Miracle on 34th St – FDR Drive

The eastside of Manhattan has a raised highway running along the waterfront. It starts in the Financial District and goes North until it meets Harlem River Drive. The highways official name is the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive, but NYers refer to it as The FDR. The presidents name was added after his death in 1954 to commemorate a hometown man.

The road is a 9.44-mile (15.19 km) limited-access parkway, which means trucks are not allowed on it. Most underpasses and entrances are not high enough for trucks, but every week some truck tries to get on and is stuck at an entrance or under the overpass. There is also a weight limit for vehicles on the parkway. The FDR Drive is a mix of  sections at various levels, as well as three partially covered tunnels. The parkway is mostly three lanes in each direction, though in a couple areas it goes down to 2 lanes and an exit to a bridge.

There is an entrance to the highway at 34th street. Most people are coming off of one of the many bridges that come into the area or from the Queens Midtown Tunnel. As someone who learned to drive in a part of the country with wide highways, the lanes seem very thin. Rarely do you get over 50 mph on the parkway and the speed limit is 45 on a few areas.

The parkway was proposed in the 1920s, but the first part didn’t open until the mid 1930s. Many property owners along the East River Drive, especially in the 34th street area, opposed the boulevard and required noise ordinances to be enhanced and followed. This section opened initially at street level, the raised parkway at 34th Street didn’t open until 1941 and sits on wartime rubble dumped by cargo ships returning from Bristol, England, during World War II.

You may be worried that part of a highway sits on rubble, but the island of Manhattan has added over 300 football fields worth of landfill on its shores since the 1700s. We are really good at stabilizing the shores of the island and have gotten even better since hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Watch traffic back up during rush hour from the Esplanade, just be careful crossing the street, it is an on ramp. There is almost always a traffic cop there trying to direct traffic. And sometimes they are successful.

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Cherie

NYC tour guide -- licensed and starred with Dept of Commerce

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