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  1. Rye N Flint August 4, 2021

    Levittown, New York, is a pleasant collection of Long Island bungalows that sprouted between 1947 and 1951. It’s become popularly known as the “first suburb,” which is not quite true—there have always been places on the urban periphery where those who could afford transportation lived in a comparatively pastoral setting, away from the noise, congestion, and pollution of the city. The rich always had rural estates, and trains and streetcars made homes with gardens available to the upper middle class.

    But Levittown was among the first postwar communities that established the idea of the middle-class suburb as we knew it in the second half of the 20th century: a car-centric community built around automotive access. By the 1950s, the increasing affluence of the American family and the declining cost of the automobile made this postwar suburban dream possible for even the average worker—though not for many minorities who were systematically excluded. White Americans could now drive far further, in a reasonable commute time, than had ever been possible with transit. And transit companies did little to serve these fast-growing new communities.

    Like most of these postwar suburbs, Levittown had no meaningful transit to speak of. The nearest Long Island Rail Road station was well outside the town; its service was limited and its trains elderly and dilapidated. Those who worked in Manhattan, 30 miles away, were expected to drive. Since most households were single-car, people—usually women—were pretty much trapped in the house when the car was gone.

    In the popular history of postwar urban development, blame for the decline of the streetcars and interurbans is often placed at the feet of National City Lines, the company owned by General Motors, Firestone, and others in the auto industry that bought out many local streetcar companies to convert their operations to rubber-tired, GM-made buses. But the main issue was not the technology change—it was the decline in transit service, which happened everywhere, whether or not NCL bought the local company.

    In the biggest cities, the radius from downtown accessible within an hour—generally considered the limit for daily commuting—by transit was fully developed by World War II. Cars dramatically extended that radius, and made it very hard for conventional transit to compete. The Pacific Electric’s relatively speedy “Air Line” from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica still took an hour. To the San Fernando Valley, it took an hour and 23 minutes. Increasing congestion on the roads that interurban trains shared with cars only made the problem worse.

    https://getpocket.com/explore/item/why-did-america-give-up-on-mass-transit-don-t-blame-cars?utm_source=pocket-newtab

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