The Windshield Perspective, Same As It Ever Was

us59_trench_traffic_jam_1962.jpg

From the way back machine comes this remarkable essay, "The Last Traffic Jam," about the blind spots that plague the motoring mentality. The anonymous author, writing for Time Magazine in 1947, delivers observations about road rage and the endemic violence of driving that still apply today.

The most striking passage, perhaps, is the writer’s take on the futility of adding capacity for cars:

…though postwar motorists were gradually becoming
horn-blowing neurotics with tendencies toward drinking, cat-kicking and
wife-beating, there were few who did not believe that the traffic evil
would soon be corrected. This enormous delusion has been a part of U.S.
folklore since the day of the linen duster, driving goggles and the
high tonneau.

Congress and state legislatures had appropriated millions to build super
highways on which speeders could kill themselves at higher speeds. The
traffic light, the yellow line, the parking lot, the parking meter, the
underground garage, the one-way street, the motorcycle cop and the
traffic ticket had all blossomed amid the monoxide fumes — and traffic
had gone right on getting thicker and noisier year by year.

Sixty years later, the notion that we can build our way out of congestion persists. But as parts of the country like northern Virginia bump up against the limits of that mentality, the author’s metaphorical last traffic jam — which I take to mean the moment when the absurdity of expanding roadways becomes impossible to refute — may well be within sight.

Photo of U.S. 59 in 1962: TexasFreeway.com

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