Home Asides Envisioning Moses’ Manhattan

Envisioning Moses’ Manhattan

by Benjamin Kabak

When Robert Moses ruled New York, roadways were king, and transit was shunned. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the leaders representing this transit-dependent city haven’t yet managed to overcome this irrational auto-friendly bias. As the State Senate debates the MTA’s future, design blog Vanshnookenraggen recently reimagined Manhattan in the image of Moses. Using Google maps and some imaging software, Vanshnookenraggen pictured the city as it would be with the ill-fated Lower Manhattan Expressway and Mid-Manhattan Expressway. Those projects would have been nightmares indeed for the city.

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rhywun March 17, 2009 - 5:36 pm

Of course Moses was a jerk but it’s not like every other American city didn’t pursue–and achieve–the exact same thing.

Marc Shepherd March 17, 2009 - 6:54 pm

It is usually said that Moses was the pioneer, and other cities followed his example. If Moses had been a fan of transit, he would still have been a jerk, but we would have had better transit, and other cities probably would too.

W. K. Lis March 17, 2009 - 7:36 pm

Moses never drove a car, but was chauffeured around wherever and whenever he wanted. His chauffeured limos bypassed all tolls. Because he never drove, he never suffered the stresses, as his limo’s backseat became an office for him.
Today, he still lives on as his school’s of thought tries to continue his automobile-oriented-development. The transit-oriented-development is trying to overcome this thought, but it is hard to overcome.

nyctaxiphoto March 17, 2009 - 10:19 pm

wow, thanks for this, I like this guy’s site, bookmarked it a while ago, never know where I found it, maybe from your site a while ago.

very well done maps he has- from the looks of it even if we don’t calculate all the destruction that these roads would have brought. it looks very clear that it wouldn’t have helped traffic at all, rather it would have only made it worse. I picture the same scenario where the brooklyn bridge exit is on the fdr drive, but in several new places, all of the connection points would have clogged up, and the whole island would have come to a stand still.

plus an elevated highway straight through midtown would have done terrible things to property value, crime, shopping, et-cetera. I often think of Robert Moses’ plans as genius, but only if they are done correctly, without destruction, without causing an eyesore, and without having interchanges that merge traffic into bottle necks.

Kevin March 17, 2009 - 11:27 pm

I wonder what the city would be like if these highways would’ve been built, but if they were completely underground. It’d be nice to see a Canal Street with 1/3 the traffic it has today, without everyone scurrying off to the Holland Tunnel.

rhywun March 18, 2009 - 12:56 am

The question is, would it have been worth destroying the central city to gain that benefit. Because that is what would have happened. Large parts of Lower Manhattan and Midtown would be wastelands today if these projects had gone through, just like the areas of so many American downtowns that were plowed under to make way for similar projects.

Ed March 18, 2009 - 12:02 am

I was going to be contrarian and suggest that these highways were actually better ideas than some of the highways that were actually built by Moses in the outer boroughs. However, the mid-Manhattan highway is just insane. There is no way you can build a highway through Midtown without wiping out a good deal of the city’s GDP. It would be too expensive to bury it, plus enormously disruptive to the Midtown businesses while it was being built.

Now the idea of connecting the Manhattan Bridge, Williamsburg Bridge, and Holland Tunnel actually makes some sense, mainly because the island is narrow enough at that point that you can bury it, as Kevin suggests. Moses probably envisaged an elevated highway. Also, running the highway through the middle of Soho again was nuts, you would think even at the time people realized the value of the architecture there. A highway under Canal Street might actually alleviate the traffic nightmare around the Holand Tunnel, and I guess even an elevated highway wouldn’t have been much worse than the old els. Imagine a slum district right between modern day Soho and Tribeca.

Also why does the Queensboro Bridge run into the normal street grid at both ends? At least in Queens, where it winds up in an industrial area, they could have run a highway to it. In Manhattan there are too many outlets onto the surrounding streets instead of loops to the FDR drive, some of the streets in the area have more of the character of on ramps or off ramps than normal city streets. This was one area where Moses might have done some good.

Benjamin Kabak March 18, 2009 - 1:42 am

That’s the problem, Ed, with all of latter-day Moses projects. All of them would be good ideas except for the fact that Moses was 100 percent unyielding and refused to compromise on his visions. Sure, we could use a connector between the Holland Tunnel and the Manhattan Bridge but only if it went under Canal St. We could use the BQE but only if it had a right-of-way for train tracks. The history of Robert Moses is dotted with good ideas that would have worked had he been (a) willing to compromise and (b) more keen on the idea of mass transit. As it is, he set New York on a course that has, in a way, culminated in the MTA’s current financial crisis.

R2 March 18, 2009 - 2:04 pm

A completely underground LOMEX w/ the appropriate tolls, maybe.

Though remember adding roads increases traffic; it doesn’t alleviate it. I can assure you even with that connection, Canal Street would still be a mess.

Marc Shepherd March 19, 2009 - 12:38 pm

The idea of an underground LoMex is a contradiction in terms. If built at all, it would have been built to Moses’ specifications, which by definition meant above-ground.


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