Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic is pure brain candy for anyone with a bone or ten to pick about infrastructure and active transit. On our tendency to describe vehicular traffic as an amorphous blob:
[We] think of traffic as an abstraction, a grouping of things rather than a collection of individuals. We talk about “beating the traffic” or “getting stuck in traffic,” but we never talk – in polite company, at least – about “beating people” or “getting stuck in people.” The news lumps together “traffic and weather” as if they were both passive forces largely outside our control, even though whenever we complain about it, we do so because we’re part of the traffic. […] We say there is “too much traffic” without exactly knowing what we mean. Are we saying there are too many people? Or that there are not enough roads for the people who are there? Or that there is too much affluence, which has enabled too many people to own cars? (7)
On pedestrians, forever in the crosshairs:
In 1720, traffic fatalities from “furiously driven” carts and coaches were named the leading cause of death in London […] while commentators decried the “Controversies, Quarreling, and Disturbances” caused by drivers “contesting for the way.” Meanwhile, in the New York of 1867, horses were killing an average of four pedestrians a week (a bit higher than today’s rate of traffic fatalities, although there were far fewer people and far fewer vehicles). Spooked runaways trampled pedestrians underfoot, “reckless drivers” paid little heed to the 5-mile-an-hour speed limit, and there was little concept of right-of-way. (9)
And on bicycles, forever vehicles without a home to call their own:
After a couple of false starts, the “bicycle boom” of the late nineteenth century created a social furor. Bicycles were too fast. They threatened the riders with strange ailments, like kyphosis bicyclistarum, or “bicycle stoop.” They spooked horses and caused accidents. Fisticuffs were exchanged between cyclists and noncyclists. Cities tried to ban them outright. They were restricted from streets because they were not coaches, and restricted from sidewalks because they were not pedestrians. (10)
From Vanderbilt, Tom. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way we Do (and What it Says About Us). Toronto: Knopf, 2008. Print.