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Urban Mass Transit: The Life Story of a Technology

Overview

This history of mass transit vividly illustrates the technological and social struggles that have accompanied urbanization and the need for an efficient and cost-effective means of transportation in cities.

From the omnibus and horsecar in the 1830s to the renaissance of urban mass transit at the turn of the 21st century, Robert C. Post depicts mass transit as a technological system that provided an essential complement to industrialization, ...

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Overview

This history of mass transit vividly illustrates the technological and social struggles that have accompanied urbanization and the need for an efficient and cost-effective means of transportation in cities.

From the omnibus and horsecar in the 1830s to the renaissance of urban mass transit at the turn of the 21st century, Robert C. Post depicts mass transit as a technological system that provided an essential complement to industrialization, urbanization, and, ultimately, to the rise of consumer culture.

At the heart of the story is the streetcar, a conveyance that played a central role in the development of all U.S. cities and towns. Once dominating the urban landscape in towns and cities throughout the United States, the streetcar has all but disappeared. Post traces its evolution and demise, debunking the urban myth that the downfall of the electric streetcar was directly attributable to the corporate malfeasance of General Motors and others from the automotive world.

Post concludes with a meditation on the prospects for mass transit in a postmodern society that must face up to the contradictions of privatized mobility and the reality of dwindling natural resources.

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Editorial Reviews

Lexington Quarterly

Urban Mass Transit is meant to be a short introductory text, but readers thoroughly familiar with the subject will also find it both enjoyable and useful, for Post has made interesting observations about how and why transit developed in the ways in which it did which many of us may have not thought of before.

Choice

Post has done an excellent job, using stories, photographs, sketches, and facts to construct a fascinating historical account of innovation. An appealing work for the general public as well as students and others with interests in public transportation.

Urban Land
A useful overview for those seeking a better understanding of the history—and future prospects—of urban mass transportation in the United States.

— Tony Reevy

Transfers
Urban Mass Transit then works on three levels. For newcomers to the topic, it offers a basic introduction. For those who think they know the field, it offers complications and ideas for future studies. And those who do not much care about streetcars can still learn from Post's more general ideas about how to study the history of technology. Though the book questions the concepts of progress and success, it is an example of both.

— Zachary M. Schrag

Urban Land - Tony Reevy

A useful overview for those seeking a better understanding of the history—and future prospects—of urban mass transportation in the United States.

Lexington Quarterly - Michael R. Weinman

[An] enjoyable read... that... belongs in most public transportation reference libraries.

Transfers - Zachary M. Schrag

Urban Mass Transit then works on three levels. For newcomers to the topic, it offers a basic introduction. For those who think they know the field, it offers complications and ideas for future studies. And those who do not much care about streetcars can still learn from Post's more general ideas about how to study the history of technology. Though the book questions the concepts of progress and success, it is an example of both.

Icon - Rudi Volti

Well-illustrated and engagingly written... historians of technology, urban sociologists, and trolley aficionados will all make new discoveries while reading it.

IA: The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology - John McConnell

For a casual student of transportation history, this is the ideal book to put many of the small parts of information picked up over the years into a more cohesive whole. However, it would also make an excellent text for a college survey course on urban transportation history.

Choice

Post has done an excellent job, using stories, photographs, sketches, and facts to construct a fascinating historical account of innovation. An appealing work for the general public as well as students and others with interests in public transportation.

From the Publisher

"Narrating the life story of urban mass transit in the United States, Post focuses on streetcars, trolleys, light rail, and similar transport and pays significantly less attention to buses and subways. His primary theme as he explores the mass transit developments in the 20th century concerns the ways public and decision makers evaluated the costs and benefits of various transit choices, both in strictly economic terms and in terms of wider societal concerns, including noise, pollution, and even aesthetics."

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SciTech Book News

"Post offers Urban Mass Transit--The Life Story of Technology, a well-written book that traces the development of the trolley and streetcar to today's light rail transit (LRT). The book includes material on urbanization and transit via horsepower; introduction of mechanical means to run cable railways; electrification and the rise of the trolley; motor vehicle developments and trolley use decline; and rapid transit expansion and the revival of mass transit. The book includes a time line, glossary, and list of resources. Post has done an excellent job, using stories, photographs, sketches, and facts to construct a fascinating historical account of innovation. An appealing work for the general public as well as students and others with interests in public transit. Recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals."

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Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801893155
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 5/27/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert C. Post is a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. He is the author or editor of more than a dozen books on the relationship between technology and culture, including Street Railways and the Growth of Los Angeles, The Tancook Whalers: Origins, Rediscovery, Revival, and High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, 1950-2000, which was also published by Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Chronology ix

Introduction 1

1 Before Electrification 13

2 The Trolley Ascendant 35

3 Competition 65

4 Rail or Rubber? 91

5 Heavy and Light Rail 123

6 Conclusion 143

Afterword: But What About Judge Doom? 149

Glossary 157

Bibliography 165

Index 171

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