Intermodal

There’s a large plaza at the Brooklyn end of the Williamsburg Bridge. It is the last stop for a number of heavily-travelled bus lines, and a very short walk to the station for the J and M trains before they head to Manhattan over the bridge. It probably should have occurred to me to ask what was there before the buses, which are a mid-1900s phenomenon, but I never did until I saw the picture above and its partner below, which are jointly titled “Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, Brooklyn, N.Y.”. The photos were taken around 1906, which is to say when the bridge was only a few years old. The picture above is the north half of the plaza (the bridge is on the left, fading into the smog); here’s the south half of the plaza:

In the second picture you can see the Broadway (Brooklyn’s Broadway, not Manhattan’s) elevated train on its old route down to the ferry. That’s the predecessor of the J train, and a few years later it was rerouted over the bridge to the Broad Street / Nassau Street subway loop.

If you look closely, you’ll see that all of the streetcar tracks are self-contained loops leading to the bridge. That’s explained by looking at the side of one of the cars:

The Metropolitan Street Railway was the Manhattan streetcar system, with the Brooklyn system mostly run by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit company. So the streetcar terminal in the plaza was a way to get to various destinations in Manhattan assuming you could get to the plaza from within Brooklyn by the elevated or by a BRT streetcar. The current bus system is set up in the reverse manner: it’s the terminal for bus routes from Brooklyn and Queens, and then you get on the subway to Manhattan. The white rectangle on a current bus map marks the bus terminal in the plaza, with the Marcy Avenue subway stop nearby:

In other words, for some 120 years, this plaza has served as a place to switch from one form of mass transpiration to another.

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