This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

How Phoenix solved its traffic problem in the 1950s


Like most people, I love cars, and I hate traffic. Sitting in a car, inching along, is just torture for me. I haven't seen a lot of traffic, especially in Phoenix, doing what is called a "grid lock" - which means that the streets are so jammed in all directions that there's no getting out of it, no matter where you turn, but I remember it happening a lot when I lived in Los Angeles.

Whenever I see photos of cars from the 1950s, they're in a perfect situation, maybe driving along a scenic highway, or being admired by people in an ad. But the reality of places like Phoenix after WWII, and up through the fifties is that the cities really hadn't adapted to cars. And the horrific traffic started back when cars were first invented.

Double-parking in Phoenix in the 1930s, next to the "No Double Parking" sign.

Time-travel with me to Phoenix in the 1920s. Cars are becoming so common that parking has becoming nearly impossible. Efforts are being made to keep the traffic flowing, but the cars just keep jamming. By the 1930s and '40s Phoenix has done all kinds of things, from installing traffic lights (along with police officers who direct traffic), no U-Turn signs (just as much ignored then as now), parking meters, you name it. And nothing really worked.

The solution was to give the cars a place to park, and the best example of this was a shopping center built way up on Camelback Road called "Uptown Plaza". It must have been a little bit of heaven. You could drive right to it, there was plenty of free parking, and you didn't have to get caught in the awful gridlocked traffic in the center of the city.

This idea really caught on with a place called, appropriately enough, Park Central. It must have been amazing to see what seemed like acres and acres of free parking. Instead of getting stuck in gridlocked traffic, you simply drove there, parked your car, and strolled in to do your shopping.

After that, the next major breakthrough was an enclosed mall, with air conditioning, like Christown. It not only had the major advantage of a lot of free parking, away from the gridlock, it was a giant space that didn't require you to go out into the nasty heat of Phoenix to go from store to store. We take places like that for granted now, but I like to imagine walking into an enclosed air conditioned mall for the first time, after having parked my car for free without having to deal with the gridlock downtown. It was wonderful.

Thank you for time-traveling with me.

Image at the top of this post: Uptown Plaza in the 1950s, northeast corner of Central Avenue and Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona. It's still there, and there's still free parking.



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