Street seen: PBS features 10 roads that changed the nation

Some connected, some divided, but each impacted the American way of life

As someone who grew up near the intersection of the Lincoln Highway and historic Route 66, the Mother Road, and as someone who has driven hundreds of thousands, maybe a million or two miles of American roads, I was curious this past week when I learned just hours before it was to be broadcast that PBS was showing 10 Streets that Changed America.

“Discover how streets have connected the nation, divided communities, and changed the way Americans live, work, and shop,” PBS said in its news release. 

Period-correct vehicles, such as seen here on the Lincoln Highway, were featured with each of the streets profiled | PBS photos

For the record, here are the 10 streets featured, presented as in the broadcast in chronological order:

•  Broadway, New York City

• Boston Post Road, Boston to New York City

•  St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans

•  The National Road, Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois

•  Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York

• Woodward Avenue, Detroit

•  Lincoln Highway, New York to San Francisco

• Greenwood Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma

• Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles

• Kalamazoo Mall, Kalamazoo, Michigan 

The National Road was the first federally funded infrastructure project

New to me were the stories of St. Charles Avenue, the Eastern Parkway and Greenwood Avenue, and Woodward Avenue was featured for a reason I didn’t expect.

RELATED:  Maine museum considers a better mouse trap, and then some

To recount why the streets were included in the program:

•  Broadway, based on the Native American trading route north along the ridge of Manhattan Island, was the first street with mass transit. It was interesting to learn that the Dutch, the first immigrants to settle on the island, built a wall at the south end of the trail (think Wall Street) to keep out the British. 

• The Boston Post Road was the mail route that carried the written fire that ignited the American revolution.

•  St. Charles Avenue led overcrowded New Orleans residents to Carrollton and was built for a commuter railroad system.

•  The National Road was the first such infrastructure project paid for by the federal government, and passed through several state capitols, ending what was then the capitol of Illinois.

•  The Eastern Parkway was built as a tree-lined urban oasis and part of a proposed Brooklyn green belt.

•  Woodward Avenue was the first modern highway — with the first paved mile, the first 3-color traffic lights, and the first to provide room for 8 lanes of automobiles.

•  The Lincoln Highway launched the nation’s eagerness for road trips.

• Greenwood Avenue, while literally on the other side of the tracks, was home to a prosperous African-American business center that was burned to the ground in 1921 when angry white residents stormed in and killed somewhere between 30 and 300 people. The area later was further obliterated by the interstate system.

RELATED:  Car movie of the day: ‘Bullitt’

•  Wilshire Boulevard provided car-accessible shopping and buildings designed to make drivers want to stop and see — and to shop. It inspired the phenomenon of the shopping mall.

•  Kalamazoo Mall was an experiment in 1959 that closed downtown streets to cars in hopes of restoring the traditional downtown shopping area. More than 200 cities copied the idea. But people were reluctant to leave their vehicles and walk and, by 1998, all but two blocks of the mall were reopened to motor vehicles.

The show was informative and even entertaining, and I recommend you find a way to watch it – a PBS re-run or your favorite streaming service. 

Wilshire Boulevard was lined with stores for shoppers in cars (plenty of parking was provided behind those stores)

But — isn’t there always a but? — I likely would not have picked the same 10 streets — for example, Route 66 would certainly have been high on my list, and I might have picked the roads ridden by Paul Revere and Sybil Ludington, and I’d likely include the Oregon Trail. 

My guess is that if you asked a dozen people for their lists, the overlap rate might be only around 50 or 60 percent.

And that’s OK. As Chevrolet points out in its advertising, we Americans like to find our own roads.

1 comment

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

1 Comment

  • Wordell Fornortener
    July 15, 2018, 12:09 AM

    I’ve been on three of the listed roads. The National Road. Woodward Avenue. Wilshire Boulevard.

    National Road is known as State Route 40 through Ohio, and I was a regular on it in Vandalia, Ohio, north of Dayton as I worked at the Dayton Int’l Airport nearby. SR 40 also runs parallel to I-70 north of I-70. Both run east – west.

    Woodward Ave. in the late middle to late 60’s as the American muscle car phenomenon grew. I had been over 120 MPH as a passenger a few times on that street. 10 feet tall, bulletproof, 17 years old in possession of a vehicle with over 500 HP. Insane. Seriously lucky to be alive.

    Wiltshire Boulevard. Visited friends in Santa Ana, California early 70’s and we ended up there looking for something a friends sister insisted she must have…and found it in a store on Wiltshire. No, I don’t remember what the hell it was.

    These roads bring back smiling memories. Thanks for the article.

    REPLY

Search the Journal

Latest Articles