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Frederick Law
report to the
Pittsburgh Civic Commission

Main Thoroughfares and The
Down Town District"

00 Cover Page

00 Contents

01 Down Town

02 Main

03 Surveys and
   a City Plan

04 Parks and

05 Special

06 Index

PART II: Main Thoroughfares
Pittsburgh: Main Thoroughfares and The Down Town District
Frederick Law Olmsted report to The Pittsburgh Civic Commission, 1910

page 31

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Main Thoroughfares

Width of Thoroughfares

In considering the economical widths for the main thoroughfares of a city, so many complex factors are involved that no exact and indisputable conclusions can be reached; but there are certain facts and principles that ought to remove such decisions from the realm of purely arbitrary whim and custom by which they are now generally settled. Practically every normal main thoroughfare, even of the most compact type, must provide for car tracks in the middle. On straight runs, according to the present practice and with the new cars in Pittsburgh, the width occupied from the outside of one car to the outside of the other is 17 feet 8-1/2 inches. At that, the cars are narrower than the modern standard in some other American cities, and the clearance between the cars is reduced to less than a reasonable requirement for safety. On curving roads, such as the Pittsburgh topography often imposes, the space occupied is greater. Without allowing any clearance on the outside, a space not less than 18 feet, and preferably more, should be allowed for the actual cars on straight runs.

In Pittsburgh, the gauge of the car tracks was originally made to conform to the prevailing local gauge of other vehicles, on the mistaken theory that it was desirable to have the smooth tracks used by wagons, and this has resulted in the almost invariable conformity of the wagon gauge to that of the tracks, regardless of the size or character of the vehicle. With the added fact that Pittsburgh pavements are prevailingly bad, and that the form of rail is such that it is very difficult for a wagon to turn out when it has once got into the track, the teamsters in Pittsburgh are more inveterate in the habit of driving in the car tracks, and less ready to turn aside for cars or other vehicles, than in most cities. The severe and constantly repeated strain of the horses, which is required to wrench heavily-loaded wagons free

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Last modified on 22-Dec 1999
Design format: copyright 1997-1999 Bruce S. Cridlebaugh
Original document: Frederick Law Olmsted, 1910