The Plan of Chicago’s proposals for widening and expanding thoroughfares expected that these improvements would greatly reduce traffic congestion and attendant problems on the city’s streets. They did not anticipate the boom in automobile ownership the United States experienced in the 1920s. There were less than 10,000 registered motor vehicles in Chicago in 1909. In 1918 this number had grown steadily to 80,000, but it ballooned to 340,000 by 1925. In Chicago, as in all American cities, the adaptation of the grid of city streets to the automobile did not keep up with this expansion. Indeed, accommodations made in the interest of efficiency and safety also had the long-term effect of encouraging urban automobile use to the point that new forms of congestion emerged. In 1925, the Chicago City Council and the Chicago Association of Commerce (in effect, the city’s chamber of commerce) commissioned a scientific study of Chicago’s traffic problem led by Miller McClintock, a traffic expert from Harvard University. In additional to the problem of congestion itself, the study addressed the growing problem of traffic accidents, and the injuries, deaths, and property damage they caused. In 1925, 649 people died from traffic accidents in Chicago, more than triple than the average yearly total today. According to the study, 72% of motor vehicle deaths recorded in Chicago in the first six months of 1926 were pedestrians. The deaths of child pedestrians was a particular concern. Children were not as familiar with the hazards posed by cars as later generations and, of course, were more prone to play in the streets than today. To grapple with this particular problem, the authors of the report created this map plotting the locations of all child pedestrian deaths and injuries in 1925. Researchers were especially interested in the proximity of these accidents to playgrounds, and they added circles to the map representing zones of “influence” of playgrounds. The map is inconclusive, however, about the correlation between playgrounds with child deaths or injuries. Rather, the accidents clustered along major streets, where both the number of cars and their speeds were higher, and in the high density neighborhoods of the city’s near southwest and northwest sides.
Much of this data was made available to the authors of the study by enhanced accident reporting recently implemented by the Chicago Police Department. The traffic study and the map not only illustrate a growing awareness of the challenges to urban planning associated with automobiles, but also the increasing sophistication of the tools and resources with which academic researchers and professional planners analyzed and addressed urban problems in the decades after the Plan of Chicago.
Barrett, Paul. The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago, 1900-1930. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.
Foster, Mark S. From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, 1900-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.
Foster, Mark S. “The Automobile and the City.” In David L. Lewis and Laurence Goldstein, eds., The Automobile and American Culture, pp. 24-36. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980.
McShane, Clay. Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
“Spot Map Showing Location of Child Pedestrian Accidents Occurring in Chicago, IL,” in Report and Recommendations of the Metropolitan Street Traffic Survey (Chicago: The Chicago Association of Commerce, 1926), p. 96. The Newberry Library, folio HE372 .C4 1926