Mumford's The Culture of Cities (1938) has some harsh things so say about the centralising effect of the railways and points out how they cut through countryside and cities with an imperial force. The railway in Edinburgh grabbed half of Princes Street Gardens and when I cycle through the old cuttings in the suburbs, now cycle paths, there is a sense of how divorced they are from the surrounding topography – they slice through it – as much as motorways and over-passes do .
Mumford saw the possibilities of the motor car opening up parts of the interior to regionalisation, near water sources and on hills where railways could not go.
“But it is not power alone that has brought with it the possibility of a new industrial, and therefore an essentially different urban, structure. The same holds for systems of transportation and communication. The motor car has decentralized transportation as radically as the transformer and the motor have decentralised the applications of electric energy. Instead of the train, which increased in economy up to a point with the number of cars attached, we have begun to employ, since 1910, the motor car, the motor bus, the motor trucks: a more flexibly used individual unit, which can start or stop, take the high road or the branch road, at its own convenience, without waiting for other cars. And instead of the railroad line, with tended to centralize transportation along the main arteries, and which was more or less confined to the water level routes, at grades of two per cent or less, the motor car has brought into existence the new highway network. Thus the motor car can penetrate the hinterland in a more effective and economic fashion than the railroad could: for economy in railroading depends upon loading the tracks to maximum capacity and confining transportation, as much as possible, to the main routes. Moreover, the motor car can climb steep grades and penetrate hilly country with a freedom unknown to the railroad; and it makes an effective connecting link with the airfield and the airplane. . .
The motor car has potentially opened up new frontiers of human settlement, even as the airplane has extended the outposts of civlization to the very poles. For the uplands, which motors reach so easily, are the seat of the fast-running young rivers and waterfalls, the new sources of power; and by means of motor car and hydro-electric plants areas that have been hitherto remote and unculitvated can now support well-balanced industrial communities.”
So that's the motor vehicle opening up the wilderness in the Highlands of Scotland, for instance, though I'd say that the “well-balanced industrial communities” aren't the money spinners up there (excluding the guys tending hydro-electric stations) so much as the driving tourists.
So in 1938 Mumford had an heroic vision of the internal combusters bringing industry and wealth to the remoter areas, with consequent regional development and the building of small cities among hilly landscapes. He didn't envisage then what mass ownership of the car would do to the existing old cities. Twenty years later he smelt the fumes of mass transport in The Highway and The City (1958) and warned his British readers not to repeat the American experiment:-
“There is, however, one matter that – particularly since the Beeching report on railways appeared – I regret not having dealt with in greater detail: the shrinkage and growing paralysis of the railway systems, and the idiotic notion that the best way to modernize transportation is to wipe out the branch lines of those once fast and efficient carries, the so place the entire burden of transportation upon the private motor vehicle, further covering this error by the even greater blunder of building motor expressways wholesale. This is a major threat to the sound design and well-being of cities.
On this matter, our disastrous American experience with mono-transportation by automobile, which has already gutted out the interiors of our great cities, should be of some service, if only your planners and administrators would take note of the dire results. Unfortuntely, your leaders in transportation are now,,, extravagantly planning to imitate all our mistakes...
Your cities.. will be transformed into extravagant parking lots; . . .you may dismantle the one kind of transportation that would, if properly organized, rescue from this fate: the railroad.
..The congestion that railroad transportation produced in metropolitan areas was excessive: hence the great promise of the automobile forty years ago was that, with its flexibility of movement and its ease in climbing grades that the railroad balked at, it would round out the rail system and produce complex regional transportation network that would provide for a more even distribution of population and industry, instead of the prevailing “apoplexy of the heart and paralysist at the extremities.
Those of use how eagerly advanced this possibilty.. made one miscalculation; we did not realize that dynamics of finance would concentrate on the newer mode of transportation, adroitly giving rise to the religious culture of the motorcar: and that, in the face of common sense, the transportation experts would attempt to do away with the railway and attempt to perform its functions even within heavily populated areas, by means of private motor vehicles...
The current policy of wiping out every other means of transportation than the motor ar and the airplane has been fatal both to the habitability of cities and to economy and efficiency in transportation..
[Preface to the English Edition]
Mumford goes to lament the colonisation of the cars spoiling the old cities - parking in the Place Vendome in Paris and spoiling the townscape of Amsterdam and keeps exhorting Europeans to learn from the American grim experience of “midtown garages, arterial highways, and overpasses and underpasses... “ and to pay heed to the law “the more facilities are provided for the motorcar, the more cars appear”... He lists various measures against the colonisers but says they are palliatives. “The main issue is that the right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar, in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city. We still habitually sacrifice all the special values of the city to the function of motor transportation, as during the nineteenth century they were sacrificed to the railroad and the factory.”
No city can solve its transportation problem if it neglects the greatest self-propelling vehicle of all: the pedestrian. A hundred thousand pedestrians can cover half a mile in a faction of the time that sixty-six thousand motor vehicles, each carrying one and a half persons … can carry them. And at the end of their walk, they would, even if they all suddenly decided to sit down, require a similarly minute fraction of the motorcar's wasteful parking street.” (1961)
Mumford has nothing to say about cycling except that the mild congestion that many cyclists caused should have been a warning what motor vehicles could do.
The last essay in The City and the Highway was written in 1957 and is a horrified response to how transportation that relies on the car has distorted lives and cities:-
"In transportation, unfortunately, the old-fashioned linear notion of progress prevails. Now that motorcars are becoming universal, many people take for granted that pedestrian movement will disappear and that the railroad system will in time be abandoned; in fact, many of the proponents of highway building talk as if that day were already here, or if not, they have every intention of making it dawn quickly. The result is that we have actually crippled the motorcar, by placing on this single means of transportation the burden for every kind of travel. Neither our cars nor our highways can take such a load. This over-concentration, moreover, is rapidly destroying our cities, without leaving anything half as good in their place.
….What's transportation for? This is a question that highway engineers apparently never ask themselves: probably because they take for granted the belief that transportation exists for the purpose of providing suitable outlets for the motorcar industry. To increase the number of cars, to enable motorists to go longer distances, to more places, at higher speeds, has become an end in itself. Does this over-employment of the motorcar not consume ever larger quantities of petrol, oil, concrete, rubber, and steel, and so provide the very groundwork for an expanding economy? Certainly, but none of these make up the essential purpose of transportation. The purpose of transportation is to bring people or goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within a limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers a change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes.
Diffusion and concentration are the two poles of transportation: the first demands a closely articulated network of roads—ranging from a footpath to a six-lane expressway and a transcontinental railroad system. The second demands a city. Our major highway systems are conceived, in the interests of speed, as linear organizations, that is to say as arteries. That conception would be a sound one, provided the major arteries were not overdeveloped to the exclusion of all the minor elements of transportation. Highway planners have yet to realize that these arteries must not be thrust into the delicate tissue of our cities; the blood they circulate must rather enter through an elaborate network of minor blood vessels and capillaries.
[I really just want to quote the whole of the essay]
we must keep most of the proposed expressways in abeyance until we have done two other things. We must re-plan the inner city for pedestrian circulation, and we must rebuild and extend our public forms of mass transportation. In our entrancement with the motorcar, we have forgotten how much more efficient and how much more flexible the footwalker is. Before there was any public transportation in London, something like fifty thousand people an hour used to pass over London Bridge on their way to work: a single artery. Railroad transportation can bring from forty to sixty thousand people per hour, along a single route, whereas our best expressways, using far more space, cannot move more than four to six thousand cars: even if the average occupancy were more than one and a half passengers, as at present, this is obviously the most costly and inefficient means of handling the peak hours of traffic. As for the pedestrian, one could move a hundred thousand people, by the existing streets, from, say, downtown Boston to the Common, in something like half an hour, and find plenty of room for them to stand. But how many weary hours would it take to move them in cars over these same streets ? And what would one do with the cars after they had reached the Common? Or where, for that matter, could one assemble these cars in the first place ? For open spaces, long distances, and low population densities, the car is now essential; for urban space, short distances, and high densities, the pedestrian.
Every urban transportation plan should, accordingly, put the pedestrian at the centre of all its proposals, if only to facilitate wheeled traffic. But to bring the pedestrian back into the picture, one must treat him with the respect and honour we now accord only to the automobile: we should provide him with pleasant walks, insulated from traffic, to take him to his destination, once he enters a business precinct or residential quarter. Every city should heed the example of Rotterdam in creating the Lijnbaan, or of Coventry in creating its new shopping area. It is nonsense to say that this cannot be done in America, because no one wants to walk.
There is no purely local engineering solution to the problems of transportation in our age: nothing like a stable solution is possible without giving due weight to all the necessary elements in transportation—private motorcars, railroads, airplanes, and helicopters, mass transportation services by trolley and bus, even ferryboats, and finally, not least, the pedestrian. To achieve the necessary over-all pattern, not merely must there be effective city and regional planning, before new routes or services are planned; we also need eventually—and the sooner the better—an adequate system of federated urban government on a regional scale.
Until these necessary tools of control have been created, most of our planning will be empirical and blundering; and the more we do, on our present premises, the more disastrous will be the results. In short we cannot have an efficient form for our transportation system until we can envisage a better permanent structure for our cities. And the first lesson we have to learn is that a city exists, not for the constant passage of motorcars, but for the care and culture of men.