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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Paige-Detroit


The New York Times
December 8, 1922

Magistrate House Says Streets Can Hold No More Private Autos or Taxicabs.


Declares Law to Enforce Curtailment Will Be Necessary if Numbers Increase.

A law may be necessary to limit the number of pleasure cars and taxis that may operate in the streets of New York, declared Magistrate Frederick B. House in a Traffic Court warning yesterday.  Facing a "traffic crisis," he said the city might have to ask a legislative act or exercise its police power to cut down the fleets of automobiles now crowding the highways.

Drawing a picture of machines, their number swelling daily, swarming over New York's thoroughfare space, Magistrate House said that if the yearly percentage of cars in the streets increased at the rate of the last two years, traffic will come to a standstill for want of space to move in.

"New York City," he said, is facing a a traffic crisis.  Right here in this court since the beginning of the year we have heard about 49,000 cases arising out of vehicular traffic in the streets and have taken in fines of about $500,000.  There were too many automobiles in the city's streets in 1921 and it is getting worse daily.  There is every likelihood that the percentage of increase in 1922 over 1921 will be greater than the increase of 1921 over 1920.

"That means, and you can't make it too strong, that things will be so bad that we shall not be able to carry on. Take Fifth Avenue these days.  There are times when standing at the curb, one could walk across to the other side by going over the tops of cars.  They are packed from curb to curb with only inches between.

"There is urgent need for more traffic policemen.  Conditions are disgraceful.  Three or four persons are killed every day.  It must be stopped somehow.  When we advocate some measure to remedy street conditions, statements come from people that the remedies suggested would harm business, or at least hamper it.  Saving human lives is business.

"As for methods to avoid the present conditions, we have given careful consideration to the problems and we are almost at a loss for the solution.  We have held meetings and we have discussed it from every angle.  The great trouble, however, in approaching the problem, is the fact that Manhattan Borough is so narrow, especially in the lower districts.  The cross streets can't be widened and as a result the avenues are being overworked.  I am certain that some of the avenues will have to be made one-way streets clear through to the Bronx.  Again, merchants may protest that such a method may hinder business, but human lives have some value, even in this age, and we should take that into consideration even at the risk of some slight impediment to business.

"If we could only make the motor maniacs realize that human lives are worth considering, there might be fewer street killings.  These fellows seem to think that by owning a car they become lords of the highways.  If jail sentences will do the trick, I intend to prove to them that they are not lords of the highways.  And I intend to make it evident that no one can expect special privilege in my court.

"If automobiles in the future continue to be placed in the streets as fast as they have been in the past, I certainly feel that some sort of curtailment of pleasure cars and taxis will be necessary.  I know that there will be protest against that and that it would be difficult to get a bill through the Legislature, but it will be necessary.  In the event that the Legislature would not pass such a measure, the police power may be exercised."

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