Ginger Strand: Hitchhiking’s Time Has Come Again

Roundup: Historians' Take

Ginger Strand is the author of “Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate.”

ONE of the more dramatic measures to keep New Yorkers moving after Hurricane Sandy’s transit meltdown was mandatory car-pooling on bridges into Manhattan. Commuters griped about gridlock at checkpoints, and drivers were shocked by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s suggestion that they pick up strangers. Potential passengers, too, were reluctant to get in cars with people they didn’t know. Some drivers were scrambling to find riders to meet the quota. Everyone was relieved when the car-pooling “nightmare” came to an end.

But casual car-pooling should be the norm. Part of the problem is that we have become pathologically averse to anything resembling hitchhiking. Once I picked up a man who was thumbing near a broken-down car in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. My mother is still dismayed. She’d be even more upset to learn that I recently tried to hitchhike across Oakland, Calif. (Don’t call Mom; no one stopped.) She raised me to believe, as most people do, that hitchhiking was something dangerous that hippies did back in the day. It was reckless, and it’s now — rightly — dead.

But hitching didn’t die a natural death — it was murdered. And there’s little evidence that it was as dangerous as we think. Our fear of thumbing a ride stems not from the facts but from a carefully calculated publicity campaign begun by the F.B.I. and continued by law enforcement agencies across the nation. The end result is that we have largely turned our backs on the obvious efficiencies — for our wallets as well as the planet — of ride-sharing. And we have lost a way to humanize the landscape of the road....

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