Almost everyone in New York who goes to business in the morning and returns somewhere to dine and sleep in the evening, has his separate tale of woe to tell about the annoyances of urban travel. If he lives up town, along the line of the subway or the elevated, he hangs by a strap for three-quarters of an hour in going and coming; if he commutes from Yonkers or beyond, he is held up for valuable time in the tunnel or at the Harlem River; if he lives over in Brooklyn, he is squeezed night and morning in the bridge and tube jams; if he comes from across the Hudson, he is continually missing his boat. Staten Island is quite unattainable, and the back districts of Queens are not to be thought of. Rapid transit is a necessity, but somehow not yet a comfortable reality. Moving to and from the centers of business is still a vexation and an annoyance.’
The report of the Public Service Commission of New York gives the proportions of this transit question in startling figures. The surface, elevated, and subway companies of New York City in 1908 carried 1,300,000,000 passengers, or an average of 3,561,643 passengers a day. This is 66 per cent more than the total of passengers carried by all the steam railroads in the United States. Twenty per cent of this travel takes place in a single “rush ” hour, which accounts for the crowding of the cars.
This comes about from the island nature of Manhattan. There is water on three sides of it and a ridge of ground leading out on the fourth side. The man who travels to business has his choice of taking to the water or the ridge. Neither way furnishes him with very rapid transit, because the one is not easily skimmed over, and the other is always choked with people. And so for years he has been fretting and fuming over the difficulty in “getting to the office,” as he expresses it. It is all very well to boast about the greater city with its dozens of towns, its three hundred or more square miles, and its homes for everybody; but how is one to reach them from the lower city? Legislative enactment put these outlying districts under one name and government, thinking to draw them closer about Manhattan; but they are still lacking in facility of communication, in unity, in cohesiveness.
If one considers the City Hall as the hub of the city, and draws a thirty-mile rim about it to include the metropolitan districts, it becomes at once apparent that what the whole wheel needs is more spokes. That would not only make the hub and the rim accessible, but unify and strengthen the entire structure. It is not necessary that the spokes should spread out upon the surface in new avenues and streets. The Baron Haussmann extravagance of cutting wide boulevards through the heart of Paris could hardly be repeated in New York; and if it were, the new routes along the ridge, while improving the situation, would help travel in practically only one direction. They would act indirectly as feeders to the bridge entrances, and in that way perhaps facilitate traffic in another direction, yet still leave much to be desired. Surface transit has its decided limitations.
As for the East River bridges themselves, when they are all in working order, with their wide exits and entrances and their through trains, they will reach the Brooklyn side of the city quite effectively. But what will they do for travel to the far regions of Queens or Kings? The Manhattan Bridge, with its broad avenue to the sea, will furnish a speedway for automobiles only, the surface roads do not represent rapid transit in any modern sense, and the elevated roads are not (or should not be) permanent lines of travel. And yet the need for rapid transit to the outer edge of the circle and beyond is a very real one. The poor man (barring the East Sider who loves his close quarters and cannot be induced to go to the country) wants cheaper rent, more air, and more play ground for his children; the rich man wants more room too, with less noise and dust and hurry. Almost everyone wishes to get out on the score of health and expense but is kept in by the score of time. The uppermost question is one of the time-table. How many minutes does it take to reach a given place? If it takes forty-five minutes to go to Harlem and only thirty minutes to Flushing or Montclair, then the half-hour districts will receive the commuter majority.
This is not theory but fact fact in process of demonstration at the present time, as it has been for thirty years or more. In the early seventies, with only horse-cars on the side avenues, it required an hour or more to go from down town to Forty-Second Street; and during snow storms there were often several days of suspended animation, except for foot-passengers. Washington Square, lower Fifth Avenue, University and Irving places were then the residence districts, and Fifty-Ninth Street was the outside limit. At that time thousands of people lived out of town, thirty miles or more up the Hudson or over in New Jersey or Long Island, because it was easier to reach those regions by railway than upper New York by horse-car.
But a swift change came with the building of the Sixth Avenue elevated road in 1878. That made possible the reaching of Forty-Second Street from the Battery in, say, forty minutes at the most. The response from the outside districts to this invitation was immediate. The suburbanites flocked into the city, located themselves along the line of the elevated, and hung by straps morning and evening for a number of years in comparative content. Upper New York to Harlem and beyond was built up with houses, apartments, and hotels, so great was the inward rush of people wishing to live within three-quarters of an hour of the business district. Naturally the capacity of the elevated soon became taxed to the utmost. Electrifying the road, and running express trains night and morning, helped but did not fully meet the situation. Finally the subway was built, which furnished relief again. But now even the subway is overcrowded. Moreover, by its overcrowding, its time-making capacity has been reduced, and thus the very object of its building (rapid transit) has been, not defeated, but incompletely realized.
Yet once again relief has been furnished, and continues in process of being furnished. The subway has been ex-tended under the East River to Brooklyn, the McAdoo tunnels have been opened under the Hudson into New Jersey. It is now easier and quicker traveling to Long Island or New Jersey than to Harlem or the Bronx, and much cheaper living there than in upper Manhattan. Once more the adaptable flat-dweller and whilom suburbanite has responded to the new opportunity. He has no particular pride of place or love of locality. He is a business man and wants the machinery of his life to produce the best results with the least waste of energy. So he has gone out half-an-hour’s ride to the Oranges or Flatbush or Jamaica. The result is that the strain upon the up-town roads is temporarily relieved; the percentage of gain is now in favor of the suburbs rather than upper Manhattan; the tunnels are working admirably in readjusting the load, as well as accommodating the people with swift service.
Inevitably in a city like New York the hurrying crowd will follow the shortest and most direct route. It will not go around if it can cut across, and it will not waste time if it can save it. Rapid transit is something it cannot get on without and continue to transact business in the lower city. It seems impossible to secure quick service on the surface. The ferry-boats are moribund, the street railways are for local traffic only; even the bridges are comparatively speaking “short-haul” affairs, taking up considerably more time than the average person wishes to give. As for the elevated, it served its purpose for many years with some efficiency, and a great deal of noise and dirt; but it is now, or soon will be, more of a nuisance than a need. It belongs in the class and to the period of telegraph poles and overhead wires, and should be abolished or put underground. It was never hand-some, and it has never been possible to maintain decent streets and houses within the roar and shock of its passing trains. No municipal commission seeking to beautify the city could do much to lessen the ugliness of such a structure crawling through the streets. Eventually it will be taken down because the newer means of transit will outspeed it.
There is very little doubt that the tube is the solution of the suburban and long-distance travel problem. It has been demonstrated that it can be pushed through almost any kind of ground. Water, quicksand, river-silt, solid rock, do not stop it; weather conditions and surface traffic do not touch it; disputed rights of way and depreciation of property by noise and dust offer no serious menaces. It seems the ideal method of transit in New York because it can be run in any direction. Put our imaginary wheel, with its thirty- or hundred-mile rim, underground, build tubes along the radiating spokes from hub to rim, with exits at the surface wherever needed, and what surface-planned city of the world could equal New York in directness, swiftness, and ease of travel? With such a system the present annoyances of transit would vanish into thin air.
And what a united city, a far-reaching city, would form above those radiating burrows in the ground! The Greater New York which has an area three times that of London and ten times that of Paris, would then be a reality rather than a circle on the map. For people would build along the new lines of travel (just as they have been doing since the world began), and the new city would thus be knit together in a compact whole. More-over, its future growth for all time would be assured by the mere widening of the rim and the extension of the tunnels. There would practically be no limit to its expansion.
But this plan completed would mean the greatest financial and engineering venture ever undertaken by any community. It is so vast in scale that it sounds fanciful. Many years of time, thousands of human lives, millions upon millions in money, would be required for its accomplishment. Probably no one alive to-day would see its complete fulfillment. Yet it is absolutely certain that New York has even now started upon some such plan. It is perhaps groping a little blindly, winding somewhat erratically in its tunnel projects down under the rock and water, not following the exact plan of the spoked wheel; but it will find itself and eventually follow the shortest routes as it has always done. There seems nothing impossible in the venture, not even the money phase of it, which at one time looked rather dark.’ Indeed, the tunnels already pushed through, equipped, and working are the very best proofs of its possibility.
The subway was the first accomplished fact in tunnels. It was opened and operated from the City Hall to One Hundred and Forty-Fifth Street in 1904. The next year it was extended under the Harlem River, into the Bronx, and down town as far as the Battery. Its success was immediate the demand for it being demonstrated by its use. It has carried as high as nineteen million passengers in a single month, or an average of 633,000 each day. The mere fact that it is so crowded (the trains follow each other almost like the buckets in a grain elevator) is something of an argument for its speed and its comfort, as well as its necessity. The express trains average thirty miles an hour, the local trains somewhat less. The roadbed is excellent and the steel cars are commodious, notwithstanding they are often over-crowded by standing people. The air of the tunnel is hardly the free breath of heaven, but it is not discomforting, and, apparently, not unhealthful. Nor are the strident hum of the electric power and the moving-picture flickering of lights along the walls as the train rushes by more than minor annoyances. The passenger soon be-comes so accustomed to such sights and sounds that he neither sees nor hears them. Of course the subway lights were never designed as an improvement upon sun-shine, nor its electric fans put in to rival ocean breezes. The road is a substitute for an open-air road, and it is a very good substitute, especially in wet or cold weather.
Whenever an extension or connection of the subway is added, passengers immediately pour through it like some suddenly loosed head of water. The Brooklyn ex-tension under the East River was opened in February, 1908, and at once began carrying over one hundred thou-sand passengers a day. A similar use is sure to follow the projected extensions under Lexington Avenue and on the West Side. The more routes opened the more people there seem ready to use them. New ones are being built as fast as possible; but each year a hundred thousand new people come into the town and the crowd on the waiting platform is always growing.
The Hudson and Manhattan (or McAdoo) tunnels lead to the west under the Hudson River and are enterprises apart from the subway, and yet they are planned to connect with it at various points, and no doubt will eventually become a part of it. There are four tubes in the McAdoo system. Two of them pass down Sixth Avenue from Thirty-Third Street, across the city to the west at Christopher Street, and under the Hudson River to Hoboken, where they are continued down along the various railway stations to Jersey City. The other two tunnels are from the Terminal Building in Cortlandt Street to the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Jersey City. These four tubes are designed to carry a half-million passengers a day, and under stress could probably accommodate many more. Their extensions are planned as far out in New Jersey as Newark; and eventually they will supersede the ferries on the Hudson, in the same way that the bridges and tunnels on the East River have superseded the ferries there.
But another tunnel system, now nearing completion, is of perhaps larger proportions, and of more far-reaching importance to the city, than anything yet projected. This is the tunnel and terminal project of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Its two tubes under the Hudson are driven through and connected with its terminal station at Thirty-Fourth Street; the extension under the city, and its four tubes under the East River connecting with the Long Island Railroad, are completed; there are only the track system and station arrangements to be added. Then a great trunk railway will be opened under the heart of the city. The connection with the Long Island Railroad, the extension of that road through the borough of Queens, and the crossing from Long Island City to the Bronx and thus up into New England, mean exits and entrances to the east; while the tunnel under Jersey City, and the connections out beyond the Hackensack meadows to Harrison, mean exits and entrances to the west. It is a great cross-section system that will render possible such through railway traffic from the east, west, and south as has never before been known.
The cost of this has been stupendous in time, energy, and money. For several years the work has gone on with feverish haste, men succeeding men by the thousands. There has been no stint of skill, science, energy, perseverance in the face of stubborn circumstances that at times threatened defeat; and there has been no question of cost with nearly a hundred millions of dollars set apart for the completion of the project. When the system is in operation, a thousand trains a day will come in at the Thirty-Fourth Street station. The maximum capacity of all the tubes is one hundred and forty-four trains an hour. Each train is to do no more’ than discharge or take on passengers at Thirty-Fourth Street, and is then to be sent under the East River to the Sunnyside yards at Long Island City, where it is to be received and sent out again.
Even though there is no storage room for cars on the tracks under Thirty-Fourth Street, there are, nevertheless, four miles of platforms at this station to receive passengers, which means that the railway people are preparing to handle a hundred million passengers a year. This figure is too large for the average. mind to realize. We have gotten into a habit in recent years of talking glibly about “millions,” when such figures are almost unthinkable. Yet the hundred million passengers of the Pennsylvania Railroad station under Thirty-Fourth Street is not only a reasonable estimate, but one that will surely be realized.
The safety of the tunnels has already been sufficiently demonstrated. The Pennsylvania tubes are put together in huge iron rings, twenty-three feet in diameter, two and a half feet wide, and weighing fifteen tons each. They are strengthened by two feet of concrete, and are considered practically ‘indestructible. The motive power in all of the tunnels is electricity, and the air in them is very like that of the subway. In passing through them there is a slight descent under the river, to be noticed by the observant; but the average traveler does not know whether he is under land or water. He reaches his destination swiftly and safely; and that, ordinarily, is his only interest. He gets what he desires, rapid transit, and a very satisfactory quality of it at that.
It is perhaps unnecessary to outline the further tube and-tunnel projects that are under way in building, like the Steinway tunnel; or are planned, like the Interborough and McAdoo extensions, the Broadway-Lexington Avenue route, the Interterminal Belt Line, the Center Street loop, and the Canal Street subway. The half-dozen or more already in existence have proved that this is initially the most expensive but ultimately the most economical and altogether satisfactory method of rapid transit that can be used in the greater city. The rush in toward the center each morning and the rush out each night must be accepted and provided for. The rivers, since they cannot be crossed quickly, should be crept under; the outlying districts should be brought into touch with the more active centers of the city and made to yield more service; the circle city of the map should be unified.
There is very little doubt that the tunnels will be instrumental in producing this. Eventually the Greater New York should be a homogeneous unit, brought together and held together by an underground wheel every spoke of which converges and diverges from the central borough of Manhattan. No doubt the plan will undergo many changes, will be modified many times until it bears perhaps no resemblance to a wheel; and yet rapid transit still be accomplished-by following the general principle of radiation.