Nicholas Calcott

R. Moses Dreams

2021

Robert Moses long kept a vision of a city-that-could-be in the Model Room on Randall's Island.

In 1968, when Moses lost power and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority was absorbed into the MTA, the offices on Randal's Island were cleared of his "Moses Men" and his ideas. The models themselves were put into storage in a pillar of the Triborough Bridge where they remained until excavated in the 1990s.

An alternate history, they reside in a fluorescent-lit office in a building overlooking the imagined approach ramps to the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge.

Project Details

Many thanks to the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Office of Special Archives and especially to Archivists Nellie Hankins and Mary Hedge for their generosity of time and knowledge and their care of an invaluable reference.

 

We have definitive maker info for only one of these four models - that of the Brooklyn-Battery Bridge, made by J.J. Werner around 1939.

Moses proposed a Brooklyn-Battery Bridge in 1939, in place of a planned tunnel which had initially failed to secure financing. He claimed that his proposal would be cheaper, faster, more efficient, and could be financed entirely by bonds. It was opposed by many of the city's most prominent residents, large portions of the public, and a variety of civic groups, who feared it would be detrimental to the city's appearance and would negate the property tax base on some of the most valuable land on the planet. Moses' bridge was nevertheless approved by the Planning Commission and City Council. It was ultimately killed in 1939 by the US Department of War, fearing it would block maritime access to the Navy Yard (a decision perhaps also driven by personal animosity between Moses and President Roosevelt).
Conceived in the 1930s to ease congestion, the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) was given planning permission by 1941 but didn't gain real steam until 1960. Construction was slated to begin in 1962 when Jane Jacobs formed the Joint Committee to Stop The Lower Manhattan Expressway to battle the planned demolition of 14 blocks along Broome Street - "When you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax," according to Moses. After numerous protests, spectacles, changes of mayoral administration, Moses' downfall, and Jacobs' arrest at a meeting, city support was rescinded in 1972.
A Long Island Sound link connecting Oyster Bay and Rye by bridge was first proposed in 1957 and adopted by Moses in 1964 with the commission of a planning study. Intended to ease transport from Long Island to places North, it received political support but repeatedly encountered administrative and legal delays. In 1968, with the dissolution of his base of power at the TBTA, Moses was retained as a consultant expressly to shepherd this project. Nonetheless, newly required environmental impact assessments and local opposition led to the cancellation of the bridge in 1973, which now exists only in the form of signs for phantom highway exits.
In 1949, Moses proposed the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, a highway across 30th St. intended to connect the Queens-Midtown Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel by elevated skyway. Later proposals included running the road through the 6th and 7th floors of the Empire State Building or raising the skyway to 10 stories above the ground to allow for commercial development above and below the road. Plans were finalized by 1963 and received the I-495 designation. Ultimately, the project was unworkable due to the massive real estate costs involved and in 1970 it was cancelled and the Interstate designation removed.
The City

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