Wednesday, December 14, 2016

History of death on the streets

Torontoist's invaluable Historicist evokes the shock people felt when the automobile turned the city streets where people strolled and kids played into scenes of carnage and threat.
Books dedicated to the history of the automobile in Canada often describe Canadians’ “love affair” with the automobile in the early 20th century. Toronto newspapers of the 1920s and 1930s, however, reveal that the new vehicles were not universally embraced. Articles express widespread public anxiety about the growing number of traffic collisions on city streets and highways; many Toronto newspapers featured regular photo arrays of smashed vehicles in and around the city.
There are surely people still alive today who recall the parent or sibling killed by one of these hit-and-run drivers of the 1930s.

Last year, I heard Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's chief planner, describe how the pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets of her native Holland did not just grow up that way. In the first wave of postwar prosperity, million of Dutch purchased their first cars -- and the slaughter on Amsterdam's narrow streets was awful. It was activism and planning, not history or happenstance, that produced many of Europe's safer mixed-use urban roadways.

Here, not so much.  People, let's be careful out there.

Image: Historicist from Toronto Star files.

Update, December 15.  Russ Chamberlayne reports it was hell out there even a hundred years earlier, citing the Canadian Freeman of January 18, 1827 (as collected in Edith Firth's Champlain Society volumes on the early Town of York):
Not long ago, a poor decrepit old Scotchman, named Sandy McDougall, was trampled down by one of our bank quill-drivers in a two horse sleigh, while carrying a bucket of water across the main street of York, and his leg is so lacerated that it is feared amputation will be necessary, in order to save his life.

Several other accidents have occurred by rapid driving, and only last Sunday, as we were coming from Church, our lives were endangered, and very nearly lost, by the family of a judge in this town who drove through a whole congregation, passing men, women, horses, and sleighs with the utmost indifference as to life or property, at the rate of about ten knots an hour.
Somewhat to my surprise, the interwebs easily convert ten knots to 18.5 kph. Note that the Freeman blames the rich and entitled -- the Beemer-drivers of 1827 - for the reckless driving, and recommends that pedestrians carry a stout hickory stick.

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