Long before there was a subway packed full of angry crowds and unidentifiable organisms, New Yorkers in Brooklyn enjoyed above-ground commutes serviced by a streetcar system. This map posted recently by a Redditor is a blast from the past, showing just how complete and comprehensive this network was. In fact, by 1930, nearly 1,800 trolleys were traveling along the streets of BK from Greenpoint to Gowanus to Bay Ridge and beyond. Though the system proved to be profitable (yes, NYC once ran a transit system that actually made them money), the streetcars were eventually forced out of the city by none other than the auto industry.
According to Gothamist, who contacted The Brooklyn Historic Railway Association‘s Bob Diamond for his expertise, industry giants like General Motors, Firestone and Standard Oil were behind the ousting, each interested in expanding their reach in major cities. To elbow streetcar franchises out, they joined forces and used murder, bribery and blackmail to push their agenda through. Diamond adds:
Their very first victim was Manhattan’s NY Railways, the operator of that borough’s profitable electric streetcar system. In a pattern to be repeated all around the U.S., NCL gained control of the streetcar franchise by bribing elected officials, and immediately ripped out the tracks, wires, and streetcars, replacing them with GM busses (formerly their Yellow Coach Div., now called Nova Bus, located in Canada in the very same GM bus factory), burning Standard Oil gasoline (later diesel), and rolling on Firestone tires.
The streetcars were phased out between 1930 and 1956, but in Brooklyn some historic remnants can be found sprinkled about; the most well-known being the trolley car that sits outside of the Fairway in Red Hook. Incidentally, though this trolley dates back to the ’30s, its place in the neighborhood is actually the result of failed attempts to revive the system between Red Hook and downtown Brooklyn back in the ’80s and ’90s.
Image via RedHookWaterfront.com
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