One Hundred Years Ago, Pedestrians Had Equal Rights to the Road

Public Domain. Prospect Park Archives

We have moaned many times on TreeHugger about how the auto makers, dealers and driving enthusiasts took over the road in the 1920s. How, as Joseph Stromberg writes in Vox about the history of Jaywalking:

... auto industry groups took control of a series of meetings convened by Herbert Hoover (then secretary of commerce) to create a model traffic law that could be used by cities across the country. Due to their influence, the product of those meetings — the 1928 Model Municipal Traffic Ordinance — was largely based off traffic law in Los Angeles, which had enacted strict pedestrian controls in 1925. "The crucial thing it said was that pedestrians would cross only at crosswalks, and only at right angles," [historian Peter] Norton says. "Essentially, this is the traffic law that we're still living with today."

It was so different a decade earlier. Here is a court case from 1919, that seems so sensible. I searched on it and repeat the text below, with my emphasis.

“The pedestrian and the automobile have equal rights upon the highway, but their capacity for inflicting injury is vastly disproportioned. It follows also from this that the driver of an automobile cannot be said to be using the highway within his rights, or to be in the exercise of due care, if he takes advantage of the force, weight, and power of his machine as a means of compelling pedestrians to yield to his machine superior rights upon the public highway designed for the use of all members of the public upon equal terms. Instances are almost a matter of daily occurrence where apparently the drivers of automobiles operate their machines as if they have been granted a right of way over the public highways and as if it is nothing more than the duty of the pedestrian to yield precedence to the automobile, and to stop and wait until the automobile has passed before attempting to proceed in crossing a street or otherwise using the highway. If there is anything in the argument of priority, man was created before the automobile, and, to paraphrase a quotation from Holy Writ, man was not created for the automobile, but the automobile was created for man. Automobiles have no monopoly of the public highways, nor any priority of right in their use.” O’down v. Newnham, 13 Ga. App. 220, 226, 231, 80 S. E. 36.