Awesome Thing of the Day: The Endless Traveling Sidewalk

If you're into historical things that are cool (and if you're not...there's really no hope for our relationship), you need to start reading Ptak Science, one of the more fantastical blogs that I follow. Think of it as a BoingBoing for yesteryear.

Anyway, Ptak raised an interesting question about the development of transportation:

It may be that the history of human locomotion is the story of fast sitting.  Except for some of the earliest incarnations of powered movement, it seems one of the most significant engineering aspects moving a person forward is how that person should be carried in the vehicle.

Fast sitting sounds so much more exciting that "riding," doesn't it? Unfortunately, the focus on building an infrastructure to support "carrying" vehicles seems to have ruled out that most storied of developments - the moving sidewalk.

That doesn't mean people didn't try. Wine merchant Alfred Speer devised a fairly neat method to solve the congestion problem in NY. He patented the "Endless Traveling or Railway Sidewalk," a moving loop that went around Broadway.

Check it out:


(images courtesy of Allways NY)

Anyway, this would be my favorite bizarre detail: a traveling ladies drawing room! The intent was to provide shelter during bad weather.

Screen shot 2011-11-20 at 10.33.47 AM.png

So why didn't it happen?

Let Allways explain:

Speer got as far as proposing his system to the New York State legislature (1873 price tag: $3,722,400) and even won approval from lawmakers. However, New York Governor John Dix objected to the fact that the elevated line intruded on street-level sidewalks. After Speer altered the plans and again won approval from the legislature, Dix again rejected the plan because the elevated loop system would have to cross Broadway twice. By 1874 it was clear that Speer’s vision would not be accepted by the governor in any form, and the hopes for the project were quashed. Speer would again try to sell his idea for an elevated sidewalk in the developing New Jersey towns along the Hudson River bank, and even formed the American Rapid Transit Company to sell stock, but the plan eventually fizzled. Today, New Yorkers are left with the moving sidewalk’s vertical cousin the escalator, and are also most likely to use the nineteen century sidewalk’s descendant hurrying through an airport to catch that great twentieth century innovation, the jet airliner.


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2 Responses to “ Awesome Thing of the Day: The Endless Traveling Sidewalk ”

  1. The second story that science fiction author Robert Heinlein ever published was The Roads Must Roll in 1940.  It details his idea for a series of moving "roads" that people step onto and off of, at five mile an hour increments.  The center roads are going 100 miles per hour.  Now, what happens if someone tries to sabotage this?

    If you can find the story, check it out.  I've got it in his The Past Through Tomorrow collection.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion! I'll have to check that out!


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