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Interpreting the Evidence

Heavy Traffic on Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1930

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Heavy Traffic on Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1930 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Automobiles and double-decker buses crowd Fifth Avenue near 42nd Street in New York City, December 1935.
Historical Context
The invention of the automobile complicated a traffic system in New York City that was already chaotic with pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles, streetcars, and bicycles.  The event of the automobile created the need for the first traffic regulations and the first stop lights in New York City.  By 1912, there were 38,000 automobiles in New York City.  The rapid growth of the city's population and of the number of people who owned automobiles led to traffic jams such as the one in this photograph.  

Traffic congestion continues to be a problem in New York City today, despite the fact that more than half of New York City households do not own a car.  Over two million vehicles registered in the city along with large numbers of commuting vehicles create traffic congestion that costs millions of dollars a day in wasted fuel, lost work time, and wear on roads and vehicles.

Essential Question
How does the availability of transportation affect the economic and cultural aspects of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of this technology on the local community.
Historical Challenges
When did New York City first set a speed limit, what was it, and for which form of transportation was it originally created?
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: You are a passenger stuck in traffic in the picture above. You need to be to work in ten minutes and are nowhere near your building, which is on 59th Street. What do you do? Take a bus moving faster than you are? Park illegally and run? Wait patiently and hope for the best? Be creative and support your decision.