JOHN WILCOCK: History of New York's Lower Manhattan Expressway (LoMEX)


Minneapolis has a similar story. Plans from as late as the 1970s were calling for a crosstown highway that basically would have replaced Lake Street. (And, yes, that means a highway running between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. I’ve seen the master plan map. It’s full of WTF.) For those not familiar with the city, the mental recoil effect is similar to that produced by the idea of LoMEX.

It’s stuff like this that really makes me think about what we lost to the highways that were built through the middle of cities.

Jane Jacobs would later relocate to Toronto where she pretty much permanently changed the nature of the conversation about cities and society. If Toronto has a guiding philosophy right now, it’s Jacobs’s. Every year there’s a series of ‘Jane’s Walks’ which are guided tours around Toronto’s neighborhoods that are well worth looking at if you’re in town at the right time.

Edit to say: She did come here too late to prevent the building of the Gardiner Expressway that in a similar story to some of the other comments here cut Toronto off from the lake. We’re still trying to figure that one out…

The Big Dig repaired a huge scar across downtown Boston. Here in Austin, I-35 is a very large demarcation between the hipster money downtown and the barrio East side (although that’s where all the clubs are coming up). In every city I’ve lived in, highways running through downtown are always magnets for neighborhood blight.

If we had money, I would recommend ‘Big Dig’ projects for Atlanta, Manhattan, Austin, San Antonio, LA, and Seattle.

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After seeing how the Big Dig turned out it’s amazing anybody would try to use it as a model for any city.

Lessons learned, I think. The idea of burying the highway is good, but letting the mob run the show on cost-plus contracts is bad. I’ve seen highway rehabs in Utah and other states under better contracts that were done under budget and on time (because of the bonus structures).


Man, I love this series unreservedly. It shows a different side than the modern perception to the time period. A lot of cool stuff happened in the 50s and 60s that by the time I was growing up in the 1970s, seemed like pop culture was doing its level best to rewrite or pretend never happened.

The only highways we have in Manhattan are along the sides and where the giant bridge comes in from New Jersey. Moving any of them underground next to the rivers would be a terrible idea, based on the recent storm surge and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

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Moses was always such a jackass. My favorite of his plans was when he built the expressways to Coney Island so city buses wouldn’t be able to fit underneath them in an attempt to keep the “urban youth” away from the beach. Classy guy.

I wonder if Moses’ actions actually served to create a greater sense of community.

My favorite of his plans was when he built the expressways to Coney
Island so city buses wouldn’t be able to fit underneath them in an
attempt to keep the “urban youth” away from the beach.

In the process of researching my book I had several urban design experts and historians who specialize in the history of community action against major infrastructure projects tell me that this story is a myth. These weren’t people inclined to like Robert Moses, either. From what they said, there’s no record of that ever having been part of Moses’ plan. It’s a story that cropped up later about him.

I don’t mean burying the West Side Highway or the FDR (although that might engage people with the waterfront more), I mean drilling and connecting the Lincoln Tunnel and the LIE. Think of all the cross-town traffic that could be sucked down out of sight…

42nd Street isn’t that bad over to the tunnel. While I like it the nightmare that was the Big Dig would be such a disaster for Midtown.

There’s a debate going on within Birmingham, AL, right now about an interstate that cuts through the downtown. The I-59 elevated section through downtown is going to be rebuilt due to age, and the city wants it to be replaced with a ground-level option. The state transportation department, ALDOT, apparently thinks this is a non-issue and is plowing ahead with just replacing the elevated sections.

I think it would help heal a big division in the city if we were to lower it.

Hmmm. What do you think of Robert Caro’s book on Moses, then?

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The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro, is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand how U.S. cities were transmogrified by the unlikely combination of City Beautiful, Progressive Era, anti-boss politics idealism and shadow governments in the form of public authorities. The chapter “One Mile” is a devastating description of the Cross-Bronx Expressway’s construction. Bracket that with Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, by Kenneth T. Jackson, and you have a good history of how American cities came to their extraordinary, automobile dominated form.

Haven’t read it. It sounds interesting from perechereek’s description.

Power Broker is a must read if you have any interest in how the 20th century happened! Moses and his shaping of NY & NYC had a huge nationwide influence. Caro, a pathologically meticulous researcher, certainly did say Moses built the “parkway” systems of NYS so as to exclude public transport. Not only that, when he was building the Long Island Expressway through what was then cheap farmland, other officials begged him to buy a wide enough right of way so commuter rail might someday be run down the median. He refused. His entire career he did all he could to sabotage public transport in favor of cars, the irony being he never learned to drive. The best story was how it took FDR to stop him from building a Brooklyn battery Bridge instead of a tunnel.

Jane Jacobs inspired people in Vancouver to stop the freeway that would have obliterated Chinatown as well. Now Vancouver has embraced the model of ‘mixed use minimize cars’ and is becoming a truly stunning city on all fronts.

I saw Jane Jacobs speak not long before her death. Brilliant to the end.

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I was going to cite Caro’s book actually. I was wrong about Coney Island, he mentions Jones Beach having the parkway issues with buses.