History of Traffic in NYC

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moment streamed down the stairway and onto the cars. A new era had begun in the history of New York City. More than 110,000 people swarmed through subway gates that evening and saw the station and platforms for themselves. New Yorkers were so excited by their discovery of the IRT that they coined a phrase to describe the experience: "Doing the subway" the night took on a carnival atmosphere, like New Years Eve. Many couples celebrated in style by putting on their best clothes going out to dinner, and then taking their first subway ride together. Some people spent the entire evening on the trains, going back and forth from 145th street to city hall for hours. Reveling in the sheer novelty of the underground, these riders wanted to soak up its unfamiliar sights and sensations for as long as possible. In a few instances high-spirited boys and girls took over part of a car and began singing songs, flirting, and fooling around. The sheer exuberance of opening night proved to be to much for others: although they bought their green IRT ticket and entered the stations like everyone else, these timid passengers were so overwhelmed by their new surroundings that they did not even attempt to board a train. All they could do was stand on the platform and gawk.

This popular hoopla climaxed three days later, on Sunday, October 30. Most New Yorker still worked six days a week and had only Sundays to themselves. On this particular Sunday, almost one million people chose to go subway riding. The IRT was like a magnet. Attracting groups from outskirts of Brooklyn and queens two or three hours away. Unfortunately, the IRT could accommodate only 350,000 people a day and many people had to be turned away. The line to enter the 145h street station stretched for two blocks and people grew so frustrated that police reserves had to be summoned to break up fights and restore order

The world was changing above ground as well. Cars soon became the ultimate American possession. In 1908 Henry Ford introduced the Model T. by 1915 the millionth Model T rolled off the assembly line. Most of these Model T's ended up in New York. As late as 1910 urban residents were 4 times as likely to own cars than rural residents and New York, after it's unification in 1898, was the worlds largest city. As Model T's came only in black, who knows, maybe this was the start of black being chic in Manhattan? Probably though, it had more to do with hiding the soot all the dirty engines spewed out.

By 1911 the public and legal perception of streets changed from a place of social discourse and commerce to the movement of goods and people. There was literally a battle for the streets. When the city's pedestrian fatality rate soared in 1911, the New York Times claimed that it was because the New York State Superior Court had voided legislation aimed at hit and run drivers. The court had ruled that requiring drivers to stay at the scene of an accident violated their constitutional protections against self-incrimination. This sounds as crazy to us today as many of our current policies about automobile use are going to sound to future generations of this city. An interesting note about the model T is that they didn't have front brakes until 1924. As cars generate most of their stopping power from their front brakes it is safe to assume that had the model T had front brakes earlier it would have saved the lives of many pedestrians. To this day 99% of automobile safety research is focused on the drivers ability to survive crashes with little or no thought given to people outside of the cars even though in urban areas like NYC they represent more than half of fatalities from automobile crashes.