Prior to 1936 moving around New York without
a car was a breeze. Wherever subways didn't
go streetcars did. In 1890 there were 24 major
street railway companies in NYC. The streetcar
system peaked in 1919 at 1344 miles of tracks,
and carried more passengers than both the elevated
lines, the subways and automobiles combined.
Trolleys were such a ubiquitous part of the
urban experience that Brooklyn named their beloved
baseball team, The Dodgers, after the reputed
skills of the residents at dodging them. Under
Fiorello H. La Guardia's mayorship street cars
were removed from New York City to make more
room for private automobiles; This is possibly
the worst mayoral mistake in New York City's
history. The last streetcar operation in the
city was the Queensboro Bridge Local, which
ended service under Mayor Robert F. Wagner on
April 6, 1957. Virtually nothing is left of
this vast and intricate transportation network.
Even the Transit Museum does not have a single
Trolley car in its collection. Trolleys have
completely disappeared from our landscape. Only
a few archeological fragments remain.
Cut to New York City at the turn of the millennium.
It has been 70 years since a new subway tunnel
has been dug. Pedestrians are routinely hit
by cars. Although the geography and meteorology
is ideal for cycling, riding a bike in New York
is so dangerous that people are right to think
you're crazy if you ride a bike here . Which,
when you consider the potential of this non-polluting
transportation mode is really what's crazy.
Our sidewalks have been narrowed, and our streets widened again and again, all to increase traffic flow for privately owned automobiles, whose average speed through Manhattan is less than 5 MPH on a good day. But aside from inefficient average speeds through parts of Manhattan there is a much more fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.
The stats are pretty grim. 40 pedestrians are
hit by cars every day. 5 die every week. And
although hardly anyone cycles besides messengers,
food delivery guys, and some hardened commuters,
cycling deaths are up 57% from 1996 to 1997
and up another 75% in 1999. Pedestrians and
cyclists don't have seat belts or air bags to
protect them, yet they are involved in more
than half of all automobile fatalities. Clearly
our streets and sidewalks have to be made safer
for the people who use them.
The fact that this has been going on for a
Hundred years since Henry Bliss walked off a
trolley on the evening of September 13 1899
and was struck by a speeding taxi so hard that
his skull was completely crushed is stupid.
We are so used to the sense of endangerment
on our streets that we don't question it. We
operate from the assumption that our public
servants our looking out for us, when nothing
can be further from the truth. Our public servants
for the last hundred years have been hell-bent
on transforming our public space from one who's
main design element is a human being to one
who's main design element is a car. Our public servants for the last hundred years have been hell-bent on transforming our public space from one who's main design element is a human being to one who's main design element is a car. A movement from “carchitecture” back to Architecture if you will and the philosophical foundation for citystreets.