PORTAGE PATHWAYS: 15 mph speed limit, no ball playing on Kent streets

Published:

The rules of the road were spelled out for Kent motorists and pedestrians alike a century ago, including a 15 mph speed limit "on any of the streets, avenues or highways of the village." And ballplayers were forbidden from taking their games to the streets.

The traffic ordinance approved by Village Council in June 1914 applied not only to automobiles, but all conveyances, including "any cart, dray wagon, hackney coach, carriage, buggy, motorcycle or bicycle."

But it was automobiles, still a relative luxury for most Kent residents 100 years ago, that were the focus of the new law, which was approved the same week that a 9-year-old boy was killed by a car while crossing the street at the downtown square. Whether the fatality prompted council's action is unknown.

Automobiles first appeared on the streets of Kent as the 20th Century dawned. P.W. Eigner owned the first one, a Toledo Steamer, braving mostly unpaved roads to travel in the village and surrounding communities. Gasoline-powered machines came later.

The first commercial vehicle in town was a delivery truck owned by grocer Harry Longcoy, which had a side crank and high wheels "similar to those of a buggy," according to historian Karl Grismer.

Kent's first traffic ordinance went on the books in 1910. It included an 8 mph speed limit in the business district, with a 15 mph limit elsewhere in the village. Horse-drawn vehicles were to be granted the right of way.

The ordinance approved four years later extended the 15 mph speed limit throughout town; motorists involved in traffic accidents were liable to a charge of reckless driving if they were found traveling above it. Vehicles were to travel at half the speed limit while crossing a main thoroughfare and making turns.

Travelers in "the built up portion of the village" were cautioned to make sure that they could turn, stop or change course safely and reminded not to stop with the left side of their vehicle to the curb. Vehicles were to remain on the right side of the street, with slower moving ones to "keep as near as possible to the curb."

Motor vehicles were to be equipped with lights -- three white lights and a red light on the rear -- that were to be used from 20 minutes after sunset to 20 minutes before sunrise. Motorcycles and bicycles were to display a white light on the front.

The ordinance also included provisions for streetcars as well as horse-drawn conveyances, which were to be parked at right angles facing traffic.

Pedestrians were warned to look both ways while crossing a street and reminded not to cross behind any vehicle or streetcar. They also were forbidden to cross the downtown square diagonally -- no jaywalking. (That changed for a brief period in the 1960s when a "scrambler" system enabled pedestrians to cross diagonally at Main and Water streets at the sound of a bell.)

The final section of the traffic ordinance was directed at youngsters: "Playing ball in the streets is more or less dangerous, the placing of stones or other objects in the streets for bases is objectionable; for this and other good and sufficient reasons the game of ball in the streets and avenues of the village is forbidden."

Any violation of the traffic ordinance was deemed to be a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $50. That would be the equivalent of about $1,200 today.

The Kent Courier termed the new law "one largely important measure" and urged "every driver and every pedestrian ... (to) study it carefully so that Kent may quickly adapt itself to sensible traffic regulations."

With new cars advertised in the Kent Courier from $550 for a Model T Ford to $950 for a five-passenger Buick -- $13,000 to $22,000 today -- chances are that the new law most likely affected more affluent residents. And young ball players, too.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.