Travel History in Lansing 1900-1950

Copied from The State Journal – Lansing, Michigan – January 1, 1950.

Travel Was Rigorous Undertaking in 1900
Electric Trolleys, Paving Fights Mark History of Lansing
By Hal Fildey (State Journal Staff Writer)

–Commuters were few and far between in 1900. And automobiles were more scarce than commuters. If you were fortunate enough to own the grandfather of the modern chrome and steel automobile you drove in the roads that were designed for horse and buggy travel. Mud, loose gravel, deep ditches and ruts, plus the mechanical difficulties encountered with the first “horseless carriages.” all added to the headaches of the early motorist. Grandmother heated bricks in the oven – to keep the feet warm – and grandfather dug out the horsehair lap robe from the storage shed when a trip longer than five miles was planned in cold weather.
–Summertime travel was also a problem. Dressed in her Sunday best, mother could always count on dusty roads or a sudden thunder shower.
–A trip to Detroit by horse and buggy took about six days. If you had an automobile, it took about two.
–The first big advance in local transportation at the beginning of the 20th century came with the infant Lansing, St. Johns and St. Louis street railway.
–A small venture here, the company provided little actual service, but the idea was started.
–In 1901 Mayor James Hammell made the first official plea for “modernization of transportation,” when he asked the city council for an interurban electric system which he asserted was “very important to the future of this city.”
–The city got its system, the old City Electric Railway company, but its service was short-lived. In 1903, the franchise of the organization was revoked on the grounds of poor service and rundown equipment.
–With the temporary end of rail transportation, the council developed a half-hearted program to pave the city streets with crushed stone to make carriage and auto travel easier.
–Rapid growth of the city in the first five years of the century caused a group of 114 townspeople to ask a construction of a bridge over the river on Washington ave., south of Main st. to eliminate the long detour over the river in that end of town.
–The fist five years also saw the advent of brick and stone sidewalks, when the city fathers decided to replace rotting plank walks with something more durable.
–Between 1905 and 1907 there was a noticeable accent in street paving and extension. To aid in construction, the city purchased its first steamroller at a cost to the taxpayers of $2,100.
–In 1906, street rail transportation made a significant comeback with the Lansing and Suburban Traction company taking up where its younger counterpart had left off.
–The new company laid tracks on E. Michigan ave. extending to the city limits to increase service which had been previously rendered by earlier companies.
–This company, which during a shakeup changed its name to the Michigan Electric Railways, was to remain as the chief transportation unit in the city until streetcars went out of favor in buses in 1933.
–Along with the advance in community transportation, road building also reached a fever pitch. A survey taken in 1909 revealed that the city had 103 miles of streets and some 16 miles of sidewalks. Eight and three-fifths miles of the street total were paved.
–It was around this time that the Michigan Electric Railways inaugurated their famous Owosso and Jackson interurban runs.
–Between 1909 and 1912, the city spent over $50,040 to gravel streets in many outlying areas of town, marking the first time that any significant sum of money had been spent for street improvements outside the “main” area of town.
–From then until 1916, transportation advances and street construction and repair work continued at a slow steady pace. But, with the fast growth of the city in pre-war years, Lansing citizens began flooding the council with requests for new sidewalks and curbing on streets which are now a half-century later, the main thoroughfares of the city.
–Also, and a point which can not be overestimated in significance, the automobile industry was progressing rapidly and the many new car owners hesitated to attempt the poor roads and streets.
–With Lansing fast becoming one of the new centers of the new industry, much attention was paid to the wishes of manufacturers and owners alike.
–One of the bigger problems which the auto industry was bringing, was the question of new and revised traffic ordinances.
–Typical of the laws passed in connection with these reforms were “vehicles shall be driven in a careful manner and with due regard for the safety and convenience of pedestrians . . . vehicles shall have during the period of one hour before sunset to one hour before sunrise at least two warning lamps, visible within 200 feet in the direction that the vehicle is proceeding . . . and, all vehicles shall equip themselves with a horn for the purpose of warning pedestrians and horse-drawn conveyances of their approach.”
–A survey taken in 1918 upon the request of Mayor Gottlieb Reutter, showed that the city now had 203,047 square yards of paving and 300,000 square feet of sidewalk.
–The years from 1920 to 1923 saw heavy agitation for additional bridges and improvement for those already in service. Again, the auto industry led in the fight to replace the many old plank crossings.
–Topping the list were new bridges for the river crossing at Elm st., the railroad crossing on E. Main st., the river crossing at Seymour ave., the river and rail crossing on Shiawassee st., the river crossing on Pennsylvania ave., and the river and rail crossing on E. Kalamazoo st.
–In 1924, traffic congestion at the downtown street crossings prompted the city council to authorize the installation of traffic signals to be operated from a “crow’s nest” on the corner of Michigan and Washington avenues.
–To eliminate parking problems, which the new influx of cars was bringing, time limits were established on Michigan and Washington avenues.
–By the January of 1926, Lansing had a total of 178 miles of streets, 45 of which were paved. A review of the city budget showed that the yearly sum of $79,000 was going for upkeep of the streets.
–Bridges came back into the limelight in the latter part of the year with petitions received from many Lansing citizens to put in a new Saginaw st. crossing as well as repair the antiquated Michigan ave. and the old Logan st. crossings.
–The response to the demand, new structures were placed over the Grand river at Grand River ave., Saginaw st., Logan st., and Island ave. Improved during the building spree were the Pennsylvania ave. viaduct and the Logan st. viaduct.
–The 1927-to-1931 bridge building drive carried over into new street additions. With a spurt around 1930, the city street total was raised to 190 miles, 71 of them paved.
–With the increasing perfection of motor-driven vehicles, a large number of Lansing citizens banded together to ask that the street railways of the city be replaced by motor coach service.
–Whether in deference to these demands or in an attempt to keep up with changing trends, the Michigan Electric Railways added a few buses. These units first saw service in 1931.
–In April of 1933, the Peoples Transit company of Muskegon founded the first bus company in the city. Two months later, the old Electric Railway folded up.
–The Muskegon organization lasted until 1925, when the City Transport company, an employe owned corporation, took over.
–As had been the case with so many of the street railways, this company was short-lived and in September of 1936, the National City Lines replaced them.
–A Chicago-owned and operated organization, the company lasted only until Dec. 1, 1938, when the present Inter-City coach lines were granted the franchise.
–Today, Lansing citizens have some of the best roads in the state. New improvements such as the Logan, Cedar st. additions, and the new Main street bridge are keeping the city in step with the nation’s leading municipalities.
–With annexation of the Everett district, the mileage total of city streets has increased to a present figure of 223,225 miles, 183,935 of which are paved.
–Street lighting improvements, runaway gutters for standing water and improved safety codes make the lot of the motorist of today, a far-cry from his counterpart of yesteryear.

Transcribed by Timothy Bowman on May 25, 2014.

bus token

bus token









the original article

the original article


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