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1924 Plan to Drain the East River to Ease Traffic Congestion

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Welcome back to Curbed's Could Have Been, where we investigate some of the most outlandish proposals that were never built. Know of a plan that never saw the light of day? Send it to the tipline.

Ten years before Norman Sper proposed filling in the Hudson River to make New York larger, a different dude wanted to do something similar on the other side of Manhattan. An article in a 1924 issue of Popular Science details a plan to drain the East River and create a 5-mile stretch of new land for more roads, subway lines, and civic buildings. The crazy idea came from Dr. John A. Harriss, identified as a "special deputy police commissioner in charge of traffic," and the goal was to ease traffic congestion, which was supposedly so bad it was causing the city to lose $1.5 million every day.

Two new concrete dams would have been created, one near the Manhattan Bridge and the other near Hell Gate where the Harlem and East Rivers meet:

The river then would be drained, and the 500 feet between the Manhattan and the Brooklyn docks bridged with levels supported by steel uprights. Thus would be provided a vast traffic center on stilts, joining four boroughs. The plan contemplates removal of noisy elevated structures. From the river bed would be built subway lines, vehicular subway, taxi stands, conduit, city equipment departments, parking spaces, and private and municipal garages. On the top level would be five 100-foot boulevards for autos and pedestrians. Ramps would be provided for cross-traffic. And midway along the great thoroughfare would be erected an imposing city hall and community center.

The new city hall would house the police and health departments, as well as a music and art center. A new theater district would be built, and public schools and playgrounds would surround the civic center.

Since the plan would removed a busy shipping waterway, the proposal also called for digging a new canal through Brooklyn and Queens, connecting the Long Island Sound with the Jamaica Bay and Atlantic Ocean. It would probably have suffered the same polluted fate as the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, giving Brooklyn a trifecta of Superfund waterways. Such a shame that never happened.
· Plan to Drain a New York River [Popular Science via Google Books]
· 1924 Traffic Congestion Solution: Drain the East River! [Gothamist]
· The 1934 Plan to Fill In the Hudson River for $1 Billion [Curbed]
· Curbed's Could Have Been archives [Curbed]