The Chamber of Commerce of New York

The Science of Industry > The Automobile Population

In the autumn of 1927, a few months after Charles Lindbergh received the most enthusiastic reception in New York history, the City’s residents celebrated again. On the afternoon of November 12, President Coolidge presided over the opening of the Holland Vehicular Tunnel. Using the same golden telegraph key that Woodrow Wilson had used to celebrate the first passage through the Panama Canal. Twenty thousand pedestrians made the passage of a mile and three-quarters through the tubes. Then, at midnight, the underwater route was opened to vehicles for the first time.

The Chamber of Commerce could claim a large share of the credit for this latest engineering achievement. And it did, pointing out that it had been urging this improvement since 1918, when it had recommended the construction of a “thirty-six-foot vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey, with a traffic capacity superior to that of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges combined.”

During that decade, automobiles had dramatically altered the cityscape. By January 1, 1928, New York led all states in car traffic – a good thing since, in the words of the Chamber, “the automobile ‘population’ and particularly that composed of passenger cars measures the standard of living in any community…”

Not that there weren’t risks. Traffic accidents claimed the lives of New Yorkers at a rate of nearly 20 per 100,000. Representing about half as much manslaughter as was being perpetrated on the murderous Florida highways, this figure was still nearly twice today’s rate.

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