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!

Driving in old-time Phoenix like pushing a shopping cart


Whenever I look at old photos of Phoenix I wonder about the confusion. Vehicles and people seem to be going every which way. To me, they're supposed to stay to the right, right?

Well, yes, and no. In the photo above, of Washington in 1905, one would presume that there was going to be a collision. Some vehicles seem to be going the "wrong way". But don't worry, what we can't see in an old photo like this is how slowly they were going, really not a whole lot faster than a walking pace.

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To help picture this, just imagine pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store. Personally, I try to stay to the right, but if I see something to the left, I go the "wrong way" down the aisle. There's no reason for me to go all of the way to the end of the store, and then turn around so that I get get over. I'm simply not going all that fast. If I did that, I'd probably get strange looks from people, who would see me making U-turn after U-turn. I suppose it's possible to have a collision at 1-2 miles per hour, but I've never seen one. And I figure that it would be more embarrassing than damaging to the cart.

So at a walking pace, this type of driving made perfect sense for old-time Phoenix. As cars got more popular, and faster, it became dangerous, and drivers were told to keep to the right. This was a very difficult thing for people to remember, and was the cause of much confusion as the decades rolled on. Nowadays I rarely see anyone driving down the wrong side of the road, even in my quiet suburban neighborhood, and if someone were to do it on a major street or freeway, it would be deadly.

By the way, a human walks at about 2-3 miles per hour, and the walking pace of a horse is just slightly faster. So no one in that photo was going anything close to 10 miles per hour. And when you drive through a school zone nowadays, you're going 15. Now imagine going way less than half of that. The needle on the speedometer of your car would barely move. And if you did that, you'd be fine in old-time Phoenix, anywhere on the road.