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Broadway Almost Had Elevated Moving Sidewalks In the 1870s

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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.

Broadway is one of the most crowded streets in New York City, and it's pretty much always been that way. In the 1860s and '70s, elevated trains were opening around the city north of 14th Street, but downtown, the roadways were still clogged with traffic. To help ease congestion, in 1871, inventor Alfred Speer proposed a design for an elevated moving walkway that would zip pedestrians along above the street. Scientific American featured the design in an April 1872 issues (h/t Untapped New York), detailing how it would work. The 16-to-18-foot-wide walkways would have been supported by a platform system similar to that of the elevated rail. Five to six pillars at the edge of the street would be hold the paths at least 12 feet away from buildings, and building owners could place paths directly from the raised sidewalk into their establishments.

The sidewalk moved at a speed of 10 mph, pulled by cables powered by underground engines. For those passengers who preferred not to walk, there would be seats. One of the walkways two rails would be stationary, designed in such a way that the seats could be stopped from moving to allow passengers on and off. The figure below shows the rails, as explained by Scientific American: "B is a stationary rail while the rail at A moves at the same speed as the moveable sidewalk. Seats have two sets of wheels, one on the stationary rail and one on the moving rail."

Speer's design won support from politicians, and the plan was approved by state legislature in 1873 and 1874. Ultimately, though, Governor John Dix vetoed the plan because it was too expensive.
· The NYC That Never Was: Broadway's Moving Sidewalk [Untapped NY]
· Conveying a Solution to Mass Transit [Scientific American]