AN OCEANFRONT PARKWAY FOR THE ROCKAWAYS: Since he first became chairman of the New York State Parks Department in the 1920's under Governor Alfred E. Smith, Robert Moses sought to build a shorefront parkway route from Staten Island to the Hamptons. The section of the route through the Rockaways - the Shore Front Parkway - was to connect to the Belt Parkway to the west, and (ultimately) to the Ocean Parkway to the east. However, during the proceeding decades, Moses diverted his attention to constructing a network of parkways, and later expressways, throughout the New York metropolitan area.
In 1941, the New York City Planning Department proposed a "Beach Channel Express Highway" through the Rockaways from the Marine Parkway Bridge east to the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge. Unlike Moses' proposal, which called for the construction of a parkway restricted to use by passenger cars, the city's plan called for the construction of an expressway open to all vehicles. The early route proposal, which did not extend east of the Cross Bay Parkway Bridge, was as follows:
The existing Beach Channel Drive on the Jamaica Bay waterfront connects the Marine Parkway and Cross Bay Parkway bridges, and will form the major traffic artery through the Rockaways. Its eventual conversion to an express highway is recommended.
With most of the arterial network completed by the early 1960's, Moses revived plans to extend his Long Island oceanfront parkway west through the Rockaways. The Shore Front Parkway, a six-lane, controlled-access route, was to extend 9.1 miles along the waterfront from the Gil Hodges-Marine Parkway Bridge in Breezy Point to the Atlantic Beach Bridge, where it was to connect to the Nassau Expressway (NY 878). Another connection to Brooklyn and Queens also was to be provided at the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge, located at the center of the Rockaway peninsula. The parkway was to provide access to Jacob Riis Park, as well as to a redeveloped Rockaway Beach Park.
In 1966, the Tri-State Transportation Commission recommended construction of the $35 million Shore Front Parkway:
This route will fill the need for highway access in a large unserved area. It will serve recreational travel needs, and foster the growth of redevelopment areas.
The Shore Front Parkway was slated for completion by 1975. Unlike earlier parkways built by Moses, the Shore Front Parkway was to be built through densely populated neighborhoods in the Rockaways that would have been sacrificed by its construction. Recalling what happened in the Bronx during construction of the Cross Bronx Expressway in the 1950's, Milton Mollen, who in 1960 was counsel for the newly created New York City Housing Redevelopment Board, was deeply concerned:
He once called me to the Randalls Island headquarters of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) and showed me plans for building a new highway along Beach Channel Drive, but it would have displaced people who had already been relocated (from earlier Moses projects) with the promise they would not be moved for at least five years. He said he didn't care. They can be moved again. He left a legacy of distrust we're still dealing with.
In 1970, after he had been ousted from his post at the TBTA, Moses incorporated the Shore Front Parkway into his proposed "Atlantic Village," a planned development in Breezy Point that was to be nearly three times the size of the Bronx's Co-op City. Atlantic Village was to include a three-mile-long public beach, playgrounds, schools, shopping centers, and 50,000 apartments. The apartments were to be filled with 50,000 families from the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn as part of a slum-clearance project in that area. Neither the controlled-access Shore Front Parkway nor the Atlantic Village project came to fruition.
A SCALED-DOWN ARTERIAL: Only a 1.6-mile-long section of parkway, from Beach 109th Street east to Beach 73rd Street, was completed as a four-lane, at-grade arterial. As constructed, the Shore Front Parkway connects to the southern approach to the Cross Bay Veterans Memorial Bridge.
In 2007, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) announced plans to extend the Shore Front Parkway east by an additional 0.7 mile from Beach 73rd Street to Beach 60th Street. The arterial extension, which is called "Beach Front Road" in some maps, is being built to serve the massive new Arverne-by-the-Sea development.
This 1998 photo shows a stone-arch overpass at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways near the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. Jacob Riis Park was one of the "ribbon parks" planned by Moses for his unbuilt, controlled-access Shore Front Parkway. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
SOURCES: "Master Plan: Express Highways, Parkways and Major Streets," New York City Planning Department (1941); "City To Aid Nassau on Bridge Project," The New York Times (4/18/1950); Arterial Progress 1959-1965, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1965); "The Ocean Drive," Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (1966); Transportation 1985: A Regional Plan, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1966); Public Works: A Dangerous Trade by Robert Moses, McGraw-Hill (1970); The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro, Vintage Books-Random House (1974); "New York: Chess in Concrete" by Bob Liff, The Newsday Magazine (12/04/1988); "Arverne-by-the-Sea Eyeing Retail Space As Next Step Transit Plaza, Shops, Mid-Rise Houses Due" by Howard Schwach, The Wave (9/07/2007); New York State Department of Transportation; Ralph Herman; Nathan W. Perry.
Shore Front Parkway shield by Ralph Herman. Lightpost by Jeff Saltzman.