Friday, November 30, 2018

The Ghosts of New York City's Expressway System

While this blog is about New York City, I preface it with how I came to have an interest in the Interstate Highway System. As a child growing up outside of Chicago, I lived by two interstates, I-55 and I-355. I knew they had to be related somehow; what are the odds that roads with such similar numbers intersected by accident?

I thankfully found out all one would need to know about the Interstate Highway System and US Routes in general from late-90's and early 00's websites like AARoads.com, Kurumi's 3-digit interstates page, and the International House of ZZYZX. Each had some very highly detailed information on what I was looking for, and would be the catalyst into the beginnings of my roadgeekery. Indeed, I-355 was a child interstate of I-55, in that it spurred off from 55 in a much shorter route than it's parent. I was further interested in roads that were proposed, but never built, such as Chicago's Crosstown Expy, as well as completely decommissioned routes.

Now onto what this has to do with New York. Take a look at the Google Map below;
I-78 ends in the Tribeca neighborhood, and doesn't connect to either of it's nearby child interstates.
I-278 and I-478 (which only appears on maps and is the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, or Hugh L. Carey Tunnel if you want to be official) should be children of I-78, yet they don't connect. The reason for this is that there is a missing expressway that was planned, but met obvious community opposition, called the Lower Manhattan Expressway, or LOMEX. At the cost of leaving a small gap in the interstate system, 2000 homes and 800 businesses in SoHo (New York loves abbreviations for neighborhoods) and Little Italy were saved from demolition.

Had the LOMEX not been cancelled, the Manhattan Bridge would be known as I-478 instead of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and I-78 would have connected to each of it's children, including I-678 via I-278.

But the LOMEX wasn't the only cancelled expressway in NYC, far from it, it wasn't even the only cancellation of the proposed I-78 route. Many of these were proposals by Robert Moses, who ultimately planned and designed many pieces of New York City's infrastructure. For today's blog, we're gonna take a look and examine some of these unbuilt expressways.

The Bushwick Expy was an even earlier proposal, which would have connected the Williamsburg Bridge to the Nassau Expy (NY-878; more on that later). Using the right-of-way between Bushwick and Broadway in Brooklyn, it would have then crossed over to Conduit Ave using Atlantic Ave. You can even make out a route of the proposed expressway today on Google Maps, based on where wide boulevards seem to cut through the grid system.

https://www.google.com/maps/@40.694524,-73.8513979,12.5z
This expressway would have destroyed 4000 homes, double that of the LOMEX, and mayor John Lindsay voiced his opposition to the project in his re-election campaign in 1970. A substitute proposal, the Cross-Brooklyn Expy, would have connected the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with the Nassau Expy, and it too was cancelled.

And now onto the Nassau Expressway, and back to I-78 we go. The unbuilt Bushwick Expressway would have connected to the Nassau's west end seamlessly, with the I-78 designation continuing as well. While none of the Bushwick was built, Eastbound lanes of the Nassau were, as it currently splits off from the Belt Pky to facilitate traffic into JFK airport.

Thus, the I-78 gap was filled on the Nassau with the .7 mile long I-878, which was never signed given it's extremely short length. In 1991, I-878 was redesignated and signed as NY-878, and it's current status as an interstate is unknown.

Proposed Bushwick and Nassau Expy's (Image: Wikipedia Commons)
However, yet another unbuilt highway was supposed to carry I-78. East of the Nassau, I-78 was to continue further northeast onto the Clearview Expy (I-295) and the Throgs Neck Expy (I-95), but the Clearview was not built south of the Grand Central Pkwy.

Rough ROW of the Clearview Expy, once destined to carry I-78 northeast.
It is unknown if it was to continue on from there. Confused yet? I-78 is definitely the most confusing bit of unbuilt road in New York City. Thankfully, most of the other highway proposals are relatively straightforward.

Each of the boroughs has expressway proposals that never came to be, as well as partially built expressways, such as Staten Island's unfinished Korean War Veteran's Parkway. Even some roads that were built, such as the Sheridan Expy, perhaps should not have been, at least to expressway standards. But the Sheridan was planned to be even longer than it ever ran, as one proposal had the road continuing north along Boston Post Road to connect with I-95 on it's north end via the New England Thruway. 

In the Sheridan's case, what was constructed is now being converted from expressway to boulevard, going from I-895 to NY-895 in the process.

Let's take a look at Manhattan again, where many of the expressways proposed for the island came to be. The Lincoln Tunnel and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel are on roughly the same spot on the grid, just opposite sides of Manhattan, and both are labeled Route 495 (NJ/NY 495 for the Lincoln Tunnel; I-495 for the QMT).

This gap between the two 495's was to be the Mid-Manhattan Expressway. While New Jersey had I-495 shields as late as 1979, this project was cancelled in New York by 1965, creating the gap, and requiring New Jersey to decommission their 495 to a state route.

Rough right-of-way of the unbuilt Mid-Manhattan Expy, which would have extended I-495 into New Jersey via the Lincoln Tunnel.
Had Robert Moses got his way, the Harlem neighborhood in New York would be the site of an expressway linking the Triboro Bridge with Edgewater, NJ via the unbuilt Cross-Harlem Expressway (New York isn't particularly creative when it comes to naming expressway proposals).

Cross Harlem Expy's proposed ROW. It is unknown what, if any number, may have been proposed for it. 
The Bronx was spared from further highway development along Gun Hill Rd, in which Route 164 was proposed to become the City Line Expressway, connecting the Major Deegan Expy (I-87) with the New England Thruway (I-95) & the Hutchinson River Pkwy.

The unbuilt City Line Expy along Gun Hill Rd.
The Bronx River Pkwy currently ends at the Bruckner Expy, just north of Soundview Park, but was proposed at one time to extend further into Soundview, to an unknown location just south.

In Queens and Brooklyn, the Queens-Interboro Expy would have carried I-695 instead of that number being applied to the Throgs Neck Expy, connecting the Belt Pkwy on the south end, the Jackie Robinson Pkwy, and the Brooklyn-Queens Expy on the north end. A rather tough to

This map shows some of the proposed QIE and Nassau Expy, as well. Image: NYC Roads

On a related note, one road that was built and served it's time as an automobile road has since been converted to bike use only, the Vanderbilt Parkway in Queens was once part of the Long Island Motor Parkway, an early 20th century toll road and one of the first roads designed exclusively for autos, it would become a precursor to the boulevard, parkway, and expressway in it's design, despite being functionally obsolete rather early in it's lifetime.

To me, these proposals are fascinating, and shows how many different ways the City of New York could look today under different political climates, and had people not spoken up about their opposition to expressways. Much like the abandoned railroad network and the scars they leave behind, I liken it to putting a puzzle together that's missing some of the pieces.

As always, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

How to Find, Trace and Share Abandoned Railroad Corridors


My Google Map of abandoned railroad corridors across the world has gotten a ton of views and support from people across all sorts of interests and knowledge bases. For that, I thank you.

But I never really explained how I came to find all of these lines. So with that in mind, today's blog is going to go over how to use Google My Maps to create your own maps for people to find and view and criticize.

Step 1) Use an online satellite map to find rights-of-way. These are extremely easy to find, as they’re pretty much everywhere.
See?
My map uses the Google My Maps UI. MapHub is another tool you can use, although I personally find Google My Maps easier to use. This tutorial is going to use My Maps and some tools I find useful for finding railroad lines, both visible and invisible.

For the tutorial, we're going to trace a line on Google My Maps.

From the Google My Maps page, on the top left, clicking on the menu will allow you to select "Create a New Map" 

From the menu on the top left, selecting "Base Map" will allow you to select different base maps, including satellite view, which will be necessary for finding rights-of-way.

So, let's go to my home state of Illinois and find some of these abandoned lines!

2) Starting the hunt

Google Maps (and thus, My Maps) allows you to search for GPS coordinates, which is fantastic, especially for urban areas or lines that might not otherwise be easily identifiable by a location, state. So with that in mind, let's go to 41.70034, -89.97682
Ah, the site of the map's very first trace...
From this location, we can easily tell that the lines which connect today once continued on in their respective directions from this junction. 

So let's get mapping!

Clicking draw a line on the top will draw a line. Moving the cursor will also move the map, and if not, you can also manipulate the map in this mode using the up, down, left and right buttons on your keyboard. 

Following the northeast right-of-way, it's pretty easy to tell that this line went to a junction with another railroad at Agnew, IL.

Once the line is created, it will appear as "Line 1" in an "Untitled Layer" on the map. Clicking the right side of this line will allow you to change it's color and the width of the line. You can also change the color and width of multiple lines at a time clicking on "Individual Styles" in the Untitled Layer. I made a very wide yellow line for this tutorial.

Hello World!

Click anywhere on the line and a dialogue box will appear, allowing you to change the size and color from there, and edit the name of the line, which we will do in a second.

A right-of-way is good, but what if we wanted to know more about this line? We know it went to Agnew and through Lyndon, and knowing that bit of information, we might be able to search for info on Google, or on a Facebook group, but what if all we knew was the beginning GPS coordinates?

3) Historic Topo Maps
HistoricAerials.com and The USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer are invaluable tools for learning about abandoned railroads, and finding ones that otherwise have little or no visible right-of-way today. Each allows you to search with GPS coordinates or location, just like Google Maps.

Knowing we started at 41.70034, -89.97682, we can use HistoricAerials to find satellite and topo maps from any time period that topo maps exist. In this location's case, it's 1932. 


In this case, we can easily tell that this is a former Chicago Burlington & Quincy line, and that the junction was once called Denrock. The abandoned line heading southeast from here was also a Chicago Burlington & Quincy line. 

Another great resource is the Open Railway Map. This has more rights-of-way than can be found on topo maps, but does not usually have good information on the line, when it was abandoned and what company ran it.

While topo maps help the best, they are far from the only resource for abandoned railroad lines, and they don't always have what you're looking for, but to list every resource would completely take up this blog! There are many fan websites, Facebook groups, magazines, and printed materials that would be of interest to those looking for abandoned railroad lines. 

The Denrock to Agnew line was the first that I traced, and thus the beginning of this wonderful project.

4) Repeat. 

There are thousands upon thousands of abandoned railroad miles in the world, not just in the US. There's plenty of corridors to find both at home, abroad, and in places you'd least expect.

If you have any questions or believe I need to add something to this tutorial, please let me know, and as always, thanks for reading!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Railroad Scarchitecture: 15 Hidden Pieces of Transportation History in the 15 Largest US Cities

Scarchitecture, is a combination of the word scar and architecture, which refers to the remnants of former roads and railways hidden in today's cities, most easily identified in satellite imagery, thanks to the magic of Google Maps. I've already discussed examples in both Chicago and it's suburbs. For today's blog, we're going all across the US in search of other examples of scarchitecture left behind by the days of railroading in major cities.

Keep in mind that there are usually many examples of scarchitecture in cities both large and small, and I'm only going to show one for each city, so go and search for others yourself, and let me know in the comments of any interesting examples you find!

1) New York City - Lansing Ave & Edgewood Ave in Queens (40.66426, -73.7475)



There are dozens of examples of scarchitecture in the Big Apple, and this one is of the most visually striking, given the grid system that exists to the southwest of here. Lansing Ave & Edgewood Ave, and the houses on these streets diverge from the grid as a result of a long abandoned Long Island Railroad which hasn't been used since 1934.

2) Los Angeles, CA - Electric Ave & Venice Blvd (33.99044, -118.46353)

Los Angeles was once home to an extensive streetcar and interurban system, and many relics of the line and it's railroad past still haunt the city.


The aptly named Electric Ave is one such example, as it, along with Irving Tabor Ct, create a wye where another Pacific Electric Branch to Santa Monica diverged from Venice Blvd en route to Venice Beach.

3) Chicago, IL near 48th St & California Ave (41.80658, -87.69493)



As I've talked about plenty, and a large part of my blog, Chicago's industrial history is well represented in it's architecture and visual cues from railroad lines, stockyards and steel mills long gone. This shows many of the rights of way of the Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad's paths through the city.

4) Houston, TX - Shaver St & Broadway (29.62893, -95.2218)

The two largest railroad abandonments in the City of Houston ceded way for two of it's largest freeway projects; The Katy Fwy and the Westpark Tollway.



And yet, in spite of building over it's history, it can't hide everything. The right of way of the long abandoned Galveston-Houston Electric Railway is still quite visible, and obviously influenced the building which now has Adriana's Hair Salon in it!

5) Phoenix, AZ - Phoenix Goodyear Airport (33.43194, -112.36223)

Even Phoenix, the desert outpost turned metropolis, has some scars to show the world. But admittedly, not as many as other cities on this list.


A former branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad (with a wye at the bottom) is perfectly visible between the airport and industrial areas, cemented in the desert terrain.

6) Philadelphia, PA - Windhocking St & Oakland St (40.01695, -75.09164)

The Philadelphia area is full of abandoned railroad lines, old alignments of road, and plenty of scarchitecture. The Rail Park keeps some of this history alive. But for other lines in it's history, sometimes you just have to look a little closer...


A branch of the Reading Railroad can be easily traced in the awkward construction of the buildings it once paralleled.

7) San Antonio, TX - Guadalupe St & S Comal (29.41766, -98.50847)

While obviously more examples of scarchitecture exist in rust belt cities, the Sun Belt is far from exempt from the phenomenon.


A small branch line from the still active junction served an industrial area on the west side of downtown San Antonio, causing the building south of Guadalupe to be built beside it.

8) San Diego, CA - Coronado Ferry Landing (32.69953, -117.17097)

You can view San Diego's skyline across the San Diego Bay in Coronado, CA, right in the path of a former right of way of the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway.


While the Bayshore Bikeway occupies some of the right of way today, there is still clear evidence of the right of way when it turned south from the Ferry Landing in Coronado.

9) Dallas, TX - Quebec St (32.80365, -96.8659)


An industrial park west of downtown was once served by a small branch of the Texas & Pacific Railroad, leading to several curved buildings on Quebec St. This happens to be one of my favorite examples of scarchitecture and is a can't miss.

10) San Jose, CA - I-280 & Lincoln Ave (37.31904, -121.90748)

Before it became the largest city in Silicon Valley, San Jose had quite a manufacturing history, which is still evident in some of the satellite imagery of the city.


A long abandoned branch of the Western Pacific Railroad nonetheless influenced the design of a parking lot and several different industrial buildings just south of downtown.

11) Austin, TX - Burnet Rd S of Braker Ln (30.38982, -97.72229)

Another Sun Belt City. When you think about the 15 largest cities in the US, does Austin ever come to mind? Does Detroit, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, or St. Louis, perhaps? Each of those cities for one reason or another has some excellent scarchitecture examples that will nonetheless have to wait for another blog. But nonetheless, Austin, like every city, has some scars.


An otherwise unremarkable former spur off of the Southern Pacific on the city's north side influence the adjacent parking lots, as well as a couple buildings in one of the few examples of scarchitecture in the entire city.

12) Jacksonville, FL - Kings Rd & Minnie St (30.3398, -81.67378)



A branch of the Seaboard Air Line snaked around the city of Jacksonville, from a junction to a railyard. Today, much of the right of way is the S Line Greenway. But it's quite easy to tell from satellite imagery that this was much more than a simple walking path back in the earlier days of the city.


13) San Francisco, CA - The Embarcadero and Piers (37.8059, -122.40388)



While San Francisco actually has a ton of scarchitecture, including some interesting examples discussed by others, I chose to focus on the Embarcadero and Piers on the north end of the city, which were once used extensively by the San Francisco Belt Railroad. This is one of San Francisco's landmarks, now served by light rail, and transformed from an industrial area to a mixed industry and tourist destination. It's not exactly scarchitecture, as it can easily be argued that the Embarcadero was more shaped by San Francisco's peninsula, but railroads undoubtedly played a large part in the area's industrial development.

And to think, it could have been a freeway today.

14) Columbus, OH - Dublin-Granville Rd & Westerville Rd (40.08025, -82.93013)

The aptly named Historic Railroad Trail, a former Pennsylvania Railroad line to northern Ohio, is not the only clue to the railroad history that is hidden away in time on the north side of Columbus.


The buildings along the now trail were obviously inspired to align with the abandoned right of way.

15) Indianapolis, IN - Dr Andrew J Brown Ave (39.79529, -86.13425)

So actually, Fort Worth, TX is the 15th Largest City in the US; but I already did an example in Dallas and decided to go with Indy to finalize my list. Indianapolis, much like other Midwestern cities, has dozens examples of scarchitecture from the many abandonments within it's city limits.



And even though the Monon Railroad is long gone, a spur from a tiny branch of it can easily be traced in the satellite imagery of the city today, in addition to many other examples. 

Time leaves scars in ways that might not always be recognizable in the view from the ground, but can easily be spotted from above. I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and as always, thanks for reading!