Old New York In Photos #120 – Queensboro Bridge 1917

Upper Level Of The Queensboro Bridge – 1917

This view was taken by an official city photographer June 26, 1917 documenting New York’s infrastructure. The Queensboro was the first cantilever bridge over the East River. The photo is unusual because it shows a roadway devoid of vehicles on the upper level of the Queensboro Bridge. In the center of the bridge are its railway tracks.

The bridge was officially renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2010 to honor the former New York City mayor. Few residents use the unpopular sobriquet and the Queensboro is more popularly called the 59th Street Bridge.

It may come as a surprise to modern New Yorkers, but trains and trolleys did once run across the entire length of the Queensboro Bridge. Trains were considered the most effective way of moving large numbers of people over the bridge. When opened March 30, 1909, the hope was that the Queensboro Bridge could transport upwards of two million Queens residents in and out of the city via its mass transit facilities.

Traffic & Congestion

Traffic management on the bridge has always been a struggle. Upon its opening to discourage vehicles using the bridge, a toll was put in place: ten cents per vehicle and three cents for leading a horse. An average of 3,500 vehicles per day were using the bridge in 1909. Mayor William Jay Gaynor, a former judge and probably the city’s greatest mayor, put the kibosh on tolls in July 1911.

The city’s anticipation of commuters utilizing the rapid transit options of the Queensboro Bridge quickly dissolved. Subway and trolley traffic remained relatively light. By the late 1920s it was decided to expand the vehicular roadway to nine lanes.

In 1925 vehicular traffic on the bridge was 18 times higher then when the bridge was opened in 1909.

Eventually, the BMT and IRT switched to subway tunnels under the East River instead of using the bridge.

in April 1957 pedestrians were shut off from the bridge in the name of safety and economy. The last trolley also made its way over the bridge that month.

In 1959 the daily average number of vehicles crossing was 105,000.

In the 2000s, bridge access has been given again to pedestrians and cyclists. Congestion remains a hot topic in 2020 with over 170,000 vehicles pouring in and out of Queens every day. The battle of vehicles versus mass transit and pedestrians continues.

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