I just got finished drafting my chapter on transportation history. Had a lot of fun researching it, with books like Clay Mc Shane’s, Down the Asphalt Path”, M.G. Lay’s “The Ways of the World”, Earl Swift’s “The Big Roads”, Frank Rowsome’s “Trolley Car Treasury, William Middleton’s ”The Interurban Era”, Stephen Goddard’s “Getting There”, Marc Levinson’s “The Box” and John Stilgoe’s “Metropolitan Corridor”. Ir was actually Tom Lewis’ “Divided Highways” that inspired me to drop back and refocus my book from general environmentalism to specific transportation.
In my readings, I found out about something that was never around in my lifetime. The Steam Dummy. I just barely, because the last one closed in 1962 less than a hundred miles from where I was born. The Stem SDummy is a tiny steam locomotive, disguised like a streetcar, designed to pull streetcar trailers along tracks. It predated the electric streetcar by decades, as the steam engine was perfected by 1850. The reason it was disguised like a streetcar was to avoid scaring horses. Horses were of course scared by steam locomotives, so of course they would be scared by a smaller one driving down rials in the middle of the street.
Never mind that it was actually the noise and the smoke of steam locomotives that was scaring the horses, the locomotives stayed disguised as streetcars. Wouldn’t want to risk scaring the horses any more than they already were.
This reminded me of the current mania for delimiting crosswalks in stamped brick or actual brick. The construction, maintenance and ideological concerns of brick crosswalks aside, I’d like to point out theta the brick crosswalk is much like the steam dummy. I t is meant to connote soothing continuity to the skittish walker, to invite them out on the verges and intersections of busy highways. Brick sidewalks and crosswalks are the entirety of some towns walkability plans, and de rigeur in many others.
Never mind that it is actually the large, fast and heavy cars, useless parking lots and long stretches of the same blocks with countless curb cuts and no option to cross the highways that are keeping walkers off the streets. Wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of a solitary jogger feeling less than welcome.
And so walkers in the suburbs and new place in America dart back inside, and get in their cars. To make traffic worse.