Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Alex Marshall

Robert Moses’s Fundamental Misunderstanding

12:00 PM EST on February 9, 2007

In the latest issue of the Regional Plan Association's Spotlight on the Region newsletter, editor Alex Marshall has an outstanding essay responding to the recent burst of Robert Moses revisionism. An excerpt:  

It all comes down to capacity. Like many people of his generation, I'm convinced, Moses essentially didn't understand the different capabilities of different modes of transportation, despite his learning and education. A freeway at top capacity can move only a few thousand vehicles per hour, and all those vehicles have to be put somewhere once they arrive where they're going. That means many lanes of freeways and many parking lots and garages chewing up prime real estate.

By comparison, a subway or commuter train can move tens of thousands of people per hour, and they all arrive without the need to store a vehicle. This essential fact is why Manhattan can have dozens of skyscrapers, which not incidentally produce millions in salaries, profits and taxes, crammed right next to each other without any parking lots.

Moses' vision of New York, if he had completed it, would have essentially downsized large parts of the city. At the MCNY exhibit, there's one artist's conception of what Soho would look like after the highway was cut through it. It essentially looked like Dallas or Houston - a broad boulevard lined with Edge City style office buildings. And whether you love or hate Dallas, it's a far less productive city than New York, when calculated on a per square foot basis.

This is what happened to much of Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx, which are still recovering from the damage Moses did. The boroughs are not only less hospitable because of the worst of Moses' freeways; they are also less productive.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Tuesday’s Headlines: Once and Forever, Congestion Pricing is a Good Thing Edition

Entitled Manhattanites who oppose the central business district toll are the most misguided, it turns out. Plus other news.

February 27, 2024

#StuckAtDOT: City Delays Suggest Safe Cycling Rule Changes are Dead

Department of Transportation has still not implemented city regulations that it said more than three years ago would improve safety — and one activist thinks the rules are dead.

February 27, 2024

MTA Ditches License Plate-Based Congestion Pricing Disability Exemption

Transit official won't grant congestion pricing disability exemptions any car with a disability license plate after all — opting for a case-by-case registration process instead.

February 26, 2024

Activists Renew Push For Redesign of Fourth Ave. in Bay Ridge

But where is Council Member Justin Brannan when cyclists and pedestrians need him? He's been AWOL on this issue.

February 26, 2024
See all posts