Beginning in the early 20th century, the idea of a one-way system was considered a method of optimizing traffic flow. The system in use today was proposed in this plan developed by the Department of Traffic Engineering in 1949. The report states, “The traffic capacity of a network of streets is limited by the capacity of the intersections.” Indeed, this plan laid out the simple intersections that we use today, with one direction of traffic and no turns through oncoming vehicles. The report estimated that the movement of cars would be sped by as much as 40 percent with the new signaling system in place.
Even with the traffic plaguing the city, the plan was slow to be rolled out. Retail stores on the East Side along Madison Avenue initially protested, worried about their customers being inconvenienced. Private bus operators along Seventh Avenue were also strong opponents, concerned about the effects the new system would have on ridership. Despite hurdles, the plan was mostly in effect by 1952 and continues to be the way we travel up and down Manhattan. JR