Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Rail Paul

Reconsidering Robert Moses

Recommended Posts

Moses had little use for public transportation, and restricted its access to "his" parks and beaches. Caro ascribes this to racism and his preference for the "better sort", but even Fiorello LaGuardia was opposed to streetcars and elevated railways. In general, the prevailing belief in much of the US was it's OK to spend millions on highways, but not allow a subsidy for privately owned train and bus lines or subways

 

One base of power for Moses was the bond underwriting and bond counsel community. These are the people who sell revenue bonds based on bridge tolls, etc to the pension plans, insurers, college endowments, etc. The counsel writes the opinion that the bonds serve a public purpose, and are acceptable under law. There used to be enormous profits if you were selected to participate. Moses needed a huge source of funds for his projects as the Triboro Bridge authority and The Tunnel authority (later merged) issued billions in bonds.

 

Moses made a major miscalculation in the late 1940s - he allowed the airports (Idlewild, LaGuardia) to slip away to the Port Authority's control.

 

ETA: crossposted with Lex

Edited by Rail Paul

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Moses's faith in the automobile is especially puzzling in light of the fact that he never even learned to drive a car.

Everybody favored the car at that time. Gas was cheap, the economy was booming, and cheap GI loans were fueling the growth of the suburbs. We can blame Moses for New York's car related problems but they were replicated in every large city in the country. The boom cites of the west like LA and Houston have virtually no mass transit at all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I saw the Observer article. It's nuts to exclude Caro. That's a 1200 page biography, and it will remain definitive for years if not permanently. I have heard Caro speak (on his current subject, LBJ), and he's a thoughtful, engaging, informative guy - not an advocate. By all means elicit alternative views of Moses, but excluding Caro completely tarnishes the entire project.

Excluding Caro is puzzling, but I doubt that this was due to Prof. Jackson. In his wonderful "History of New York City" class at Columbia, we students had to read the entire monster tome -- luckily, it is an eminently readable and fascinating book.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Moses's influence was not limited to New York. I believe he had a hand in expressway planning in other cities. Notice how consistently waterfront access was cut off in American cities. San Francisco, Albany and Boston are three examples. I'm positive Moses was involved in the Albany project. By the way, none of you have commented on the New York State Power Authority. Who do you think was responsible for turning Niagra Falls into a faucet?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Moses's influence was not limited to New York. I believe he had a hand in expressway planning in other cities. Notice how consistently waterfront access was cut off in American cities. San Francisco, Albany and Boston are three examples. I'm positive Moses was involved in the Albany project. By the way, none of you have commented on the New York State Power Authority. Who do you think was responsible for turning Niagra Falls into a faucet?

You're right about the power plant. He built a massive one near Niagra. Massina? I actually read the Power Broker twice but the last time was in the 1980s and my memory of his influence on those other cities is a bit hazy. Even if he didn't have a direct hand in their development his example was very powerful.

 

Al Smith was a key figure in Moses' life. He gave him his start, trusted him, and provided the political muscle for Moses to create Jones beach. They were an odd couple. Moses was a patrician secular Jew, born to wealth and a Yale graduate with a doctorate from Columbia. Smith, an Irish Catholic, was from the lower east side and he dropped out of grammar school at 14 to become the sole support for his family. As an adult Smith's early experiences were as an Albany politician but he gradually grew into something much better. Many of the New Deal programs that FDR enacted had their roots in things Al Smith did when he was governor.

 

Building Jones Beach wasn't easy at all. Rich landowners fought the development, fearing the masses of blue collar New Yorkers who would be drawn to their quiet corner of of Long Island. As Moses was preparing to begin the project a delegation of the landowners met with Smith, pleading with him to block the development and keep the rabble away.

 

Smith remembered his roots and replied "I am the rabble!" He backed Moses and Jones Beach got built.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
San Francisco, Albany and Boston are three examples. I'm positive Moses was involved in the Albany project.

 

That's possible, although I don't recall ever seeing any information linking Moses to the Albany effort. I'm sure Mayor Corning had enough friends that he could get the job done himself during the 1960s.

 

In reading the Wikipedia link, I recalled the Oyster Bay to Rye bridge across Long Island Sound, and Mr Moses's involvement in that aborted project. Another effort that would be useful today.

 

He certainly had bold visions for the future, and enough credit to get many of them accomplished.

 

Another great builder of the time was Austin Tobin of the Port Authority. Under his watch, the third tube of the Lincoln Tunnel was built, as was the Outerbridge Crossing, the creation of cargo ports Newark and Elizabeth, the expansion of Newark, LaGuardia and Idlewild Airports, the bus terminal, and the construction of the World Trade Center. Tobin was eventually forced out by Governors Rockefeller and Meyner, IIRC.

 

The governors recognized that autonomous agencies with independent funding weren't entirely desirable. Moses suffered the same fate as Rocky took him down, too.

 

Today's MTA, Thruway, Port Authority, LIPA, etc are much more vehicles for the politicians than the 1940s and 1950s versions of the same had been.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The governors recognized that autonomous agencies with independent funding weren't entirely desirable. Moses suffered the same fate as Rocky took him down, too.

Moses revered Al Smith and to his dying day and always referred to him as "The Governor." You could hear him capitalize the "G." OTOH he despised Rockefeller and he always referred to him contemptuously as "Nelson."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Philip Lopate offers some reflections on the works that Moses wrought.

 

With consummate opportunism he followed the money trail, at first tapping into local budgets for the construction or improvement of recreational facilities (Jones Beach, Riverside Park, dozens of neighborhood playgrounds and an astonishing set of public swimming pools) at the behest of Governor Al Smith and Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, then building parkways to get to the parks, then using New Deal money for a rash of civic projects, then milking postwar Federal funds to construct highways and enormous public housing complexes. One of his maneuvers was to turn highway construction into a revenue stream through toll collection and the establishment of public benefit corporations, like his cash cow, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which gave him the freedom and resources to operate more autonomously.

 

It would take a whole newspaper to enumerate all of Moses’ achievements, real and dubious. What needs to be stressed here is his vision of sustaining New York as a middle-class city. He saw that New York was losing its manufacturing base, and he tried to shore up the central city by supporting the growth of cultural institutions, universities and hospitals. To that end, he brokered deals that brought the city the United Nations, Lincoln Center, two World’s Fairs and the expansion of New York University, Fordham and countless other academic institutions and hospitals.

 

 

He harnessed change

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting piece.

 

Governor Cuomo has already extended several bus lines into areas where jobs are available, like Hunts Point. These will eventually tie in with the east Bronx rail service.

 

The Rockaway terminal for the A train isn't on Moses account, though. That was a 1950s era conversion of a one time LIRR branch into a subway line. The creation of Idlewild airport and Aqueduct race track were seen as future passenger sources. Traffic to the beach was an after thought. Ironically, Austin Tobin of the PANY blocked the airport link, which Moses seemed to want.

 

(Stephanie likely knows more about this)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...