It has long been popular to appeal to the pre-automotive past as a pedestrian golden age. Narratives are compelling because people can be motivated to action when they can play a role they understand. Nevertheless, when we make decisions about the form of our cities, we should avoid telling tall tales.
So let's be clear. Life in cities before the car was no pedestrian paradise.
Consider the historical photo below of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The flow of traffic was very heavy with horse-drawn vehicles, making it difficult for pedestrians to cross. Note the accumulation of pedestrians on the corners, waiting for an opportunity to push their way through:
[Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street, New York, N.Y.]
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division