In 1927, NYC Almost Got a 16-Mile Highway Along Building Rooftops

April 1, 2016

In the early 20th century, engineers and architects were certainly thinking outside the box when it came to city planning here in New York. There was the proposal to fill in the Hudson River for traffic and housing, the idea to create a giant conveyor belt to carry people between Grand Central and Times Square, and the plan to stack the city like a layered cake. Though these ideas sound whacky, they were born from the rise of the automobile and suburbinization. With many Americans moving out of urban centers, planners sought new ways to reimagine the modern city and entice car-loving prospects.

Another such idea is this 1927 one for a 16-mile elevated highway that would have traveled across building rooftops from the Battery all the way to Yonkers. Conceived by engineer John K. Hencken, it required all buildings to be uniform at 12 stories. Within them would have been standard uses — residences, offices, schools, theaters, restaurants — and elevators to take cars from the street to the skyway.

John Hencken, NYC rooftop highway, never-built NYC

Sure it’s crazy and was never built, but at the time, Hencken’s proposal was “approved by a number of eminent engineers and city planners. They say it is entirely feasible from an engineering standpoint,” according to a Popular Science article in which it was featured. The article continued: “Our artist pictures here an ingenious new plan for solving NYC’s traffic problems by a remarkable system of roof-top boulevards running more than sixteen miles in a straight line through the heart of the city. Bridging of cross streets for free movement of traffic; moving platforms for speedy and convenient service; healthful elevated playgrounds for children; underground railway freight service—these are some of its outstanding features.”


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