The 1940 Triborough Bridge Authority Map

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I collect maps. I’m especially fond of older maps which were printed before the era of modern interstate roadways. As a native New Yorker, I’m partial to maps of the metro NY/NJ area.

Most of my old maps are undated, which is a shame. However, careful study of streets, highways, bridges, tunnels, and other human-built structures usually provides enough clues to date a map to within a year or two of its printing.

One of the more unusual maps in my collection isn’t a typical gas station giveaway of a city or state. This map is entitled “TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE AUTHORITY TRAFFIC CROSSINGS”. It shows most of the five boroughs of NYC, and as the title states, it highlights the bridges and tunnels which are under the purview of that agency. The map has another quite unique feature: it illustrates a crossing as “UNDER CONSTRUCTION” which never got built.

Look at those tolls! But remember, back then they were collected each way.

Because four of the five boroughs of New York City are on islands, as vehicular traffic increased during the first half of the 20th century, structures were erected to allow cars and trucks to traverse waterways without using ferries. While the Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883, well before automobiles became mainstream, the Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro Bridges were all completed during the first decade of the new century. After that came the Holland Tunnel in 1927. The next 13 years saw rapid growth as the George Washington, Triborough, and Whitestone Bridges along with the Lincoln and Queens Midtown Tunnels were up and running by 1940.

Much of NYC, with some of NJ, as it appeared circa 1940

It’s impossible to discuss this growth without bringing up the name of Robert Moses. A hero to some and a villain to others, I will not even wade into those waters. However, the decade of the 1940s was a difficult one for him because it was one of the few times when he didn’t get his way. I’m referring to his plan for the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge.

It was 1940 when Mr. Moses made his proposal for a bridge to connect the southern tip of Manhattan with downtown Brooklyn. While he had his supporters, the opposition on this one was strong. Among those in the “against” camp were the U.S. Government, who saw such a bridge as a potential bombing target; a bombed bridge would then block access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. There was also a fierce argument put forth that such a structure would ruin the view of the downtown skyline from Brooklyn.

Yet my map labels the bridge, and refers to it as “under construction” (a wildly optimistic claim with no basis in fact). I estimate this was printed around 1940, based on the inclusion of the (1939-1940) World’s Fair site. By the late 1940s, Robert Moses acquiesced and agreed to the construction of a tunnel in lieu of a bridge, which has given us today’s Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (officially the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, but try telling that to a Brooklynite).

An enlargement from the map showing the Brooklyn-Battery ‘Bridge’

By the way, have some fun hunting down other landmarks shown on the map, including Penn Station, Grand Central Station, and all 3 Major League Baseball stadiums!


All scans are from my personal map collection.