Starts and Fits has a great comparison of two photographs of the corner of E89th and Lexington-- the first was taken in 1913, the second in 1991. As you can see, the sidewalk decreased in width by about 75%, and the stoops and first-floor entrances of each building were eliminated entirely. The block used to have a wonderful, airey feel-- but with the widening of the street, it's now one of the more congested, dirty corners in the Upper East Side. Sure-- we can speed down Lexington Avenue at 45mph, but now it's hard to walk in anything other than single file down the streets. S&F writes:
The history of the 20th century is one in which every square inch of land that could conceivably be put to use for the movement or storage of automobiles was. Streetcars were removed from the tunnel under Park Avenue south of Grand Central Terminal, at right, so the space could be given over to drivers. Brooklyn's Third Avenue elevated train was replaced with the Gowanus Expressway. Bridges carrying subway and trolley lines were converted to automobile use, even though that led to fewer people to using the bridges. Walkable neighborhoods with three- and four-story buildings were razed for towers surrounded by parking lots or perched atop multi-story concrete garages. Central Park's loop drive was opened up to traffic.
So to those of you working at City Planning, we implore you: please bring back the wide sidewalks of days of yore. Is anything being done about this?