West Side Highway photo

The West Side Highway, also known as the Joe DiMaggio Highway, extends from West 72nd Street along the Hudson River to the southern tip of Manhattan. The West Side Highway replaced the rather problematic West Side Elevated Highway, which was shut down in 1973 due to disrepair. Completed in 2001, the highway was partially damaged as a result of the September 11 attacks. The highway has had quite the storied past, with lots of debates especially concerning the proposed Westway, which would have replaced the West Side Elevated Highway. Today, most people know the highway more for its cultural sites along the route, including the Whitney Museum and Hudson River Greenway. Here are 10 secrets of the West Side Highway, including some on its contentious past.

1. It was preceded by the West Side Elevated Highway

West Side Highway
West Side Elevated Highway, photo by Steven Zane via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1925, the New York Central Railroad proposed building a highway and rail double-decked highway from 72nd Street to Canal Street, which would eliminate 106 grade crossings over 84 blocks. However, this idea was shot down due to concerns that the railroad would monopolize freight and raise prices. Instead, borough president Julius Miller proposed an elevated single-decked highway that would be wide enough for six lanes of traffic, extending the same distance as the double-decked highway plan. About 100 meat and poultry dealers were evicted from nearby markets to make way for the highway, which opened in 1929.

Although the city ultimately went ahead with the Miller plan for the elevated highway, there were a number of other ideas that gained some traction as well. Engineer John Hencken proposed a 10-story complex with a rail line underground, a road at street level, and a people mover on top (that could reach up to 21 miles per hour), topped by ten stories of apartments and offices. On top of the 10-story buildings would be the highway, accessible via ramps or elevators. A Swarthmore professor named Benjamin Battin had a similar idea for an eight-story high boulevard. Each floor would be able to carry cars and passengers traveling in different directions, with rush hour traffic occupying the top levels.