Few people loom as large in the annals of New York City (and State for that matter) history as Robert Moses. I discovered this myself when 6 years ago I decided to challenge myself to recreate two of his most infamous projects, the Lower Manhattan Expressway and the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, in a Google Maps mashup. That post is still to this day one of my most popular and those maps I made I’ve found all over the internet. Shortly after I published them I decided to go for broke and try and draw a map of the entire city with all of the different highways and expressways Moses tried to build throughout New York City (and after that, a map of the whole state with various other parkways and expressways he planned). I got pretty far before a hard drive failure corrupted much of my work and while most of the data was recovered it took the steam out of my sails for the project and I shelved it for other projects (such as my NYC Subway Infographic series).
I recently stumbled upon these maps again and realized that, while far from perfect, they still succeed at showing an alternative New York City to the one we know today. In 6 years both my skills as a cartographer and the quality of Google’s Map engine have increased so these maps are also a bit of a look back when things were a bit rougher. In fact it was the first Robert Moses highway maps that I made which let me think there was a future in cartography for me. Because of the time lapse I’ve elected to keep things pretty much as I left them and just polish up what I have rather than going back to the drawing board. I made these maps at a large scale to try and get as much detail in terms of showing how damaging these roads would have been.
Much of the information I used was from www.nycroads.com, a fantastic resource not just for NYC roads but for highways and bridges around the region. There have been many different highway proposals over the first half of the 20th Century, some from Moses himself and some from others. Because of this I had to narrow down which roads to show; some were more serious proposals than others, some never got past the conceptual stage, but others were partially built and canceled when funds and support dried up. For the most part I’ve made up where interchanges are, where ramps lead, and even where the highways themselves cut through neighborhoods since many of these official plans changed many times over the course of Moses’s career. Even after Moses was removed from power state officials tried to sanitize many plans so they would have less impact on the surrounding communities. But ultimately these plans were scrapped.
The three maps I have here show many, but not all, of the proposed highways that were to cut through the five boroughs. You can dig deeper into their routes at nycroads.com but here is a quick rundown.
- Lower Manhattan Expressway
- Mid-Manhattan Expressway
- Cross Harlem Expressway (not shown: NJ-125th St Bridge)
- Prospect Expressway Extension
- Cross Brooklyn Expressway
- Bushwick Expressway (an alternative route would have run along Broadway)
- Queens-Interboro Expressway
- Astoria Expressway
- Nassau Expressway
- Clearview Expressway Extension
- Sheridan Expressway
- City Line Expressway
- Mosholu and Pelham Parkway Expansions (expanded from “parkway” to “expressway”)
- Pelham Shore Drive
- Shorefront Parkway
- Richmond-Korean War Veterans Memorial Parkway
- Wolfe’s Pond Parkway
- Willowbrook Expressway
- West Shore Expressway Extension
Moses began his career building parks and parkways for recreational driving. Many of the “shore front” parkways he planned were part of his coastal or beach improvements. The Shore Front Parkway in Rockaway Park, Queens is a good example of what these roads would have looked like and Moses intended on extending this road to Far Rockaway as well (not shown on the map). His expressways would have been more damaging as they required the demolition of established neighborhoods. A familiar tactic of Moses was to declare these neighborhoods slums and vilify the inhabitants. While there is no doubt there were areas of high crime and dilapidated housing Moses more often than not drove his roads through working class neighborhoods that had important social networks that were destroyed when families were forced out.
These maps are pretty large which is why I’m hosting them on my Flickr page. Obviously there is so much more to Robert Moses and his plans so let these maps be more of a stating point for what could have happened.