Mastering the Media: The Secrets of Robert Moses

Mastering the Media: The Secrets of Robert Moses

“His achievements are on the level not of any Roman emperor but of Rome, and not so much of any generation but of entire civilizations.” — Ryan Holliday


Robert Moses built the greatest city in the world. Parks, highways, tunnels, bridges, and beaches — he built them all. When he began building New York City playgrounds, there were 119. When he stopped, there were 777. An ordinary man with an extraordinary mind, he built the Lincoln Center and the United Nations Headquarters, Jones Beach and the Central Park Zoo, the Triborough Bridge and the Long Island Expressway. He uprooted more than 500,000 people and destroyed the neighborhoods that once housed them. He led thousands and thousands of laborers, and together, they built 13 bridges and 416 miles of parkways, and by the end of his tenure, New York had 45% of all the state parks in America. The dude even invented the parkway.¹

In the words of one speaker:

One speaker said that “Robert Moses had outdone his biblical namesake because while the Moses of the Israelites had smote a rock in the desert and brought forth water, Moses of New York had “smote the city’s parks and brought forth not only water but trees, grass, and flowers.”

Robert Moses was never elected to office — not once. And yet, at the peak of his career, in a democracy where power is supposed to come from being elected, The Power Broker basically controlled everything: he controlled all transportation planning, all public housing, all energy policy, and all municipal parks.

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The park and highway works of Robert Moses.

As Robert Moses shaped the land and sculpted the terrain of New York City, its residents were stuck in jam-packed, bumper-to-bumper traffic. But Moses never learned to drive. Thus, he never suffered from the nauseating, headache-inducing smell of exhaust in a traffic jam. In fact, it was just the opposite. When it came to his projects, he worked at delirious speeds. He operated with a pedal-to-the-metal attitude and had a fierce, unquenchable drive. He didn’t just defeat opponents. He destroyed them. As he inched up the power pyramid of New York City politics, it seemed like nothing stood in his way. Nobody could stop Moses — not the people, not the mayor. Not even the governor. Feared behind closed doors, but loved by the people, Robert Moses was America’s Master Builder.

How did Moses master the media and accumulate so much power?

By selling simplicity, dominating distribution, and praising the parks.

In his early years, Moses plotted his moonshot career east of Manhattan, in the backwaters of the Long Island State Park Commission, beyond the vortex of municipal decision making, beyond the whispered echo chamber of New York journalists, and beyond the setbacks of Art Deco skyscrapers that kissed the heavens and cut right angles out of the blue Manhattan sky.

Half genius, half dictator, Moses maintained a squeaky-clean image. Financially supported by a trust fund from his Connecticut-based parents, Moses worked many years without pay. Even at age forty-one, Moses earned no income. All the money in his bank account came from his mother. Subsidized by his family’s trust fund, Moses didn’t take a salary, and since he didn’t take a salary, the media didn’t question his intentions. Otherwise discerning journalists intoxicated themselves with Robert Moses Kool-Aid. Delusional, they thought a man who worked for free couldn’t possibly be corrupt.

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“A Selfless Servant of the People”

In the eyes of New York’s media moguls, Moses wore a golden nimbus.

The Tribune called him a “selfless servant of the people.” William Odgen, at The New York Times  —  the newspaper of record  —  called him “one of the greatest public servants of our time.” Murray Davis of the World Telegram told readers that “for ten years he has worked long hours, without pay, to give New Yorkers inexpensive outdoor pleasures.” He practically walked on water.²

As Robert Caro wrote in The Power Broker

“The image was of the totally unselfish and altruistic public servant who wanted nothing for himself but the chance to serve. A key element in it was his disdain for money — a disdain which he made certain was well publicized and which was symbolized by his refusal to accept a salary for his services… he had made certain that the public knew he was serving as authority chairman ‘without compensation.’

The image was of the fearless independent above politics… The image was of the relentless foe of bureaucrats, the dynamic slasher of red tape… The image of the man who Got Things Done, who produced for the public tangible, visible, dramatic achievements…”

Moses was paid in power, not in money. 

The metaphors wrote themselves. Like a king in a castle, his office was surrounded by a river-wide moat which separated Moses from the rest of his New York kingdom. Majestic and imposing, his office, accessible only by bridge, symbolized his independence from the city. On Randall’s Island, Moses reigned supreme. A world within a world. Nobody — not even the highest city officials — could drive to Randall’s Island without paying the Triborough Bridge Authority (directed by Robert Moses) a tribute in coin. Visitors were subject not to city laws, but to Triborough’s, and by extension, Moses’. From the seat of his throne, The Power Broker worked in the shadow of the lucrative, money flinging Triborough Bridge toll plaza. From the comfort of his mahogany desk, Moses glittered with greed and wide-eyed intensity. An emperor of cash and concrete, he sniffed the scent of dollar bills and danced to the syncopated echoes of coins transferring from taxpayers to toll operators. If the Randall’s Island office was the heart of Moses’ empire, the tolls from the bridge that ran across it were its blood. From his office, lined with exquisite, higher-than-the-ceiling maps of New York and Long Island, Moses dreamed up the future of New York with starry-eyed, child-like imagination.

As he painted the canvas of the greatest city in the Western world, Moses built intimate relationships with reporters. These relationships gave him direct control over the mainstream media. By crafting simple narratives, Moses controlled public opinion.³


The Power of Simplicity

The Machiavellian titan spoke with eloquence and vitality. He knew that concise and memorable statements were most effective; he knew that voters rarely did not read extensively, so the spread of his messages depended on his ability to simplify them; he knew that funding went to the pragmatist who had already made plans, not to the dreamer with a foggy vision for tomorrow; he knew the system — inside and out — and exploited its weaknesses.⁴ 

Time and time again, Moses grossly underestimated the cost of a project in order to get funding. With tactical media manipulation, Moses extended his mind, coordinated his employees, and tilted the balance of public opinion in his favor. With ruthless determination, he built a culture of action and speed. His stainless, sun-bright image concealed his callous and cavalier approach to building:

“The important thing is to get things done.. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.. If the end doesn’t justify the means, what does?”

To the public, Moses was a hero. Buoyed by a crescendo of media support, “Mister Go” manipulated the media and stretched the law.

As Taylor Pearson wrote:

“When he was building Jones Beach earlier in his career, Moses had confiscated property on Long Island in a way that was almost certainly illegal. It was required by law that he have the funds to pay for any confiscated property immediately, and he did not have it. He was promptly sued by the property owner. He used his lawyers to delay the case from going to court for as long as possible, and started building a parkway going to Jones Beach, a new beachfront park, right away.

By the time the case got to the courts, he had already built the parkway and the beach. Hundreds of thousands of New York residents had driven to the beach with their families for sunny summer afternoons. There were lots of subtle issues at play about under what circumstances the State had the right to seize property and the ruling on the case would set a precedent. From a legal perspective, the case was ‘dark grey’ — probably illegal, but there was some justification if you really stretched the law. And stretch the law the judge did. The judge knew he would get crushed by the newspapers and voters if he ordered a section of the parkway to the beach be turned back over to the original owners. The beach would be inaccessible for years while the highway was being re-routed.

The headline “Judge Rules You Can’t Go to the Beach with Your Kids Anymore” is a career ender and both Moses and the judge knew it.

At the margins, public opinion wins. And he who controls distribution controls public opinion.”

Politics and communication are linked at the hip. They’re nearly synonymous. The essence of politics is applying communication in service of power and personal gain. Only by understanding the relative access to and control over information, can we understand the ebbs and flows of power, politics, and even, the human condition.

In the land of freedom and democracy, Moses’ authoritarian power didn’t just go unquestioned. It was praised. And that praise landed in newspapers and played on television screens with sunrise-sunset consistency. By controlling the leads, Moses controlled New York.


Dominating Distribution: How Moses Shaped Public Opinion

Moses worked in the heart of mass media at the peak of the mass media era. An era where wars were fought not for territories, but for words. An era where global culture spread from the sky-high headquarters of New York-based newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations. 

In this broadcast era, communication was asymmetric. It flowed from one to author to audience, press to the people, one to many. Publishing access was restricted. Mass media real estate was reserved for a select few, and that select few had outsized influence. Once you had the press, you had the people. Knowing this, Moses turned connections into control and publicity into power. His infrastructure projects progressed in speedy, coordinated fashion. Delays were kept to a minimum. Sometimes, when he really needed to win a battle, Moses resorted to blackmail. In controversial 50–50 battles, Moses went to the press directly, and where he did, he shaped both the playing field and the rules of the debate:

“He went to the press with his usual blend of demagoguery and deception: breaking the story himself to get his side of it before the public first; oversimplifying the basic issue to one of public first private interest; identifying the “private interest” with a similar sinister forces of “influence” and “privilege”; concealing any facts that might damage his own image, framing the situation of public versus private, Moses versus his opponent, good versus evil.”

By reshaping public opinion — dominating distribution, controlling the narrative, and manipulating mass consciousness in undemocratic fashion — Moses reshaped reality.

Public opinion moved steel and concrete. It shaped hearts and minds, and Moses knew it. In 1927, the press focused on Charles Lindberg, the first person to fly across the transatlantic solo. As Lindberg defied the laws of physics and soared across the skies, Moses accumulated power behind the scenes. That year, in a prescient analysis of the capitol scene in Albany, one New York Tribune headline read: “Moses Second in Power to the Governor.”

If 1927 was Lindberg’s year, 1928 belonged to Moses. With grand dreams and the power to turn them into reality, Moses graced the front of New York City newspapers. The Master Builder even rose above Albert Einstein, who, in 1928, rocked the world of physics when he discovered his theory of relativity. And yet, New York’s thirteen daily newspapers preferred Moses’ physical creations to Einstein’s intellectual discoveries:

“New York’s reporters strove for new adjectives to describe the park builder, one writer concentrating on his physical attributes (“tall, dark, muscular and zealous”), another on the mental (“a powerful and nervous mind”), a third on the moral (“fearless,” “courageous” ) to describe [Robert Moses].”

Editorial writers chimed in. “His labors have been unwearied and successful,” said the Times, “his energy and persistence . . . great.” “He has been a faithful, earnest and efficient incumbent,” said the World. “He has done excellent work.” Even the Herald Tribune was beginning to look on his works and find them good.

And the praise, on front pages and editorial pages alike, continued day after day. If readers were reminded once during 1928 that Moses was serving the state without pay, they were reminded a hundred times.”

Reporters fought for interviews with Moses. In return for the favor, journalists portrayed Moses as a selfless public servant — a man who cared less about politics and more about getting results, less about his salary and more about cutting government costs. Words leaped out of Moses’ mouth and landed directly in print without revision. The media relished his big face, big smile, and big voice and gave readers an impression of grandeur, strength, and power.

His power didn’t just come from the people. It came from the system itself — the laws, the media, and the politicians who governed The Empire State. While citizens applauded Moses, elected officials depended on him. Merciless in his pursuit of power, Moses’ achievements were visible to anybody and everybody. Concrete in form and figure, his bridges, highways, and tunnels allowed elected officials to prove that they had indeed done something for their constituents. When Moses built parks, he won voters’ appreciation, and when he won voters’ appreciation, elected officials kept their power. In the words of one government representative: “Moses was a devil in May, but an angel in November.”

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The Early Years

Before Moses rose the ranks of political power, he slithered through the backwaters of law and regulation, learned what nobody else wanted to learn, and drafted bills that nobody else wanted to draft. In a stroke of political genius, “the best bill drafter in Albany” got things done by burying costs behind a facade of inspiring messages. He tricked people. He knew the dirty secrets of politics and did everything in his power to pass bills, bury expenses, and plant costs on future generations.

Moses brought both sizzle and steak. Elected officials came for Moses’ media influence and stayed for the breadth and depth of his knowledge. Nobody knew that vast administrative machine better than Robert Moses. The most fundamental elements of any machine is its architecture, and when it came to laws and regulation for the state of New York, Moses was the chief architect. Years before he rose to power, back when he worked for Governor Al Smith, Moses drafted the state laws himself, from the executive budget system to the constitutional amendments. The law of the land was boundless and Moses seemed to know it all:

“To a considerable extent, the machinery was his machinery; He knew the precedents that made each point in them legal — and the precedents that might call their legality into question. He knew the reason behind every refinement, every clarification — and every obscuration — in the laws’ final versions. When discussing a point of law with some young state agency counsel, Moses liked to let the lawyer painstakingly explain the legal ramifications involved and then say dryly: “I know. I wrote the law.” This store of knowledge, coupled with an intelligence capable of drawing upon it with computer-like rapidity, constituted a political weapon which no Governor could afford to let rust in his arsenal.”

Moses had all the answers: 

“It was easier to ask Moses than to try to find out the answer themselves. Because Moses always knew. “He thought fast and he answered quickly”… “He seemed to know the makeup of every department in the state and what its powers were and exactly which sections of law it got those powers from. And he almost seemed to know it all by heart.

Moses made the machine, fed the machine, steered the machine and naturally, the machine responded to his wishes:

“Power and accomplishment meant Getting Things Done — and Getting Things Done in New York meant playing ball, paying the price, the money price. He played — and he paid. He gave the machine — the greedy, voracious, machine — everything it wanted…

The structure might appear flimsy but it was shored up with buttresses of the strongest material available in the world of politics: public opinion. A Governor — even a Governor who hated the man who dwelt within that structure — would pull it down at his own peril.

Moses understood this. Asked forty years later why Roosevelt did not oust him from his park posts, he would laugh and say, ‘He couldn’t afford to. The public wouldn’t have stood for it. And even if he tried to, it would have been very difficult. See, the law didn’t permit it, except on charges. It was set up that way, see.”

Propped up by the media, and shielded by a facade of selflessness, “The Master Builder,” in a land ruled by public opinion, wore a shield of protection so strong that he could battle and beat just about everybody. When Moses said jump, the others asked: “How high?” In the office, employees, subservient to the lofty demands of their chief, feared him like field mice. Others showered him with praise and elevated him onto a pulpit of transcendent worship. Sometimes, it seemed like even the wind and the waves obeyed him. Nobody, not the media, not the mayor, and not even state Governor Teddy Roosevelt — the New York’s elected leader, who deplored, despised and scorned the ruthless builder — could stop Moses.

Moses was all-knowing and all-powerful:

“For a twenty-year period that did not end until 1968, Moses was given by the State Department of Public Works a secret veto power over the awarding of all state contracts for public works in the New York metropolitan area. No engineer who had ever forcefully and openly disagreed with a Moses opinion ever received even one of the thousands of contracts involved…”

As Moses gained influence, he gained power:

“Not only does a Governor not interfere with an official like Robert Moses; he heaps on him more and more responsibilities. No matter what the job was, it seemed, if it was difficult Roosevelt turned to the same man. During 1930, 1931, 1932, Moses handled more than a dozen special assignments for Roosevelt and produced results on every one. And if increasing Moses’ responsibilities meant increasing his power — giving him more money to work with, more engineers, architects, draftsmen and police to work with — well, the Governor simply had no choice but to increase that power…

There were now seven separate governmental agencies concerned with parks and major roads in the New York metropolitan area. They were the Long Island State Park Commission, the New York State Council of Parks, the Jones Beach State Park Authority, the Bethpage State Park Authority, the New York City Park Department, the Triborough Bridge Authority and the Marine Parkway Authority. Robert Moses was in charge of all of them.”

Others played checkers. Moses played chess. 

Moses was a strategy mastermind. Like a lengthened shadow, his authorities mirrored his personality, his vision, and his rock-hard toughness. He treated employees like pawns. When he spoke, they listened. When he gave order, they executed them. Moses was in charge and everybody — even the press — knew it. More, in the power move of the century, when the press relied on expert opinion, they turned to the Authority king himself.

Check. 

Mate.


Praising the Parks

Moses had a secret: public parks. Propelled by omniscient power over the media narrative, Moses — the original “thought leader” — constructed park after park and shaped the urban landscape in his image.

Parks were a prominent civic issue, and Moses’ park projects were particularly popular with the public. Parks symbolized man’s quest for peace and serenity, and through a process of alchemy, Moses turned them into a source of political power. By building parks, Moses dug a well of influence and scaled the mountain of political power. Everybody loved parks. Knowing that, Moses used the protective glow of park projects to brighten his public image, attract colorful media support and taste the sweet, sweet flavors of authoritarian influence.⁵ The media lauded him. On all public works, journalists gave him the benefit of the doubt, and since they didn’t dig into stories about him, the public was blind to the legal, financial and political manipulations that occurred behind the closed doors of Moses’ Randall’s Island office.

In 1922, New York City’s parks were few and far between. There wasn’t a single state park in New York east of the Hudson River. Where there were parks, they were more brown than green — torn up, run down, and bent out of shape. According to a Park Association survey, there was not a single structure of any type, in any part in the city, that was not in need of immediate repair. Parks were havens for drunks and idlers. Others were weed-filled vacant lots. In all of New York, a city with approximately 1,700,000 children under the age of twelve in 1932, there were only 119 parks — one park for every 14,000 children. Only 7.28 percent of New York City had been set aside for the recreation of its citizens, the smallest percentage of any of the other largest ten cities in the world or in America.

A man of persistent action, he waved his wand in Long Island first. Moved by the Midas touch of Moses, 3,000,000 people visited Long Island State Parks in 1930. By comparison, the total number of visits to all National Parks in the United States that year was 3,400,000.

And it wasn’t just parks. It was bridges, beaches, and highways galore. By 1930, the attendance at Jones Beach was 1,500,000; by 1931, it was 2,700,000, and by 1932, it was 3,200,000. Accessible by car, Moses’ parks were packed to peak capacity. In 1919, less than seven million American families owned an automobile. By 1923, that figure had jumped to twenty-three million. By 1940, New York had more miles of highway than the next five largest American cities — Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Cleveland — combined.

Parks and beaches were gateways towards power and influence. By the 1930s, Moses had revamped the recreational scene. And when he did, citizens bubbled with bliss and roared with praise:

“During 1934, Moses was in the New York papers even more than J. Edgar Hoover… The Times editorial on Moses, for example, was only one of 29 praising him in that single newspaper that year. And the Times also carried 346 separate articles on his activities, an average of almost one per day… There were days, in fact, on which there were five separate stories in the Times… the nation’s most respected newspaper read like a Park Department press release…

By July, the eight War Memorial Play-grounds had been finished, by Labor Day, there were fifty-two others, including the Chrystie-Forsyth Street complex, which was really a park but which was dubbed “the finest playground in the United States” — and a city which in its entire history had managed to build 119 playgrounds had seen its stock of that item increaser by 50 percent in a single year. The city cheered. Its thirteen daily newspapers, however divergent their philosophy, united in heaping wreaths of adjectives on his head. The new Park Commissioner was “dynamic” and “brilliant” in the ultra-conservative Sun, “able” and “enterprising” in the then ultra-liberal World-Telegram, “tire-less,” “fearless” and “incorruptible” in the sometimes conservative, some-times liberal Hearst Evening Journal. Headline writers, using topical catch phrases, talked of Moses’ NEW DEAL FOR PARKS and the AMAZING ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF MOSES’ FIRST 100 DAYS. Editorial writers were more poetic. “Robert Moses has made an urban desert bloom,” said an editorial in the World-Telegram. The Herald Tribune, formally recanting the heresies of which it admitted it had been guilty during his Long Island controversy, dubbed him the “Hercules of the Parks.”

The cheers of the press were echoed by the praises of the public:

“While the parks were blossoming with flowers, editorial pages were blossoming with letters from the public praising the man who had planted them. And it was not unusual at park and playground opening ceremonies for children, prodded by their parents, to break into the cheer “Two, four, six, eight who do we appreciate? Mr. Moses! MR. MOSES!! MR. MOSES!!!”

Where others saw a maze, Moses saw a straightaway railroad track: Moses’ execution was like the train; his authoritarian power, the engine; his media mastery, the fuel.


Mastering the Media

For decades, Moses executed public works on the scale of Ancient Rome with almost zero friction. As he molded minds and ascended the machine, The Media Master rose above the tangled web of government bureaucracy.

The media portrayed Moses in an apolitical, altruistic cloak, and thus, so did the public. Even when he engaged in shady, backscratching graft, that cloak protected him:

“ An idea was no good without power behind it, power to make people adopt it, power to reward them when they did, power to crush them when they didn’t…

No one could disprove Moses’ reputation without first opening Triborough’s books, and no one could open Triborough’s books without first disproving Moses’ reputation… The magnet which attracts corrupters… the natural locus of corruption is always where the discretionary power resides. In New York City, in the postwar era, the discretionary power resided principally in Robert Moses.”

Moses molded the machine with furious impatience. Warm with allies, cold with enemies, he operated with a stiff neck, a steel will, and an iron fist. With matchless guile, he turned grand dreams into grand creations. In terms of money, Moses was not corrupt. In terms of power, he was. To use the politicians’ phrase, Moses was “money honest.” And yet, his nostrils twitched to a single, irresistible aroma: the aroma of power.

Moses controlled something better than money  —  he controlled thought. Propelled by supreme control over the media, Moses was crowned king of Gotham. Part hero, part villain he constructed New York with Sim City speed and dexterity. In a world where power is supposed to come from the ballot box, Moses — who was never elected to office — accumulated more power than any mayor or governor combined, and he held that authoritarian power for 44 years. Broadcasting his views through memos, mass mailings, and press releases, Moses accumulated more money, more influence, and more power than just about anybody to ever step foot on Planet Earth. By dominating distribution, selling simplicity, and praising the parks, The Power Broker mastered the media and built the greatest city in the world.

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Footnotes

¹ Inspired by the lessons of a previous post, I’ve also tried to mimic Robert Caro’s writing style. Unless otherwise noted, all the information in this post can be attributed to Robert Caro.

² Desperate to maintain his gleeful image as a public servant, Moses kept the money from his mother’s trust fund all to himself. Robert’s mother entrusted Robert to dole out trust fund money to his brother, Paul. Moses had other plans. Using the same smooth maneuvering that characterized his industrious dedicated, Robert made sure his brother Paul received nothing. 

As Robert Caro wrote: 

“For almost four years — from October 3, 1935 to August 3, 1939 — Paul Moses had received nothing from the trust fund his mother had left for him… He took away from a brother who was poor while he was well off, who was walking the streets with holes in his shoes and sleeping in a Salvation Army lodging house, who was almost literally starving for want of a few dollars.”

Robert hijacked Paul’s inheritance. A monstrous injustice — directed at his brother. Robert didn’t care. In charge of apartment developments for hundreds of thousands of New York residents — more than 500,000 in total — Robert could have easily called up a favor for his ailing brother. But instead of picking him up, he spit on him. Like a piece of trash on filthy Fifth Avenue, Robert ignored — no, stepped on — Paul. 

So little did he care for his brother or sister that in one 339-page book on the life of Robert Moses doesn’t even mention that he had a brother and a sister. 

Ego first. Family second. Moved by a big dreams and a lust for power, Robert had an image to protect:

“In the city in which his brother lived in luxury, Paul Moses lived out the last ten years of his life in a terrible poverty… In his late seventies, he would be stricken by a serious illness. Thereafter climbing [the steep, wooden stairs of his top floor loft] was very hard indeed. Any apartment in an elevator building would have been a blessing to him. His brother was creating tens of thousands of such apartments: low-income, middle-income. He gave out such apartments as favors to innumerable persons. Any politician with a relative who wanted one had only to ask; Robert Moses would provide.”

And yet, Moses turned a blind eye to his desperate — dying — brother. One day, Paul couldn’t struggle up the stairs anymore. At the age of eighty, he died. 

³ The media took Moses down later in his career.

⁴ Moses also used hospitality as a political weapon.

⁵ Next time you fly into La Guardia and hop in a taxi on your way to Manhattan, your driver will probably drive you along Grand Central Parkway (Interstate 278), you’ll cross the East River at 125th street on the Robert Moses constructed Triborough Bridge. On your way, you’ll cross the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge east of 100th street, across the East River in Queens. 

As Robert Caro wrote:

"The Manhattan terminus should have been placed at 100th street. The bulk of the bridge traffic — 85 percent by one estimate — would be coming from, and going to, destinations south of 100th street. Placing the Manhattan terminus at 125th street condemned most motorists traveling between the borough and Queens to drive twenty-five unnecessary blocks north and then, once on the bridge, twenty-five totally unnecessary blocks south — to thus add two and a half totally unnecessary miles to their every journey over the bridge."

At first glance, this layout made no sense. Sending drivers across 100th street was more convenient and logical. In fact, New York officials had planned a 100th street connection between street connection between Queens and Manhattan. 

Why doesn’t that bridge connect directly with 96th street in Manhattan? Why do you have to drive all the way up north to 125th street and then drive all the way back south to 96th street?

In 1934, New York officials wanted to build a bridge to connect Queens, the Bronx, Randall’s Island Park and mainland Manhattan. After taking over the project, Moses quickly got schooled in the arts of political power. learned It was a lesson in The Triborough Bridge project needed media support. At the time, William Randolph Hearst, who owned three of New York’s most powerful media outlets, owned a big bunch of Brownstone slum swellings on the corner of 125th street and 2nd avenue, next to the East River. The slums were profitable for years. But now, it was the Great Depression. Poor people couldn’t afford rent. Hearst was losing money. Eager to take the Brownstones off his hands, Hearst convinced the city to condemn his them, buy them, and use the space for the Triborough Bridge project.

Building the Triborough Bridge across 125th street was inefficient. On paper, it made little sense. But politics trumps paper and influence trumps efficiency. Moses — a man who loved efficiency — didn’t dare move the Manhattan terminus. 

Then and now, if you want to get things done in New York City, you never, never, never pick a flight with the owner of a major newspaper. Due to Hearst’s influence, thousands of commuters make this detour every day. Eight miles, each way. An extra twenty-five blocks in bumper-to-bumper, honk-honk-honk Manhattan traffic.

 The Triborough Bridge Complex. ( Source )

The Triborough Bridge Complex. (Source)