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The association says, "We are most eager to preserve the future possibilities of York Avenue as a large-scale apartment and hospital centre." In other words, to preserve real estate values within the First Avenue Association's territory, the association wished to keep traffic off of York Avenue, and thus wanted to open up Second Avenue as an alternative artery. Even the association's interest in real estate development had little to do with Second Avenue.
     The First Avenue Association and many other parties believed that the Second Avenue el was an obstruction to transportation flow, rather than a useful transportation medium. Still, not everyone shared in the calls for improved automobile travel. New York was, and still is, a city highly dependent on rapid transit. Though it was "antiquated," many thousands of passengers relied on the Second Avenue el for daily transport. Exact ridership figures are not known; however, estimates suggest that in the mid-1930's, between 82,000 and 85,000 passengers rode the el daily.

La Guardia supported Moses' bridge and highway projects, and believed that cars, not rapid transit, represented the transportation of the future. Indeed, many of La Guardia's contemporaries believed that the el should come down to make room for more cars. One East Side resident wrote to La Guardia in 1936 urging the el's demolition because the el's "pillars make driving quite nerve racking." In another 1936 letter to the Mayor, a property owner claimed that "the vehicular traffic is curtailed by the 'L' pillars to such an extent that Manhattan is practically deprived of a sorely needed East Side artery." In addition to being ugly and noisy, the el got in the way.

Traffic First, Transit Last
The First Avenue Association agreed that the el was a traffic obstruction. The association did not believe that the el should be replaced with a subway, and then torn down.

Rather, it argued that the el should be torn down immediately, to improve automobile access. The real aim of the association was not to improve accessibility to Second Avenue, but to reduce traffic on First Avenue. A long article in the "Automobiles" section of the New York Times in 1934 explained what was the association's main worry – that after the opening of the Triborough Bridge, "traffic on First and York Avenues will be increased." The association, quoted in the article, complained about First Avenue's "excessive traffic burden," and said that it is "absurd" that Second Avenue is underused "while adjacent avenues are overtaxed with traffic." The association was concerned not with improving Second Avenue, but with diverting traffic on to Second Avenue so as to make First Avenue less congested. Another quote from the association reveals a telling goal of the whole project.

The Second Avenue El (in red) was closely paralleled by the Third Avenue El (in green) for most of the length of Manhattan Island. Its stations tended not to be on the same streets as the Third's, and it provided the only direct downtown service for Astoria and Corona Line riders in Queens. Still, it never had as much service or patronage as the Third, providing additional justification for its removal. Some have pointed out that the Second had the more durable structure, so that it should not have been removed in favor of the Third, which itself closed in 1955, leaving the East Side chronically underserved. Click the map or links for larger map versions: Downtown (114K); Midtown-Queens (148K); Uptown-Bronx (107K).

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Updated Tuesday, June 26, 2001

©2001 Alexander Nobler Cohen. ©2001 The Composing Stack Inc. All rights reserved