Wednesday, May 11, 2016

This is probably what 1891 looked like

It's fascinating to see Smithfield Street from Fourth to Forbes to Fifth Avenues in downtown Pittsburgh right now. A major street reconstruction project has it partially shut down except for bus traffic, with only a piece of it open to car traffic with a forced right turn onto Forbes to access a nearby parking garage. The bus lane itself is narrowed considerably. What motorized traffic exists is moving very slowly.

The net effect of this is greatly increased jaywalking, and indeed pedestrians walking lengthwise in the travel lanes. Bus traffic is continuous but sporadic, with minutes between trips at mid-day service levels, and long sight lines so that you have a full minute, maybe more, to see a bus coming. You can walk nearly a block in the bus lane before having to step out of the way. Of course, bikes are everywhere, headed both directions, even in the one-way section that only buses can use. Similarly, people cross Smithfield on long diagonals, whatever suits their need.

Back in the 1890s, this was normal. This is what streets did. It was easy enough to pause for the occasional passing horse and wagon, or a trolley car if the street was so equipped, but in general, whatever way you wanted to walk, or bike, you did. Bikes and pedestrians co-existing in the street got along just fine. We did not get cars in any number until the late 1910s, and jaywalking rules only emerged in the 1920s.

I captured a couple of photos, but to appreciate this properly, you have to stand on a sidewalk along this section and watch the movement of people for a few minutes. It would be even better if someone could capture video, then speed it up by 2x or 3x.

Shutting down auto traffic brings 1891 back so quickly!

1 comment:

  1. Want to see what foot traffic was like on a city street over 100 years ago? You have a brief opportunity in Pittsburgh right now.