betacity


a short history of the road lobby
February 27, 2011, 5:38 am
Filed under: betaCITY, Cities, Transit | Tags:

Excerpted from Newman and Kenworthy’s essay Ten Myths of Automobile Dependence —

The politics of transportation is dominated by an acrimonious conflict between road and rail lobbies. The most controversial story of this sort concerns the road lobby which dismantled the urban electric rail systems in U.S. cities. In the 1930s a holding company, National City Lines, which was made up of interests from oil, tyre and car industries, bought the private electric streetcar systems in 45 U.S. cities and then closed them down (Klein & Olson, 1996). According to Snell, the reasons for this were clear: ‘one subway car or electric rail car can take the place of from 50 to 100 automobiles’ (Snell, 1974). In 1949 a Grand Jury ultimately convicted General Motors, Standard Oil of California, Mac Trucks, Phillips Petroleum and Firestone Tyres on a criminal indictment of anti-trust conspiracy, but the damage had been done. Los Angeles was the worst affected with 280 million passengers a year being pushed into buses and cars and within a few decades there were four million cars in LA and the era of automobile dependent U.S. cities had begun. (Snell and others (e.g. Holtz Kay, 1997) also highlight the role of the so called ‘National Highway Users Conference’, pioneered by General Motors’ Alfred Sloan which, in 1932, brought together automobile, oil and other highway interests to lobby for road funds and an end to mass transit funding. The result was the U.S. Highway Trust Fund through which the U.S. government spent $1,845 million on highways between 1952 and 1970, while rail systems received only $232 million.  The establishment of this fund and its massive spending on the U.S. Interstate Highway System set in place automobile dependent trends that have continued to grow steadily to the present day. Between 1981 and 1995 the spending on Federal Highways in the U.S. grew from $9 to $19 billion whilst transit stayed at $4 billion. It is not hard to see why U.S. cities continued their rapid car use growth in the 1980’s.)

The Ten Myths of Automobile Dependence, by Peter Newman & Jeff Kenworthy

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[…] behavior to force them to use cars in lieu of trains?  This is not a cute hypothetical:  corporations replaced street cars with buses in order to increase car and road use during the 1930s in many large American cities. […]

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[…] behavior to force them to use cars in lieu of trains?  This is not a cute hypothetical:  corporations replaced street cars with buses in order to increase car and road use during the 1930s in many large American cities. […]

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