Yesterday in my post about New York City’s Elevated Trains, I mistakenly added 10th Avenue to the many streets that once hosted El trains. Actually, 10th (and 11th) Avenue hosted something much more interesting (and grim) than an El train. For many years before the construction of the High Line in 1934, massive freight trains rolled down the avenue, shipping commodities such as coal, dairy and beef. Pedestrian collisions were frequent, resulting in the street acquiring the charming nickname ‘Death Avenue’. For safety the railroad hired “West Side Cowboys”, men who rode horses and waved flags in front of the trains.  In 1910, one organization estimated that there had been 548 deaths and 1,574 injuries over the years along Tenth and Eleventh Avenue. Above is a lovely little tribute video to the cowboys who used flags by day and red lanterns by night to curb the pedestrian death toll.

Public debate about the hazard began during the early 1900s. In 1929 the city, the state, and New York Central agreed on the West Side Improvement Project conceived by Robert Moses. The 13-mile project eliminated 105 street-level railroad crossings and included construction of the West Side Elevated Highway and the West Side Elevated Viaduct. The last stretch of street-level track was removed from Eleventh Avenue in 1941.


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