Thursday, April 5, 2012

Robert Moses and the Suburban Parkway

The low bridges on the parkways designed by Robert
Moses do not allow passage of buses or semi trucks.
Click for photo credit.
There are a number of Robert Moses stories that float around Long Island that are fascinating.  If you are not sure who Robert Moses is, read this obituary of him that reviews his many accomplishments.  In short, he was a political scientist who took on the role of master planner for the greater New York area.  In Long Island, perhaps his greatest accomplishments are the many parkways that were constructed to bring commuters from Long Island into New York City and to move them quickly and efficiently around the island.

When I moved here, I was surprised how easy it is to get around Long Island due to the many parkways.  If you are not from the area, they are like interstate expressways, but with access limited only to cars.  The lack of buses and trucks is an intentional design element by Moses.  He intended the parkway system to be a pleasant car experience for drivers.  He made the overpasses too low for large vehicles.  He designed the roadways for the suburban commuter and he did not want trucks or buses to mar the experience of the driver.  It all sounds very Mad Men in today's context.

There are some who have argued that the parkways limit access to Long Island.  Mass transit commuter buses cannot get around the island easily.  Neither can school buses.  Plus, the parkways cut through existing neighborhoods and changed the character of Long Island significantly.

These types of grand public works projects have fallen out of favor in our more dystopian and libertarian times.  Certainly Moses' works can be critiqued from a number of angles from a sustainability perspective, but his work represents a more utopian time in which the suburbs were the answer to the ills of urban living.

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