban congestion in the automobile age was very different. In 1954, President Eisenhower suggested that "metropolitan area congestion" be "solved" by "a grand plan for a properly articulated highway system." In 1956, the House Committee on Public Works urged "drastic steps," warning that otherwise "traffic jams will soon stagnate our growing economy."2.

Confronting the same problem--urban traffic congestion--the British and the American governments responded with radically different solutions. In Britain, congestion in cities was understood to mean an excess of automobiles entering cities. The problem, to British planners, was to reduce relative reliance on the private car in order to allow better movement of traffic. But in the U.S., planners interpreted congestion as a sign that roads were inadequate and in need of improvement. In the face of traffic jams, the British tended to say, "too many cars!" while the Americans would say, "insufficient roads!"

U.S. urban transportation policy was shaped by this tendency, from its origins in the 1940s until the mid 1960s. This essay makes a twin argument. First, the way in which U.S. urban transportation policy was formulated in the 1940s and 1950s precluded the British solution. Regardless of the relative merits of the British and American approaches, discouraging the use of the automobile was not an option American policy makers could consider. The American political culture could consider large scale domestic projects only with the cooperation of the private sector, and in the U.S. this meant largely automotive interest groups.

The second point is that American urban transportation policy retreated from this position in the 1960s. By the 1970s U.S. policy was much more like Great Britain's. In 1975, official...

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Uploaded by:   sentiencenerd

Date:   10/19/2001

Category:   American History

Length:   7 pages (1,551 words)

Views:   1949

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