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The parkways were the first system of limited access highways. These are roads designed particularly for through traffic, upon which cross traffic has been eliminated or severely curtailed, to which entrances and exits are strictly controlled, and in which abutting landowners have no easement or right of access different from that enjoyed by the general public. Such highways are also called freeways, thruways, expressways or belt-lines.

The parkways were designed for automobile traffic, predating such later limited access highways as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Germany's Autobahn, and the United States Interstate highway system.

The first of these parkways were in and around the greater New York City area. Construction on the Bronx River Parkway began in 1907, and on the Long Island Parkway (also known as the Vanderbilt Parkway) in 1908.

By the 1920s an extensive system of motor Parkways was carrying a large volume of constant traffic in the area.

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