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ATLANTIC AVENUE COMMISSION.
OFFICE OF THE ATLANTIC AVENUE COMMISSION,
2789 ATLANTIC AVENUE.
BROOKLYN, November 16, 1897.
To His Honor, the Mayor of the City of Brooklyn :
The Commission appointed under authority of Chapter 394, Laws of 1896, entitled “ An Act to authorize the appointment of a Commission to examine into and report a plan for the relief and improvement of Atlantic Avenue in the City of Brooklyn,” herewith submit their final report, covering the entire field of action of the Commission.
In view of the public importance of the subject submitted to our consideration, and the fact of a proposed expenditure of public money to an amount approximating one and one-quarter million dollars, we have regarded it proper to make our report exhaustive and complete. Therefore, we have embodied in it nearly all that has been said before us in the several hearings; also, written communications of importance-statistical and otherwise. We have caused illustrations to be made from photographs, showing the actual condition at several points along Atlantic avenue, believing that, after the proposed improvements shall have been completed, it will seem incredible that the people of this city should so long have suffered the inconvenience attending the occupation and use of one of its chief thoroughfares by a surface steam railroad.
The principal points in the history of Atlantic avenue and its occupation by the railroad are as follows:
Among the earliest railroad enterprises in this country was the Long Island Railroad, projected with the idea of making a quick connection between New York and Boston by means of a railroad, reaching from South Ferry, in Brooklyn, to Greenport, L. I., and thence by steamboat to Newport, R. I., where connection would be made with railroad lines throughout New England.
For the purpose of constructing the portion of the route which lay on Long Island, two companies were formed ; the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company, building from South Ferry to Jamaica, and the Long Island Railroad Company, building the remainder of the line to Greenport; the time of construction covering the years 1834 to 1836.
During the next twenty years Brooklyn increased from a small village, clustered around the Fulton Ferry, to a city considerable in size and population. Along the line of the railroad, from South Ferry to Classon avenue, a street was laid out; called Atlantic street, which gave promise of being a prominent thoroughfare. A continuance of this thoroughfare to East New York, of a width greater than any other existing in the city, was projected, and its opening and construction was carried out under the provisions of the laws quoted in full later in this report. A perusal of these documents will show the method by which the railroad between Classon avenue and East New York was removed from the strip of land which it owned and over which it had been operated for the preceding twenty years, to the center of the newly opened street.
Up to this time the Long Island Railroad had not increased its system beyond the original project, which consisted only of a single track from Brooklyn to Greenport; running for a long distance through an unproductive wilderness, and quite remote from most of the centers of population on the island. As a railroad, it was, of course, in every way an insignificant affair com. pared with the present Long Island Railroad system, which, by its various divisions and branches, gives railroad communication with practically every village and hamlet on the island.
The occupancy of this prominent thoroughfare by a railroad of such trifling importance was quickly found to be productive of a nuisance without compensating benefits, and in response to the demands of public opinion the railroad company was induced to abandon operation by steam power within the limits of the city, and to establish its terminus at Hunter's Point, the property immediately affected being assessed to produce the sum necessary to reimburse the railroad company for the curtailment of its franchise, and for the expense of the removal. The company retained the right to operate horse cars through the avenue, and continued to do so until the year 1876.
Prior to this time the corporate name of the proprietor com. pany had been changed by successive reorganizations from the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad Company to the Brooklyn Central Railroad Company, the Brooklyn Central and Jamaica Railroad Company, the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railway Company, and lastly, to the Atlantic Avenue Railroad Company of Brooklyn.
By consolidation of the original Long Island Railroad with the South Side Railroad, the Flushing and North Shore Railroad and the Central Railroad of Long Island, and by the construction of many branches and extensions, the Long Island Railroad by this time had grown to be a railroad system of importance, operating all the steam railroads on Long Island, and the need of a terminus in the city of Brooklyn was a pressing one. The Common Council of the city, by authority of an act of the Legislature, restored to the Atlantic Avenue Railroad Company the right to operate with steam east of Flatbush avenue. The Long Island Railroad Company was thereby enabled, under a lease from the Atlantic avenue company, again to operate its trains by steam power on Atlantic avenue.
At the present time, therefore, the Long Island Railroad Company operates from Flatbush avenue, Brooklyn, to Jamaica, as lessee under a franchise which is owned by the Atlantic Avenue Railroad Company of Brooklyn, but the latter company's rights as landlord have been temporarily turned over by a general lease, made in April, 1896, of all its property and franchises, to the Nassau Electric Railroad Company.
The history and varying fortunes of Atlantic avenue would fill a large volume. It is not pertinent to the present occasion
to go into the past at greater length. Suffice it to say that the evident intent in laying out the street from the water front to the city line, with its great width, was to make it a leading artery of communication from the interior of fertile Long Island to the great harbor surrounding the metropolis of America. Its use by the Long Island Railroad was natural, and for a time served purposes
of commercial value and accommodation to the inhabitants of Brooklyn and the outlying territory. But the rapid and extraordinary growth of the city and suburbs for miles along the thoroughfare rendered its continued use, as a steam railroad, a menace to life, injurious to property, obstructive to development, and objectionable to an intolerable degree. These conditions created an intense feeling of resentment toward the railroad corporation, as well as indignation at the presumed indifference of the city authorities. Many and varied have been the attempts of the citizens for relief from these conditions. Legislatures have been appealed to in vain. Property owners along and adjacent to the line despaired of remedy. The locomotive still rushed along the street in the heart of the city, frequently killing and maiming human beings, always creating consternation. These things have too long been endured.
It remained for your administration, Mr. Mayor, to conceive of and prepare a bill, and to secure its passage at Albany, creating for the first time a body of men whose duty should be to examine into all the phases of the question, and by careful methods of inquiry arrive, if possible, at some definite practical conclusion, and recommend what should be done to solve the perplexing problem, the difficulties of which increased with each year. The task was arduous and vexatious. The views of citizens differed radically as to measures of relief, all of which will more fully appear in the verbatim reports of hearings printed herein as part of our report.
It may not be improper to say that your Commissioners addressed themselves to the subject with resolution and earnest endeavor, without compensation, actuated only by a desire to intelligently and practically“ solve the problem.” Many interests were involved ; rights, that were unassailable, yet conflicting, had to be adjusted on lines of equity and reason. Perhaps the most