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Getting Around the Metropolis

The late nineteenth century was a period of great innovation for public transportation in American cities. To some extent, necessity was the mother of invention. Rapid urban growth, both in population and territory, made it increasingly difficult for persons who needed to cross town in their daily business to do so. Horse-drawn omnibuses came into use in the middle decades of the century to alleviate the difficulties of travel, but these contributed to public sanitation problems. Ultimately, entirely new technologies took over, such as cable cars, electric trolleys, and elevated railroads. The profusion of new types of vehicles and transport infrastructure, however, also contributed to urban congestion. In Chicago, where so much activity was concentrated in the central business district, the problem was particularly acute. The established radial pattern of the railroad mainlines fanning out from the city to its hinterland also linked the heart of Chicago to its suburbs, but contributed to the concentration of traffic downtown. The resulting congestion, pollution, and safety hazards caused, in the words of the Plan of Chicago, "the irritation of the nerves." Those who could afford to escape this congestion did so either permanently by moving their residences to the suburbs, or temporarily by seeking recreational opportunities in the countryside.



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