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date: 07 July 2020

Mass Transit in 19th- and 20th-Century America 

The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Urban History
Jay YoungJay Young

Mass transit—streetcars, elevated and commuter rail, subways, buses, ferries, and other transportation vehicles serving large numbers of passengers and operating on fixed routes and schedules—has been part of the urban scene in the United States since the early 19th century. Regular steam ferry service connected Brooklyn and New Jersey to Manhattan in the early 1810s and horse-drawn omnibuses plied city streets starting in the late 1820s. Expanding networks of horse railways emerged by the mid-19th century. A half century later, technological innovation and urban industrialization enabled the electric streetcar to become the dominant mass transit vehicle. During this era, mass transit had a significant impact on American urban development, suburbanization, the rise of technological networks, consumerism, and even race and gender relations. Mass transit’s importance in the lives of most Americans started to decline with the growth of automobile ownership in the 1920s, except for a temporary rise in transit ridership during World War II. In the 1960s, when congressional subsidies began to reinvigorate mass transit, heavy-rail systems opened in cities such as San Francisco and Washington DC, followed by light rail systems in San Diego, Portland, and other cities in the next decades. As the 21st century approached, concern about environmental sustainability and urban revitalization stimulated renewed interest in the benefits of mass transit.... ...

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