See You In Court: Memphis and the Fight Over Interstate 40

The beautiful city of Memphis, Tennessee is known for many things:  stronghold of the Civil Right Movement.  Home to Elvis Presley and Graceland.  A rich artistic culture that helped launch the careers of many musicians, including B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  And who can say “no” to Memphis’s world-famous barbecue?

Memphis is also known for something else: an ugly and drawn-out battle over one of the most controversial highway projects in United States history, which would eventually wind up at the United States Supreme Court in the case of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe.  How could an argument over a highway wind up being debated at the highest court in the nation?

In order to answer that question, let’s turn to the freeway plans for the city, which date back to the early 1960s.  Compared to a lot of other cities its size, Memphis seemed pretty cut-and-dry.  Interstate 55 would skirt the southwestern part of the city.,  Interstate 240 would be the primary by-pass around the area.  The only other major highway planned was Interstate 40, which would neatly cut a straightforward east-west path through the city proper.  Pretty simple, right?

 

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Zoom in a little closer, however, and you realize that a potential headache is brewing:

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Yup, that’s I-40 planning to cut right through Overton Park.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Memphis area, Overton Park is one of the scenic jewels of the city, consisting of over 340 acres that includes a 9-hole golf course, the Memphis Zoo, the Memphis College of Arts, a 126-acre nature preserve area, and the Levitt Shell amphitheater.

 

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View of The Links at  Overton Park, the main golf course

 

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Another view of the park, this time from the historic Greensward area

So how did this all come about?  To find out, let’s go back a few years.  The plan to build Interstate 40 through Overton Park began in 1956, at the suggestion of Memphis city officials and the Federal Highway Administration.  One year later, a group of dedicated city residents decided to form the “Citizens to Preserve Overton Park,” and a years-long battle ensued.  Why were government officials so keen on routing high-speed expressways through tranquil park lands?  On the surface, the idea might sound ludicrous, but according to Josh Whitehead at Creme de Memphis, the reason was actually pretty simple:

“Parks were viewed by the federal and state highway agencies as ideal locations for interstate highways through urban areas in the 1950s and 60s because no condemnation was required. This changed when Congress passed the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, which contained Section 4(f) requiring a finding by the highway agencies that there was no reasonable and prudent alignment outside of the public park or land.”

Of course, it wasn’t lost on the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) that there would be significant environmental consequences to the freeway– *ahem*– I mean, expressway project (I just found out that Tennessee refers to all “freeways” as “expressways” due to the fact that there are no Interstate toll roads in the state).  The list of possible negative effects included destruction of Rainbow Lake and some of the old forest area within the park, alongside the fact that I-40 would split the entire park in half, making it more cumbersome for pedestrians to get around:

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During the 1960s alternatives were proposed, including routing I-40 north of the park, but this proved costly and redundant since the northerly route brought the highway within a couple miles of the I-240 bypass.  Tensions within Memphis reached a new high on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing outside at the city’s Lorraine Motel.  Interestingly enough on that same day, the city council voted and gave the green light to allow the construction of I-40 through Overton Park.  In 1969 CPOP lost a lawsuit filed against the city to halt construction.  In 1970 an appeal was made to the 6th Circuit Court, where CPOP lost again.  Finally, in 1971, CPOP won the right to have their case heard at the U.S. Supreme Court.

With CPOP bringing their case to the highest court in the country, John Volpe, who at the time was Secretary of Transportation under President Richard Nixon, represented the respondent in the case.  CPOP’s main argument to the court was summarized thus:

“Under § 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966 and § 138 of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968, the Secretary of Transportation may not authorize use of federal funds to finance construction of highways through public parks if a ‘feasible and prudent’ alternative route exists. If no such route is available, he may approve construction only if there has been ‘all possible planning to minimize harm’ to the park. Petitioners contend that the Secretary has violated these statutes by authorizing a six-lane interstate highway through a Memphis public park. In April 1968 the Secretary announced that he agreed with the local officials that the highway go through the park; in September 1969 the State acquired the right-of-way inside the park; and in November 1969 the Secretary announced final approval, including the design, of the road. Neither announcement of the Secretary was accompanied by factual findings.”

 

For their part, Volpe and his allies made the following counter-arguments:

“[T]he requirement that there be no other ‘prudent’ route requires the Secretary to engage in a wide-ranging balancing of competing interests. They contend that the Secretary should weigh the detriment resulting from the destruction of parkland against the cost of other routes, safety considerations, and other factors, and determine on the basis of the importance that he attaches to these other factors whether, on balance, alternative feasible routes would be ‘prudent.’

But no such wide-ranging endeavor was intended. It is obvious that in most cases considerations of cost, directness of route, and community disruption will indicate that parkland should be used for highway construction whenever possible. Although it may be necessary to transfer funds from one jurisdiction to another, 25 there will always be a smaller outlay required from the public purse 26 when parkland is used since the public already owns the land and there will be no need to pay for right-of-way. And since people do not live or work in parks, if a highway is built on parkland no one will have to leave his home or give up his business. Such factors are common to substantially all highway construction.”

The Supreme Court decided in favor of CPOP, but that didn’t end the saga.  Throughout the 1970s, plans were discussed to route I-40 underground through the park, but again, cost considerations prevented this idea from gaining traction.  Finally, in 1981, the Department of Transportation removed the I-40 designation from the “orphaned” section of I-40 that had already been completed inside the I-240 beltway.  This part was re-named as Sam Cooper Boulevard.

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Sam Cooper Boulevard, facing west near East Parkway, with Overton Park in the distance.

Further changes were made to Memphis’s interstate system in the years following Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe.  I-40 was officially routed on the northern section of the I-240 bypass, and the I-240 designation was eventually removed.  The southwestern part of I-240 has also been re-designated as I-69 — known by its nickname as “The NAFTA Superhighway” — which has also generated a large amount of controversy in its own right to the present day.   And then there is the current construction of the I-269 outerbelt in the suburban Memphis area, which has raised environmental concerns as well.  The battles continue….

 

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Map of Memphis Interstates and other major highways, as of June 2018

Additional Sources:

http://cremedememph.blogspot.com/2016/04/overton-park-exwy.html

https://www.overtonpark.org/

http://www.overtonparkforever.org/2011/03/forty-years-ago.html

https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/401/402

http://maps.google.com

https://www.memphisflyer.com/memphis/bumps-in-the-road/Content?oid=3326638

Cleveland’s Clark Freeway: The Mistake on the Shaker Lakes?

Hard as it may be to imagine, there was a time when Cleveland, Ohio was one of the largest cities in the entire United States.  According to the 1920 census, Cleveland was ranked number 5 in population, right behind New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit.  By 1970 it had slipped in rankings to number 10, but by that point in time it still had 750,000 people living in the city proper.  Today, in 2018, the city is home to only 388,000, though the metropolitan area still boasts a fairly sizable 2 million.

It comes as no surprise, then, that during the mid-20th century, when the area was a lot more crowded, that there were plans for numerous expressways to cross the area.  Contrast with what Cleveland’s freeway system looks like today:

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with the original plans from 1944:

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During the 1950s and 1960s, the freeway plan for Cleveland underwent numerous revisions.  One plan from the mid 1960s was considerably more ambitious in scope:

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The “freeway revolts” that had begun out west during the late 1950s and early 1960s — including the fight against San Francisco’s Embarcadero freeway — eventually spread to the eastern cities a few years later.  As a result, Cleveland’s freeway system sat with multiple gaps and pieces marking uncompleted highways.  Until the mid-1980s, traffic traveling on I-480 had to make use of Brookpark Road between much of the area between I-71 and I-77.  The Jennings Freeway (Ohio State Route 176 between I-71 and I-480) sat in limbo for many years before being finished in 1998.  The only segment of the Parma Freeway to see completion was the northbound exit off I-71 to Denison Avenue.

The saga over the Clark Freeway played out throughout the 1960s.  The original plan for the Clark was to connect I-90 and I-71 near downtown with I-271 (“The Outerbelt”) in the eastern suburbs.  The proposed freeway, which was originally to be designated as I-290, was to run in a straight east-west line through the eastern part of the city and the suburbs of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights, as the above map shows with the black line.  Many residents of the two suburbs were particularly aghast at the prospect of having their communities carved up not only by the Clark but also the proposed Heights and Lee Freeways, which were later canceled.  Of particular concern was the probability that the elevated 8-lane Clark  would have a negative environmental impact on the  Shaker Lakes Nature Preserve,  which included Horseshoe Lake:

Horsehoe Lake

The fight against the Clark reached a peak in 1969.  Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, known for his pro-highway stance and lack of interest in environmental issues, had been pushing for construction of the Clark, fearing the loss of federal funding for the state.  Residents of Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, who had already formed committees to block the highway, found an ally in Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes.  If there was one concern that the city shared with the eastern inner suburbs, it was the potential loss of residents and economic activity to Cleveland’s more distant suburbs.  Rhodes, who was planning to run for the U.S. Senate, realized that he needed the support of Cleveland’s inner suburbs if we was to achieve victory.  An additional factor that played a major role in stopping the Clark was local newspaper editor Harry Volk, who kept the issue alive every week in the area papers, discussing the negative impacts future freeway construction would cause.    By 1970, the plan to construct the Clark through Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights was pretty much dead.

That, however, was not the final end of the story.  Years later, a portion of the Clark Freeway WAS completed and opened to traffic in 1990, with the designation of Interstate 490.  The 2 1/2 mile highway runs from its western terminus at its intersection with I-90, I-71, and the Jennings Freeway to its eastern terminus at East 55th Street.

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Near the western terminus of I-490/Clark Freeway, facing west.

 

I-490_-_Google_Maps_-_2018-05-13_16.58.43 At the eastern terminus of I-490 and East 55th Street.  As of 2018 there are no plans to extend the freeway further east.

Additional sources:

http://maps.google.com

http://www.gcbl.org/blog/2015/02/clevelands-1969-highway-revolt-sheds-light-on-opportunity-corridor

http://www.clevelandmemory.org/freeways/index.html

https://www.interstate-guide.com/i-490_oh.html

http://chuh.net/chhistory/features/freeways.html

St. Paul, Minnesota: The Curious Case of Ayd Mill Road

The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota have enough examples of canceled and altered highway projects that it would be enough to merit a whole series in its own right.  Yet one in particular stands out: the anomaly known as Ayd Mill Road in St. Paul, which meanders through the west-central part of the city, from Selby Avenue near Concordia University to its southern terminus at I-35E near Jefferson Avenue.  One might ask if Ayd Mill is a standard road, a parkway, or a freeway?  The correct answer might be that it’s a little of all of these, and the debate rages on over what it should be for the future.

AydMill

Traveling east on Selby Ave. in St. Paul, one is greeted by the northern end of Ayd Mill with an on-ramp and a small sign at the split-off.  Easy to miss if you’re not really paying attention to your surroundings:

Ayd_Mill_Rd_-_Google_Maps

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From there Ayd Mill travels at ground level through several St. Paul neighborhoods.  The speed limit on the highway is 45mph.  What’s unusual about this road is the weird mixture of off-ramps and stoplights that juxtapose its various intersections.

 

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Ayd Mill near Hamline Avenue.  Southbound traffic exits to Hamline via the off-ramp, while northbound traffic waits at the stoplight to turn.

 

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Traveling southbound, near the southern terminus.  Right lane exits off to Jefferson Avenue, with left lanes eventually merging onto I-35E southbound.

So what is the history behind Ayd Mill Road?  In the 1880s, Ayd Mill was originally a stream bed before Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad bought up the right-of-way.  Commuter trains used the route to ferry passengers back and forth between St. Paul Union Depot and the Milwaukee Road Depot in St. Paul’s twin city of Minneapolis.

After the railway fell into disuse, the city of St. Paul began construction on the Short Line Road (the original name of Ayd Mill) in the 1960s in an attempt to link I-35E with I-94.  The route was to allow easy travel from commuters in the south suburbs of St. Paul to reach Minneapolis without having to go through downtown St. Paul.  However, opposition to the proposed plan in the Summit Hill and Merriam Park neighborhoods kept this dream from becoming a reality.  It wasn’t until 2004 that Ayd Mill was extended south to make a connection to I-35E.  To this day, Ayd Mill continues to generate discussion and arguments in the Twin Cities.  Should the road be extended further north to link to I-94?  Should it be upgraded to a full expressway?  Should it be converted to a “linear park” with fuller access for bicycles and pedestrians?  The debate continues….

Other sources:

http://www.steve-riner.com/mnhighways/other_rtes.htm

http://maps.google.com

https://www.smart-trips.org/brief-history-ayd-mill-road/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayd_Mill_Road

Just a Little Bit: Milwaukee’s Park Freeway

San Francisco is not the only city in the United States to have ever torn down a freeway.  Milwaukee would follow in its footsteps a few years later.  During the mid-20th century, Milwaukee also had its plans for a sprawling expressway network, linking the city with its disparate suburban communities.

The original plan from 1949 looked a little different compared to the system Milwaukeeans know today:

prop_expwy_sys_1949

 

The 1965 plan from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Committee, which was considerably more ambitious, shows just how much more might I have been done to the area:

m03_1965proposed1990system

One of these crucial highway links in this sprawling system was known as the Park Freeway.  The Park Freeway’s eastern terminus was to start in downtown by splitting off from the Lake Freeway (I-794) near Clybourn and Van Buren Streets, traveling north before turning west and running more-or-less concurrent with Juneau Avenue before making a northwest turn along State Route 145 near the Lake Freeway (I-43).  From there the freeway was to turn west near West North Avenue and 21st Street before reaching its western terminus at what was to be the north end of the Stadium Freeway near North and Lisbon.

Opposition to the Park was almost immediate.  During the mid to late 1960s, community meetings throughout Milwaukee had many residents from the city’s north side neighborhoods speaking out against the construction of the freeway, though a few spoke out in favor.  Also of concern was the environmental impact the freeway would have on Juneau Park downtown, where the merger with the Lake Freeway was planned.  Complicating matters was the fact that the right-of-way for the entire freeway had  been purchased by the city, with many homes and commercial businesses already having been demolished to make way for the new highway.  Residents on the city’s north side complained of being mistreated while they were being evicted from their soon-to-be-razed homes, which included the substandard conditions of the replacement housing they were being offered.

park-west-right-of-way-1970s

View of the cleared right-of-way on the north side of Milwaukee

Opponents of the freeway successfully utilized the newly-enacted National Environmental  Protection Act to halt construction of the freeway in 1972.  By that time, only 0.8 miles of the freeway had actually been completed, the segment from the I-43 junction east to Jefferson Avenue.  A referendum was put on the ballot in 1974 to “close the loop” of the Park with a northern-extended Lake Freeway, along with several other highway projects in the city.

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Although the referendum passed, freeway opponents were successful in stalling construction through a series of political maneuvers, and by 1980 the plan to continue construction of  the Park was more or less dead.  For the next 20 years, the constructed part of the Park East sat in limbo.  The only completed and opened segment of the freeway was underutilized and did little to bring traffic into the downtown area.

 

ParkEastEmpty

One of the most consequential figures in Milwaukee’s political scene took the stage as the city’s mayor in 1988.  John O. Norquist came to power on a strong anti-freeway platform.  Norquist was successful in his efforts not only in halting any additional construction to the city’s freeway system, but was eventually able to have the Park East torn down, which began in 2001:

 

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View of downtown looking west after demolition of the Park East Freeway.

 

Since demolition was completed in 2002, the  of rebuilding and revitalization of downtown Milwaukee left empty by the tearing down of the Park has been an ongoing process.  Today, many new housing and commercial projects have taken the place where the freeway once stood:

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.wikipedia.org

http://www.preservenet.com

http://www.wisconsinhighways.org

http://www.onmilwaukee.com

http://city.milwaukee.gov

Against All Odds: San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway

Few highway projects in the United States have inflamed as many passions and resulted in as volatile a politics as much as San Francisco’s much-hated Embarcadero Freeway — and yet, for 35 years, the freeway stood in spite of the opposition that dominated throughout its history.

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Construction of the Embarcadero Freeway, circa 1956.  Note the clock tower on the World Trade Ferry Building in the background.

 

First, a little historical background: in the immediate period following World War II, every major American city was focused on the future, which included construction of a series of high-speed expressways to connect different parts of the city, so that traveling across a major metropolitan area could be accomplished in minutes instead of the hours it could sometimes take.  San Francisco, like every other city, had plans for a sprawling freeway system that would connect multiple areas of the city together in a web of arterials and interchanges.  One of these links was to construct a freeway that would link the Bay Bridge on the city’s east side with the Golden Gate Bridge in the northwest.  The proposed highway, Interstate 480 (later downgraded to State Route 480 after 1965), was to run along the Embarcadero up until Bay Street (the “Embarcadero Freeway”), at which point the freeway was to turn west, running parallel to Lombard Street before turning northwest to Doyle Drive as it approached the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge (the “Golden Gate Freeway”).

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From the beginning the project was mired in controversy and dissent.  Opponents harshly criticized the double-decker freeway for obstructing the view of the San Francisco Bay and the World Trade Ferry Building, one of only a few historical buildings to have survived the city’s  1906 earthquake and subsequent fire.  Also of concern was the probability that the freeway would wreck the natural beauty of the Telegraph Hill neighborhood.  The San Francisco Chronicle took a particularly harsh tone in one of their 1959 editorials:

“We oppose and have consistently opposed the hideous monstrosity which the State Highway Commission built along the Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building, obscuring the tower and the World Trade Center from view. … Such an evil is the Embarcadero Freeway, which as we said last Friday and here repeat, should be demolished.”

Although initial construction happened at a rapid pace during the mid-1950s, opposition to the Embarcadero Freeway grew strong enough that further construction was halted in January 1959.  Although there were plans to resume construction in 1964, a major protest attended by 200,000 people in Golden Gate Park to protest further freeway construction  within the city dissuaded California transportation officials from embarking any further on the project.

 

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View of “The Stub”, the point at which construction of the freeway was halted, near Broadway.  Note the metal barriers to prevent errant cars from diving over the edge.

In the following years, calls were made to tear down the portion of the Embarcadero Freeway that had already been constructed.  In 1987, a citywide referendum to tear the freeway down was defeated by a nearly 2-1 margin.  Interestingly enough, the greatest opposition to demolishing the freeway came from the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, who feared the loss of an easy-access corridor between the Bay Bridge and their district would have a severely negative effect on business.

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Another view of the freeway, facing north near Howard Street.

All this changed on October 17, 1989.  The Loma Prieta earthquake did significant damage to the transport system of the Bay Area, including 42 fatalities as a result of the collapse of the double-decker I-880/Cypress Viaduct in Oakland.  While the Embarcadero Freeway did not collapse, the structural damage was enough for the city to close the freeway due to safety concerns.  Discussion began as to what to do next.

 

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Embarcadero Freeway in 1990, closed after sustaining damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake. Photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice

One proposal was to re-build the freeway with stronger supports in order to withstand a higher-magnitude earthquake, but this soon proved impractical as the projected price tag for such a project rapidly escalated.  Art Agnos, the mayor of San Francisco at the time, sensed the city shouldn’t squander “the opportunity of a lifetime,” and campaigned to tear down the freeway.  The Board of Supervisors eventually voted to tear down the freeway by a vote of 6-5, and demolition commenced in February, 1991.

Today, the Embarcadero is open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic, with a ground-level boulevard for cars to pass through.  Many visitors to the area may find it hard to believe that a freeway ever existed there at all.

embarcadero-beforeafterr_blog

James Leo Halley, who was once asked about his career on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors during the 1950s and 1960s, was blunt in his assessment:  “I made one mistake. I voted for the Embarcadero Freeway.”

 

Additional Sources:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/thetake/article/An-ode-to-the-Embarcadero-Freeway-the-blight-by-11543621.php

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/transport/features/2010/unbuilt_highways/san_francisco_the_embarcadero_freeway.html

https://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~dlkriske/highway/480/

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright: Chicago’s Never-Built Crosstown Freeway

Commuters on Chicago’s I-90/I-94 Dan Ryan Expressway know what the term “sitting in traffic” means.  According to ABC Channel 7, Jason Knowles reports that several of the worst bottlenecks in Chicago traffic are all on the Dan Ryan, including one at Canalport Avenue and another at 18th Street.  The Dan Ryan has seven lanes in each direction, with four serving as “express lanes” and the remaining three serving local on and off-ramps.  That doesn’t stop traffic from slowing to a crawl at certain times of day, however:

 

traffic-jam

One of the reasons traffic in Chicago is so bad are the limited number of directions you can travel in: since the entire city sits on the western shores of Lake Michigan, there is simply no way to go “northeast” or “east” or “southeast” from downtown (unless you have a boat in port!)  Thus, auto traffic out of downtown is limited to due north, due south, and westward.

Also complicating matters is the fact that the Dan Ryan is the only north-south arterial through much of  the city proper.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t any plans for another freeway to be built.  In 1967 there was a proposal made by the federal government to build the “Crosstown Expressway”, which would have been designated as I-494.

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The freeway was originally planned to split off the Dan Ryan between 75th and 87th Streets (near the existing I-90 Chicago Skyway), traveling west before turning north at Cicero Avenue and continuing up through the west side of the city before merging with the I-90/I-94 split north of downtown.  One particular advantage of this path would have allowed easier access from the south side of the city to Midway Airport.

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An artistic model of the proposed Crosstown Expressway, with Midway Airport on the left.  In this concept the freeway lanes were split in order to minimize displacement of people and the tearing down of buildings.

 

 

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A view of Cicero Avenue at Belmont, part of a stretch where the Crosstown would have been built.

 

A political tussle ensued between then-Mayor Richard Daly and the governor of Illnois, Dan Walker, with Daly being a strong advocate for the Crosstown with Walker staunchly opposed.  Plans for the Crosstown were finally canceled in 1979, with the designated funds going for other transportation purposes, though there have been minor rumblings in the years since about reviving the highway.

One particular note of interest in regards to the proposed Crosstown is that the route would have taken it through the Garfield and Humboldt Park neighborhoods of Chicago as well as the nearby suburb of Oak Park — places where the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright had designed and built many residential houses and other buildings, an idea that wasn’t lost on the residents who opposed construction of the highway.  The Crosstown Expressway serves as another prime example in the United States of the continuing fight between developers  and preservationists.

 

Additional Sources:

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/transport/features/2010/unbuilt_highways/chicago_the_crosstown_expressway.html

 

Moses’s Parting(s) of Manhattan: The Midtown and Lower Manhattan Expressways

Bringing up the interstate highway system of New York City is nigh near impossible without mentioning the name “Robert Moses”.  Lauded by admirers as an architectural visionary and derided by critics as an egomaniac who was intent on wrecking neighborhoods, one cannot argue that Moses left his mark in big ways in the Big Apple, and would have left an even bigger mark were it not for the determined efforts of his opponents.

Moses, who was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1888, eventually moved to NYC after graduating from college. Gradually he rose in power and stature in the city, despite never being elected to public office.  He was instrumental in massive infrastructure projects during the New Deal of the 1930s, including what would become the city’s sprawling bridge and freeway system.

 

1200px-Robert_Moses_with_Battery_Bridge_model

Moses, who took a remarkably unsentimental view of the past while constantly focused on the future, once remarked: “You can draw any kind of picture you want on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra, or Brasilia, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.”  And hack away he did, or at least tried to.  One of his projects that earned him a great deal of notoriety was the planned Lower Manhattan expressway.

The extremely talented Andrew Lynch has made some wonderful adaptations from Google Maps on his website  http://www.vanshnookenraggen.com of what the unbuilt Lower Manhattan freeway would have looked like:

Lower-Manhattan-Expressway-map.jpg

 

Essentially the Lower Manhattan would have formed a three-way connection (meeting up with an extended Interstate 478 to the immediate west of Sara D. Roosevelt park) between the Holland Tunnel, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge, slicing through the Lower East Side and potentially leaving a good portion of Broome and Delancey Streets in its shadow.  Untappedcities.com provides the artist’s rendering for the highway:

lower-manhattan-expressway-vintage-photos-nyc-untapped-cities

If this wasn’t daring enough, Moses also had plans for another freeway to cross the Midtown district:

Mid-Manhattan-Expressway-LOMEX-Unbuilt-Robert-Moses-Maps-NYC

 

The goal of the Mid-Manhattan expressway was to link the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey with the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the eastern boroughs.  Coming from the west, the highway was to travel parallel with West 39th Street, turn south between 9th and 10th avenues, continue east between 29th and 30th, and then turn north again before reaching the tunnel to Queens.

An artist’s rendering model of the mid-Manhattan.  Note the Empire State Building on the right and the proposed Madison Square Garden in the background:

mid-manhatten model

Needless to say, there were many buildings and other historical markers standing in the way of these projects.  Speaking on Moses’s plans for Lower Manattan,  Anthony Paletta, in writing for the Guardian:

The Lower Manhattan Expressway was an effort to tie up the loose ends of local roadways by extending Interstate 78 – all 10 lanes of it – from the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges. The obstacle was the streetscape of SoHo and Little Italy, and the great variety of uses within that the city found dispensable.

“The grand total for proposed demolition was 416 buildings that housed 2,200 families, 365 retail stores, and 480 other commercial establishments,” wrote Anthony Flint in Wrestling with Moses.

Moses eventually met his match in prominent neighborhood activist Jane Jacobs, and the two freeways that would have rolled through Manhattan were eventually removed from the city’s highway planning.  It would have been interesting, however, to see how the character of Manhattan might have been changed if Robert Moses had had his way.

 

First post!

“Well the highways they take longer, and it don’t always pay to wander….” – Joe Purdy, “Highways”road-asphalt-space-sky-56832

 

Roads have always played a prominent role in the life, history, and formation of the United States.  From the National Road to the Lincoln Highway to U.S. Route 66 to the Interstate Highway System, our highways have been able to link disparate parts of our large nation together.

 

Yet what about the roads and highways that never were, or might have been?  There are many stories of many thoroughfares that were never built.  Politics, historical preservation, environmental concerns, and good old-fashioned NIMBYism all played a huge part in telling the story of which highways in our nation got constructed, and which didn’t.  Join me on a journey as we learn and explore an off-the-path history of America’s canceled highways!