The highway that almost destroyed downtown

Soho? Never would have happened. Little Italy would be turned into a pile of bricks. And block after block along Delancey, Broome, Kenmare, and Spring Street would have met the wrecking ball as well.

But luckily, none of this happened, because the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway was met with relentless community opposition.

First proposed in 1928, LOMAX, as it was known, would have been an 8-lane elevated highway connecting the Holland Tunnel to the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges via Broome Street.

The point was to link New Jersey to Long Island faster and more efficiently. “Master builder” Robert Moses pushed hard for it the early 1960s, claiming it would create much-needed city jobs.

But residents, led by urban activist Jane Jacobs, argued that it would displace thousands of families and signal the demise of entire historic neighborhoods.

Finally, in 1969, the city officially killed the plan.

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13 Responses to “The highway that almost destroyed downtown”

  1. Josie Says:

    I remember this. I and my family lived on Broome Street in the early 1960s when it still appeared they were going ahead with the plan. In anticipation of which, some agency offered residents an incentive payment of a couple hundred dollars or so to help with relocation costs. As it happened we grabbed an opportunity to move into a brand-new public housing project just a few blocks away. But then LOMAX was abandoned and so our building still stands on Broome Street, only now it houses yuppies who pay thousands a month in rent.

  2. Sean Says:

    Thank God for NIMBYs!

  3. Boris Says:

    Unfortunately, most of Moses’ highways were built. In some cases, they remain unfinished, like on Staten Island. In their complete absence, the government would have had to relent and expand public transit options, but in our limbo world of half-built projects, we are forced to pay huge taxes to upkeep Moses’s boondoggles, while still having to deal with ridiculous congestion. Moses lives on through the NYS DOT.

  4. Alex Says:

    This was the last organized objection to such a large eminent domain project which the people won. I couldn’t even imagine what those residential neighborhoods of Manhattan would look like today. Yay for Jane Jacobs.

    • Ferdinand Cesarano Says:

      This wasn’t the last. The last, which occurred a few years later, was the opposition that stopped the Clearview Expressway extention that would have torn up Queens Village (where I lived). This monstrosity was intended to connect to another highway in southern Queens that would have destroyed Rockaway Blvd.

      But those aren’t the only Moses abominations that remained unbuilt. The LOMAX, as I understand it, was intended to be connected to a “Bushwick Expressway”, which would have lain in the grass between the sides of the Conduit. And, of course, Moses was not done with Brooklyn. If he had had his way, there’d be no such thing as Ocean Parkway, as the Prospect Expressway would have obliterated it all the way down to the Belt.

      Despite Moses’s wonderful Flushing Meadow Park, it is clear that this was, in no uncertain terms, a madman. We can only be thankful that this patron saint of auto-inspired destruction completed but a fraction of what he intended to do, failing to inflict on Manhattan and Brooklyn the kind of harm which he succeded in imposing on the Bronx, and to a lesser degree on Queens.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    There’s a great account of LOMAX (and other proposed public works projects) in Rebecca Read Shanor’s fascinating book “The City That Never Was”. I think it’s out of print, but the NYPL mail branch has it and you may be about to get it through alibris and other online used-book sellers.

  6. Naomi Says:

    It’s stunning to realize the kind of impact Jane Jacobs had. It’s true that without her, LOMAX would have been a reality, rather than part of a what-if nightmare scenario. There’s a new collection of essays by activists and designers inspired by Jane — connecting her ideas and activism with issues of present-day cities called “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs”. Both NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Mindi Thompson Fullilove, who wrote “Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About it” both contributed essays. Inspiring stuff.

    http://www.newvillagepress.net/book/?GCOI=97660100041170

  7. Duke Snider Says:

    Fuck You Robert Moses!

    • Paul Says:

      Thank you for not letting the Highway run through Ebbetts Field Duke! It’s a shame that the TEAM had to move to LA.

      Fuck you Walter O’Malley!

      • Ferdinand Cesarano Says:

        Sorry to post twice in one day about Robert Moses. But, even concerning the Dodgers, it is right to say “fuck you, Robert Moses”. The villain in the Dodgers’ move was Moses, not Walter O’Malley.

        It is true that O’Malley wanted to move out of Ebbets Field. However, he wanted to stay in Brooklyn; in fact, he wanted a stadium at the Flatbush Ave./4th Ave. location where the basketball arena is now being built. And he wanted to build this stadium privately, with no public money at all (as he later did with Dodger Stadium).

        O’Malley needed the government’s help only to acquire the many parcels that made up the stadium’s footprint. So he went to the King of all land issues, Moses — who showed him the back of his hand.

        Moses didn’t personally care about baseball, so he didn’t give this request of O’Malley’s any priority. Moses’s unaccountability prevented anyone else in the government from even grasping what had gone on between him and O’Malley, until it was too late.

        O’Malley, having been rebuffed by the most powerful man in New York, then (quite reasonably) began looking elsewhere, and eventually was offerred Chavez Ravine by the L.A. city government.

        It was only after O’Malley had this offer in place that the crack New York team get going, having finally removed Moses from this matter. But the New York proposed no site in Brooklyn; by then all it could offer was a site in Flushing Meadows in Queens (which of course eventually became the site of Shea Stadium).

        So, O’Malley is no more or less abominable than any other team owner, certainly not deserving of the outsized opprobrium he ususally receives. Walter O’Malley did not abandon Brooklyn; he was kicked out of Brooklyn by Robert Moses.

  8. Aonghais Macinnes Says:

    Thank goodness this never happened.

    As a kid in the 60s I used to collect maps. I had a great Esso map of New York City that had a pretty nice street map of downtown, and this map included the (proposed) expressway right through Soho and Little Italy. Thank goodness maps can be wrong!

  9. Joly Says:

    I recently videotaped Roberta Brandes Gratz reading from her book ‘The Battle for Gotham’ about this very topic.

    Reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJcHpZj–xs
    Q&A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_aJQAGv8YA

  10. Lou Caputo Says:

    Although I never saw it my Mom and Aunt and Grandfather spoke of A beautiful and much loved and very historic,Church Our Lady of Mount Carmel the first Italian American Parrish in Brooklyn that was razzed by Moses. No deal could be made or compromise could be struck to move the BQE one or two blocks either way to save the landmark Was that ego, or am I mistaken

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