At the turn of the 20th century, Manhattan street intersections in general, and Columbus Circle in particular, were choked with a dangerous jumble of horse-drawn vehicles, trolley cars, motorcars and trucks, equestrians, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Riding to the rescue came William Phelps Eno, a self-anointed traffic expert who in 1900 published the first of a series of proposals and regulations meant to tame New York City’s chaotic traffic.
At Eno’s urging, the city transformed Columbus Circle from an unregulated vehicular free-for-all into a rotary that any modern-day city dweller would recognize. Eno’s improvements can be detected in this 1907 photograph. Vehicles (except for the trolleys) were only allowed to travel around the circle, not through it; traffic was permitted to flow only in one direction (counterclockwise); and the island in the center of the intersection was made broad enough to reduce the traffic lanes to a width that could be safely crossed by pedestrians (note the ring of posts that restrict vehicles to the outer edge of the circle). MM