London and Paris grow prodigiously in the early modern period. London may have quadrupled its population to some 400,000 by 1650; by 1645 Paris expands to some 500,000. Such rapid expansion required new forms of transport, first elite coaches and carriages, but rapidly hackneys, diligences and omnibuses.
Medieval streets, often no more than two meters wide, could ill handle the growing number of vehicles. Coaches produced newly configured urban environments–broader streets, sidewalks, and bridges like the Pont Neuf designed for vehicular traffic rather than pedestrian commerce.
The first coach was brought to England for Elizabeth I in 1564, but coaches quickly spread through the aristocracy and gentry. By 1636, there were said to be some 6000 in London; Paris was over-run as well. Gentlemen of indifferent fortunes were said to “starve their families at home to make a great figure abroad” since coaches made “a publique difference between Nobilitie, and the Multitude.”
Coaches and carriages were a new technology that separated the privileged from unwanted encounters with the heterogeneous crowds and filth that filled city streets. By 1619, London traffic inspired petitions complaining of the “multitudes of Coaches . . . . [such that] inhabitantes there cannott come to their howses, nor bringe in their necessary provisions . . . nor the passenger goe . . . without danger of their lives and lymmes.”
The English word coach, which appears abruptly in nearly every European language in the period, itself comes to predicate: Londoners “coach to the Exchange” in Richard Brathwait’s words in The English Gentleman (1630); “All the Gentry coach it up to the City,” says another commentator: the urban elite rode in coaches to avoid the filth, stench and noise that plagued the city streets.