Holy Moses! The Manhattan Freeway that Wasn’t


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January 28, 1965, Vol. X, No. 15

Last Exit to Manhattan

By David Gurin

Ten smooth lanes of elevated concrete and steel are proposed to entomb old Broome Street for its final sacrifice as the connecting link between the Holland Tunnel and the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. Designed in Los Angeles to the latest open-country autobahn standards, the Lower Manhattan Expressway would create a Chinese Wall above Chinatown, wipe out little Italy, and bisect the Lower East Side.

But the brutalities of the proposal surpass even its ruinous effect on these densely populated New York neighborhoods: the brutality of colossally profitable automobile manufacturing and allied corporations molding a nation to fit their products, without regard to human life or lungs; (freeways for the car-owning middle class before new housing for the car-less poor over whose slums the sky-road flies); the brutality of cynical city planning, devoted at best to mere adequacy and never to beauty (enough lanes, enough parking spaces, so many square feet in “standard housing units” in big brick erection); the gladiatorial brutality of the ruling Mayor and Board of Estimate setting captive group against group in a struggle for the public purse.

Admitting indirectly in the press to pressures from construction contractors (always generous contributions to political parties) and from the building trades unions, the Mayor abruptly decided a few days before Christmas to hold a public hearing — the fifth or sixth in 20 years — on whether or not to acquire the property needed for the expressway. On the hearing day several score members of construction trade unions flanked City Hall in well-disciplined picket lines with signs demanding an end to delay and the immediate beginning of work on the multi-million-dollar project. One observer, inhaling the alcoholic vapor which floated around the pickets on Park Row, suggested that the union’s call had gone out only to Irish members so as not to embarrass Italian trade unionists with relatives in the road’s path…

If Robert Moses succeeds in forcing the Lower Manhattan Expressway upon us, he may succeed with a 30th Street expressway and a Bushwick expressway and the complete destruction of Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn (already the first few blocks of this beautiful boulevard have been bulldozed and “improved” into an expressway). All these may be accomplished — typically — without public planning or consideration of alternatives…

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