Roads were not always the domain of cars.
In the early 1900s, “pedestrians were walking in the streets anywhere they wanted, whenever they wanted, usually without looking,” Peter Norton, a historian at the University of Virginia, told me for a recent article about the creation of the crime of jaywalking.
Obviously, that didn’t last long. As cars began to spread, accidents increased, and automakers embarked on an aggressive campaign to redefine who belonged on the roads, eventually restricting pedestrians to crosswalks.
It worked so successfully that, today, few people are aware that city streets were once a bustling mix of pedestrians, streetcars, pushcart vendors, and children at play — an environment that Norton likens to a city park.
Look through old photos, though, and the transformation is stark. Here’s a look at US cities, then and now.