Posts about Robert Moses
In the 1950s and 60s, urban planners were busy constructing freeways across America, through plains and mountains where they were needed, and into the centers of cities where they bulldozed vibrant communities and hastened sprawl and urban decay.
In most cities, local activists fought these highways and, with varying degrees of success, eventually halted new construction. In many areas the local Departments of Transportation never entirely gave up on these plans. Here is a quick roundup of what freeways would look like in some of our most walkable, neighborhood cities had planners had their way:
First, the poster child for freeway opposition, San Francisco, which cancelled its freeway construction as early as 1959 in the famous Freeway Revolt. SF Cityscape has a great annotated map of freeways that were and were not built.
1948 plan from California Department of Highways, via BikeSummer.
In Boston, the Inner Ring would have demolished much of Central Square in Cambridge, Cambridgeport, the neighborhoods around BU, and much more; activists killed it and other expressways in 1972. Some of the funding was rerouted to transit; Northwest and Southwest Expressways (to Burlington and Canton) were replaced by the Red and Orange Lines respectively.
1948 Master Highway Plan sketch by Mass. Department of Public Works. From BostonRoads.com.
Should BU have looked like this? Courtesy Scott Moore.
Washington DC built most of its planned freeways on its southern side and in Virginia, but not downtown and in suburban Maryland.
1955 proposal for Washington DC. Photo by Richard Layman.
As Zachary Schrag points out in this op-ed, the money that was to be used for the DC freeways in the 1960s was directly put into the Metro instead, to DC's great benefit.
I'd always thought that the black communities, such as in Southeast DC, had failed to stop the freeways because they were poor or minority, while the white areas of Northwest had successfully fought them off (as in New York, where the Cross-Bronx bulldozed black neighborhoods while Jane Jacobs and the white people of Greenwich Village were able to kill the Lower Manhattan Expressway), but that's apparently not the case, or at least not entirely:
Photo by Richard Layman.
And speaking of Jane Jacobs, the most celebrated urban activist and the one who personally sparked public awareness of the fallacy of then-conventional wisdom in urban planning, she and others succeeded in killing the terrible Lower Manhattan Expressway and other roads. But the sadder part is that by 1961, when she published Death and Life, Robert Moses had already built most of the roads that he'd wanted to build. In the below map, all of the solid lines were actually built.
Regional Plan Association expressway plan, 1964. From NYCRoads.com.
New York has the most extensive subway system in the U.S., sure, but who knows how many of these subway lines would have been built had transportation funding been reallocated to transit as Washington did? How different might Queens be today?
Unlike San Francisco, where opposition stopped 80-90% of the planned freeways, New Yorkers only stopped the last few. Unlike San Francisco, which killed the freeway that was to run through Golden Gate Park (except the very short transverse segment of CA-1), Moses successfully ran parkways through Inwood Hill Park, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx River Park, and what is now Riverside Park and Flushing Meadows Parks. And unlike San Francisco, with a "Transit First" policy that favors public transportation over private cars in planning decisions, New York's DOT still moves cars first and foremost.
In The Power Broker, Robert Caro describes the Gowanus Expressway as one of Robert Moses' first of many terrible highway projects. He ran the highway right down the center of Sunset Park, completely covering the then-vibrant Third Avenue despite the neighborhood's pleas to run it closer to the waterfront. The Gowanus needs to be replaced, and since the mid-90s activists have been pushing an alternative to simply rebuilding the highway: a tunnel.
A tunnel would be more expensive, of course, and the DOT was unwilling to consider the plan until Transportation Alternatives and neighborhood groups filed a lawsuit in 1998. They won the suit, and state and federal money to perform a thorough study of tunnel alternatives.
Lobbying for the tunnel has continued, but the public heard nothing more of it until the Post reported on Friday that DOT officials have approved the tunnel plan. It's not entirely clear from the article how strongly (or whether) they are recommending it over other alternatives, but this is a major step in any case.
Comments on Gothamist's writeup are mixed. Is it worth the money? Will improving the highway just encourage more driving? We know that widening highways adds to sprawl and traffic, but what about tunneling them? Is Boston's Big Dig a good idea or not?
When I first attended a TA meeting where they were discussing the tunnel plan and lobbying, my first question was whether we could just tear down and not rebuild the highway. But the fact is, that particular road is one of the most vital truck routes to most of the city including Manhattan, and even more rail freight capacity won't be able to completely remove the need for trucks to get in and out. So the Gowanus, at least, is here to stay one way or another. Hopefully at least it can stop polluting and depressing Sunset Park.
This is wonderful. And a very clever satire on an important issue.
I'm not a big expert on NYC's big development controversies (the West Side Stadium and the Williamsburg/Greenpoint rezoning) but I have friends opposing each, and from what I can tell they seem like really bad ideas (official site and opposition site for the stadium; official site and opposition site for Williamsburg/Greenpoint).
The City Council recently voted to approve the West Side plan, while the Bloomberg administration made a secret sweetheart deal to sell a whole block on 42nd Street for $100,000. This happens to be the very block containing The Tank, site of many Cosmopolity events. The Tank always expected to get kicked out of its space but never that the city would get so little benefit in return.
It's sad that we seem to still be repeating the same mistakes of the Robert Moses era. Moses built huge, monolithic single-use buildings instead of the better mixed-use, street-level neighborhoods - just as many parts of these plans would. Moses operated in secret with scant public oversight, just as the mayor's office has. And most importantly, Moses strongarmed the Board of Estimate into approving his plans through a variety of tactics, and the Board's members were politically too weak and cowardly to stop it - just like the City Council today.
So here we are in 2005, and the City Council responds to an obviously bad plan (bad for everyone except for real estate lobbying interests, that is) by merely getting a concession to include more low-income housing. And many call it a victory. Our elected representatives should not be relegated to simply making marginal improvements to a bad plan. They should be able to simply say, no, you may not create another urban planning fiasco that we'll look back upon as a colossal wasted opportunity. Come back with a better plan, but to this one, no.
Opponents of the West Side Stadium now are hoping to use legal tactics to delay, and to block the plan due to environmental impact problems. That reminds me of the fight over the Brookyn-Battery Bridge, chronicled in The Power Broker. Moses wanted to build a bridge from Battery Park to Brooklyn instead of the tunnel that we have instead, because he wanted a grand monument to his legacy. The bridge approaches would have completely destroyed Battery Park. But Moses insisted it was the only way, and the city government was powerless to stop him.
In the end, reason only won out because President Roosevelt, a longtime nemesis of Moses', had the Navy declare that the bridge would interfere with access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard (which was probably not true, since there were already two existing bridges in the same area). So only the President of the United States, using a technicality, could stop this awful project. Today, we are just as powerless against a mayor who listens only to real estate interests, while ignoring decades of urban planning lessons gleaned from hard experience with similar travesties.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name
- WMATA launches "Short Trip" rail pass on SmarTrip