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LunchUP: Robert Pfaff, "Historic Detroit Street Railways: Transportation Planning Approach to Decline"

LunchUP: Robert Pfaff, "Historic Detroit Street Railways: Transportation Planning Approach to Decline"

Beginning in 1922, the City of Detroit operated one of the largest and most comprehensive streetcar networks in the country. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, trolley-based service was gradually converted to diesel buses in favor of their flexibility and relatively low cost, eventually replacing streetcars entirely by 1956. Many scholars have explained the transition from streetcars to diesel buses in the US as an effect of the strength and dominance of the automobile industry, or to a conspiracy by National City Lines. This paper argues instead that a much more complex set of political, social, and economic factors facilitated a decades-long, gradual conversion from rail to rubber. The ultimate decision to switch completely was a matter of political expediency. This research paper explores almost entirely unpublished primary-source documents detailing Detroit’s conversion, with particular attention paid to broader trends of suburban migration in the post-war period, and shifts in transportation planning priorities in the City. Ultimately this paper argues against generalizations about the death of the streetcar and the strength of the automobile using examples from the automotive capital of the world.

These sessions are a response to requests from faculty and students to learn more about what’s going on in the field in an informal environment. We hope this can inspire emergent thoughts and connections that will inform our scholarship. 

Lunch is included, please bring a drink.