Indeed, Eleventh Avenue has come a long way since its early days when it was nicknamed "Death Avenue" — the time from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s when freight trains barreled down its center, mowing down hapless pedestrians and carriages as they transported precious commodities to and from the burgeoning metropolis. According to a New York Times story by David Dunlap, the League to End Death Avenue estimated that there had been 548 deaths and 1,574 injuries over the years on Eleventh Avenue. To help stem the crisis, the New York Central Railroad embarked on their own failed "Vision Zero" strategy, hiring "West Side Cowboys" to ride horses and wave flags in front of the trains to prevent collisions.
The 1929 opening of the elevated High Line made Eleventh Avenue less of a hazard to pedestrians and motorists, and the last street-level tracks were removed in 1941. Still, the west side remained unfashionable for decades as it remained a hub for the city's fading maritime industries, had lacking subway service, and offered few residential amenities. The aroma of livestock and the Meatpacking District probably didn't help either. As the city transitioned into a post-industrial economy, buildings for manufacturing, shipping, and storage gave way to nightclubs, galleries, and artist lofts. We all know what comes next.
While no longer "Death Avenue," Eleventh Avenue has some ways to go before it can be called pedestrian-friendly. A lack of bike lanes, sparse greenery, few retailers, and six lanes of traffic funneling into the West Side Highway makes it among the most hostile of Manhattan avenues. As the area continues its transitions into a Gold Coast for the well-heeled, one can expect further improvements to the public realm.