Wiki Wednesday: Better Stimulus Through Highway Removal

We know plenty of states want to use stimulus funds to expand highway capacity, but how many are looking to jolt their economies with a much-needed freeway teardown? So far as we can tell, the answer is none. Perhaps they should reconsider and take a page from this week’s StreetsWiki entry on highway removal:

During the 1960’s and 70’s, federally-subsidized elevated highways were built through the middle of every major U.S. city. For better or worse, these roadways provided quick access to the surrounding countryside, facilitating suburban expansion. But in the words of the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), these structures:

"cut huge swaths across our cities, decimating neighborhoods and reducing quality of life for city residents. This massive concrete infrastructure had devastating effects on urban economies. It blighted adjacent property and pushed access to basic amenities further out. With the Federal and State Departments of Transportation confronting shrinking budgets and cities looking for ways to increase their revenues, it is an ideal time to offer less expensive, urban alternatives to the reconstruction of urban expressways."

CNU President John Norquist, formerly the mayor of Milwaukee, made the case for highway removal-as-economic development after releasing a list of 10 "Freeways Without Futures" last September. Since then, the top target on the list, Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, looks like it’s headed for demolition, but not to make way for a less-expensive, traffic-mitigating alternative. A group of state and city officials agreed in principle earlier this month to replace the elevated highway with an underground highway. Number two on CNU’s teardown list, the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx, is considered a candidate for removal by the state DOT, but plans to preserve the "highway to nowhere" may still prevail.

This entry also features something new on StreetsWiki — videos from Streetfilms. Tell us what you think of the execution.

  • One of the top Freeways without Futures may actually be in a State list for the economic stimulus–though it remains to be seen if the DOT is identifying it for a removal or if they are looking to maintain it as a limited-access road.

    Route 29 is a surface highway between downtown Trenton New Jersey and the Delaware River. The US Conference of Mayors listed the reconstruction and realignment of Route 29 into a boulevard in their list of ready-to-go projects. They predicted it would cost $150 million and generate 1500 jobs.

    The NJDOT also identified this road in their list, though the language of what exactly should be done remains quite vague. The scope is definitely different — a larger section of Route 29 is identified and the cost estimates run only up to $5 million.

  • anonymous

    Can we close them off and repurpose them to light rail use instead of tearing them down?

  • The livable city movement here in Seattle is itching to stand up against the option to build a tunnel. It hasn’t gone through legislation and probably won’t for a couple years but if we could garner some national attention and help on this issue it would be much, much appreciated. Check out our group, the Seattle Great City Initaitive (click on my name for the site) and get in touch with us if you want to make sure this project isn’t a national blunder, but a national example!

  • It seems to me the Seattle tunnel proposal is a way to make both sides happy and open up the land. Yes it might not be ideal to rebuild of freeway at all but at least you get rid of the viaduct which is cutting of the city from the waterfront.

  • ddartley

    Nadler is about to appear on The Takeaway this morning (Thurs) talking about how stim. will affect NYC. Don’t know specifically what he’ll talk about but thought it was worth a mention.

  • Joshua Adams

    I live in Buffalo NY and we have three major problems with such highways. One, we have the Skyway (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BuffaloSkyway.jpg) which is cutting across our newly developing waterfront area forcing changes in design plans. Second, we have Humboldt Parkway (http://www.buffalonet.org/Before-After/Humboldt1927-1983.jpg) which helped to destroy a park and part of Buffalo’s east side neighborhoods. Lastly we have Interstate 190 south which cuts off the city from the Niagara River. Each of these projects has hurt economic development and only now are being discussed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The place that could really use highway removal is Detroit. The city has an incredibly huge freeway network feeding into Downtown, that is probably empty even at rush hour.

    It could preserve a could of freeways for motor vehicle traffic, and turn the rest into an instant “rapid transit” network using bus rapid transit that could support the redevelopment of the city. Real bus rapid transit, with grade separation and no lights, not what is being proposed here.

    Three lanes and a shoulder in each direction could be a local bus lane with stations, an express bus lane, and a landscaped bikeway. There could be local stations every half mile and express stations every two miles or at major intersections, as on the IND. But with buses running rather than trade, those on the street or coming in from the suburbs (and intercity buses) could use the rights of way as well. Perhaps the Big Three would be willing to get back in the bus business, development new articulated buses to run on the reserved rights of way.

    The intersections of two former freeways could be turned into traffic circles, with the massive acreage occupied by the cloverleaf turned into the center of new towns of 30,000 people each. The high quality downtown skyscrapers could be preserved and renovated into mixed-use live-work spaces, and the “mansion” area of town could be landmarked, but the rest could be redeveloped with rowhouses and small apartment buildings, at say Park Slope density, but with a bigger commmercial core in each town.

    Old Detroit is deal, but the old freeways could be a real rebirth asset if used for an instant rapid transit system.

  • christine

    Brilliant , just briliant …

    in early eighties when Japanese car makers studied how to improve car quality , they figured that the key was to redue the number of parts. AT soem points they had 30% less parts than americal cars…

    in any systmen removing uncessary pieces is the fastest way to reduc costs and improve quality ..

    Our system is a patchwork built over 100 years and impossiible to manage

    I like anonymaous idea to repurpose them for bus lane, rail, bike lane, etc..

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