Proposed ‘arcade railway’ below Broadway would aid 1860s gridlock

Posted On Fri, August 3, 2018 By

Posted On Fri, August 3, 2018 By In History, Transportation, Urban Design

Broadway Arcade Railway, 1884, New York Transit Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

Post-Civil War, pre-subway New York City had–surprise–a traffic problem. The number of horse cars and stages that clogged the streets was growing at an alarming rate. Among the proposed solutions was a railway that would be built beneath Broadway, branching out to the east and west at 23rd Street all the way up to the northern tip of Manhattan. The idea was gaining political support, but not everyone was onboard with the idea.

Image courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A story in Scientific American in 1867 explained how the railway wouldn’t just tunnel beneath the street but actually “remove the street itself block by block, wall to wall, and construct another street at the depth of fifteen feet, supporting the present street level on arches, and making stores in what are now the basements and sub-basements of buildings.”

However, prominent area merchants, such as department store mogul A.T. Stewart, who feared it would be bad for sales at his huge emporiums along Broadway, were opposed to the scheme; it ended up getting nixed by city lawmakers five times. In 1891, private and public officials got down to business building a privately funded subway, and the IRT rolled into the city 110 years ago.


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