Is Mayor Pete’s Story About Racist Overpasses Actually True?

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Harry Wilmerding Contributor
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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was asked about his plan to address the racism ingrained in the U.S. transportation infrastructure during a press conference on Monday.

“Some people were surprised when I pointed to the fact that if a highway was built for the purpose of dividing a white and a Black neighborhood, or if an underpass was constructed such that a bus carrying mostly Black and Puerto Rican kids … was designed too low for it to pass by, then that obviously reflect the racism that went into those design choices,” Buttigieg said Monday.

Buttigieg is referring to Robert Moses, a former New York official who was responsible for developing the transportation infrastructure in the New York metropolitan area, Bloomberg reported.

In Robert Caro’s 1974 biography of Moses titled “The Power Broker,” the author says that Moses instructed his engineers to build bridges on the Southern State Parkway low enough to keep buses from New York City away from Jones Beach. These buses were typically filled with black and Puerto Rican passengers, who Moses allegedly disliked.

The story of Moses’ alleged racism was told to Caro by Sidney Shapiro, a close friend of Moses’ and a former engineer, according to Bloomberg. (RELATED: Inflation Increases At A Record Rate For Second Month In A Row)

In an interview with Gothamist, Caro said Moses “was the most racist human being I had ever really encountered” and said Moses once said “they expect me to build playgrounds for that scum floating up from Puerto Rico.”

Beyond allegedly building lower bridges to keep buses filled with minorities away from Jones Beach and other areas, Moses enforced bridges with stone and cement to prevent expansion methods, according to Bloomberg.

Data from the New York State Department of Transportation confirms Shapiro’s theory, according to Bloomberg, reportedly showing that the average clearance of bridges and overpasses built by Robert Moses was significantly lower than those on other New York highways.

“Overall, clearances are substantially lower on the Moses parkway, averaging just 107.6 inches (eastbound), against 121.6 inches on the Hutchinson and 123.2 inches on the Saw Mill,” Bloomberg reported.

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