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With its 24/7 transit system and a subway system that dates from 1904, New York City seems like a city of mass transportation. Its residents expect a lot, always pushing for better and increased service, more transit lines, and more bike lanes, but sometimes its worth taking a step back and remember where we came from.

The 1930s heralded the automobile era in America. Broadacre City, Frank Lloyd Wright’s automobile-driven suburban utopia was presented in 1932. Robert Moses, that other car proponent, became Chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (legally known today as the MTA) in 1934 and started the onslaught of bridge and parkway construction.

But in addition to these roadways that still exist today, the car was embedded into many more things in New York City’s urban life. More than blaming everything on Moses, we should accept that cars were embraced across many institutions and built into the architecture of everything from museums, to zoos, to transit terminals. Here are 10 forgotten examples of car-centric history in New York City:

10. Original Penn Station’s Internal Driveways

Photo by Walter Chandoha

Even the original Pennsylvania Station, this paragon of transportations stations, accommodated the automobile. One reason it’s not often pictured in old photographs is due to the impressive circulation design of the station as a whole, which separated traffic flow in the station. The cars entered through internal driveways–31st Street for passengers getting onto the trains, 33rd Street for those who had disembarked. As described by Hilary Ballon in the book New York City’s Pennsylvania Station, the driveways were “twice as wide as the outside street” and “sloped down to the train concourse level.”

Pennsylvania Station Driveway-McKim Meade and White-Traffic Way-NYCImage via Museum of the City of New York

See the Remnants of Penn Station in our next tour this summer.

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1 Comment

  1. Dennis Harper says:

    I rather liked on-the-edge driving on the old West Side Highway. At least when traffic was light. It seems like it had no curves, only angles. This means your going straight and the road suddenly diverts 10, 20, 30 degrees to a new direction. If you had Corvette like tight steering it wasn’t too bad. If you had normal or loose steering you’d have to turn the wheel abruptly before you reached the change in direction. I believe it helped me fine tune my ability to avoid accidents on normal roads. It kept you sharp.

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