The last trolley line to run in New York crossed over the Queensboro Bridge and connected passengers to Roosevelt Island. This interesting trolley ride ended in the middle of the bridge where passengers would take an elevator down to the island. While trolleys were an effective way to travel for decades, the use of cars, buses and of course, the subway system, by 1957 most trolley lines had already been put to rest.
Always looking for a faster way to get around town, public transportation has changed quite a bit since the city's first efforts in the 1820s.
Using horsepower, in the most traditional sense, Omnibuses were the first mode of transportation. Oversized stagecoaches, Omnibuses were were meant to seat 12 to 15 people although often times there were many more passengers inside and top as well. To request a stop, a passenger would tug at a string that, unlike our buses today thankfully, was attached to the driver's ankle.
The next stop for future straphangers were Horsecars. Similar in design to the Omnibus, Horsecars were much larger and rode on embedded iron or steel tracks. The tracks were the greatest difference and were installed throughout the 1850's. Although still horse drawn as the name suggests, Horsecars could accommodate many more passengers and offered a much smoother ride due to the tracks. A conductor would signal a passenger's stop to the driver by ringing a bell.
As time went on and city streets became increasingly congested and more complications emerged, other methods of powering the cars were more seriously considered. Since there was no regulation at the time, horse drawn vehicles caused immense "traffic" jams. Horses tended to move slowly and had difficulty with hills. Also, in 1872, equine influenza (horse flu) became an epidemic and caused the death of many horses.
As a result, the wave of the future emerged in 1883 with New York City's first Cable Car. The Cable Cars were steam driven and were certainly an improvement. There was much more power to the cars and allowed for expansion of the lines. Cable Cars ran from 1882 until 1909 when there
was yet another economical and practical replacement.
With the availability of electricity, the Cable Cars were replaced by trolleys that ran on electricity after 1909. Trolleys were much more energy efficient than the Cable Cars. Electricity was delivered through wires that ran either underground or overhead. The trolleys also ran on fixed tracks as did the earlier Horsecars. Very similar in style to the Cable Cars, trolleys became part of the urban scene. In Brooklyn, The Dodgers were dubbed, "The Trolley Dodgers" because of
the tracks fans had to cross to get to the stadium.
With the increased ownership of cars and the presence of delivery trucks, trolleys, similar to the Horsecars, became outdated and often times caused traffic jams. It also became increasingly difficult, and often times dangerous, for passengers to get on and off the trolleys.
As early as the 1920's and 1930's buses, often double-decker, replaced the trolley. While many of the lines in Manhattan were replaced early on, in the outer boroughs trolleys remained the a large part of transportation until the 1940's and 1950's.
In fact, there is plenty of Trolley history hidden in plain sight. Many of the attempts to cover the Trolley tracks with pavement have proved to be unsuccessful and the original tracks eventually resurface. Although this can make for a bit of a bumpy ride, it just goes to show that you can't bury history.