A Little Bit of U.S. Transportation History

by Frederick TransIT Community Relations Manager. 0 Comments

There is a lot of history behind how the current transportation infrastructure in this country came to be. As a relative newcomer to the field of transportation demand management, I am finding all of this endlessly fascinating, and thought I’d share, in bits and pieces, via The Confident Commuter.

You could almost say that Lewis & Clark were America’s first “commuters,” as they traversed uncharted territory from east to west from 1803-1806. Before these brave pioneers travelled westward, the main way of getting around and moving goods/providing services was via natural waterways, which meant that most population centers sprang up along the coastal areas. Of course, horses and small wagons were useful on what rudimentary roadways did exist, but in terms of great numbers of people moving about the country, the options were quite limited.

It only took a couple of decades before railroads began to make a huge impact on delivering products – and people – between more far-flung cities and towns sprouting up. By 1869, the first coast-to-coast railroad was completed, and with the arrival of electric streetcars in the early 1900’s, Americans had relatively fast access to most everything they needed. In 1902, a mere 100 years after Lewis and Clark set out on their great adventure westward, Nelson Jackson and Sewall Crocker were the first to cross the United States by automobile.

The tides had turned, away from vehicles and travel modalities that accommodated many people at once, such as trains and streetcars, to smaller, personally-owned vehicles which accommodated single occupants or small groups, such as families. By 1930, more than half of all American families owned an automobile.

In order to adjust to the changes this brought about, the U.S. government had to write and enforce traffic laws, as well as fund road construction and improvements. So , fewer than 100 years ago, our nation took a turn toward the transportation infrastructure which we now know, and never looked back…or did we? Future blog posts will give a bit more history, and then start to look at ways we’re re-examining commuting and travel modalities in the U.S..Stay tuned!!

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