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Posts from the Highway Removal Category

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U.S. DOT Wants to Show America How to Heal Divides Left By Urban Highways

Highway destruction in reverse: U.S. DOT used the teardown of Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway, shown here mid-demolition, to illustrate its “Every Place Counts” initiative. Photo: Milwaukee Department of City Development via CNU

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx opened up earlier this spring in a refreshingly personal speech about how highway construction in American cities isolated many neighborhoods — especially black neighborhoods — and cut people off from economic opportunity. Now U.S. DOT is following up with an effort to demonstrate how those wrongs can be righted.

Yesterday the agency announced the Every Place Counts Design Challenge, which asks cities to submit proposals for “reconnecting” communities “bifurcated” by transportation infrastructure. U.S. DOT will select four cities from different regions of the country where the agency will lead workshops to advance the winning ideas. (The deadline to apply is June 3, but the agency wants notification of intent to apply by May 20.)

In its announcement, U.S. DOT doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what types of projects it’s looking for. However, the agency chose some highly suggestive images to illustrate the initiative. One photo shows a highway cap over Interstate 70 in Columbus, Ohio, not the most groundbreaking project. Another shows Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway, mid-demolition, a rare 100-percent intentional highway teardown. And the third shows Portland’s Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which was made possible by another freeway teardown — the removal of Harbor Drive.

Too often, when city residents build momentum to heal the damage caused by urban freeways, the state DOT shoots it down. This could be an opportunity to get different levels of government on the same page and move forward with some really bold ideas.

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Anthony Foxx Wants to Repair the Damage Done By Urban Highways

During the first two decades of the Interstate Highway system, almost half a million households were displaced. Most were low income and people of color, Foxx said.

During the first two decades of constructing the Interstate Highway System, almost half a million households were forced to leave their homes.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is offering a surprisingly honest appraisal of America’s history of road construction this week, with a high-profile speaking tour that focuses on the damage that highways caused in black urban neighborhoods.

U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke at the Center for American progress today about the legacy of discrimination in transportation. Image: CAP

U.S Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx spoke at the Center for American progress today about the highway system’s legacy of discrimination. Image: CAP

Growing up in Charlotte, Foxx’s own street was walled in by highways, he recalled in a speech today at the Center for American Progress. Building big, grade-separated roads through thickly settled neighborhoods devastated communities, uprooted residents, and cut off the people who remained from the city around them.

“The people in my community at the time these decisions were made were actually not invisible,” he said. “It is just that at a certain stage in our history, they didn’t matter.”

From I-95 in the Overtown neighborhood in Miami, to the Staten Island Expressway, to I-5 in Seattle, freeways divided and weakened city neighborhoods all over the country. Foxx estimates that nearly 500,000 households were compelled to relocate by the construction of the interstate highway system between 1957 and 1977. Most were people of color living in low-income neighborhoods.

“Areas of this country where infrastructure is supposed to connect people, in some places it’s actually constraining them,” he said.

The speech marks the launch of a new initiative spearheaded by Foxx called “Ladders of Opportunity,” which aims to shape transportation policy based on how infrastructure can serve as a barrier, or bridge, to jobs, education, and better health.

Foxx’s power is limited. U.S. DOT doesn’t have the authority to simply turn off the federal funding spigot for projects like the Detroit region’s $4 billion plan to widen two highways, siphoning resources from struggling inner suburbs to more affluent, farther-flung communities. The transportation secretary can’t wave his hand and stop Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper from pumping more traffic and air pollution through north Denver with the widening of I-70.

Of the $60 billion in annual federal funding allocated to surface transportation, 90 percent is doled out to state and local agencies by formula, Foxx noted. The remaining 10 percent funds U.S. DOT operations, discretionary programs like TIGER, and transportation research.

Even when U.S. DOT is poised to back a project that aims to benefit a disadvantaged community, local politics often gets in the way.

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Toronto City Council Blows Its Chance to Transform Downtown

Toronto could have had a waterfront boulevard but the Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image: ##http://www.blogto.com/city/2015/06/toronto_votes_for_hybrid_option_on_east_gardiner/##Blog TO##

Toronto could have replaced its downtown elevated highway with a surface boulevard, but the City Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image via Blog TO

Tearing down Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway would remove a hulking blight from downtown, improve access to the waterfront, open up land for walkable development, and save hundreds of millions of dollars compared to rebuilding the highway.

But that didn’t convince the City Council.

In a 24-21 vote yesterday, the Council opted to rebuild the aging Gardiner with some minor modifications instead of pursuing the “boulevard” option that would have removed a 1.7-kilometer segment of the highway.

Replacing the elevated road with a surface street would have cost $137 million less upfront (in Canadian dollars) than rebuilding it, and nearly $500 million less in total costs over the next 100 years.

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Decision Time for Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway

gardiner

The “hybrid” proposal favored by Mayor John Tory would rebuild the Gardiner East Expressway at twice the cost of tearing it down, and it won’t even move any more traffic. Image: Globe and Mail

Toronto is facing a critical decision about the aging elevated Gardiner East Expressway. Will Canada’s largest city go ahead with the plan to replace the one-mile-long concrete relic with a surface boulevard and walkable development? Or will it cling to yesterday’s infrastructure?

Toronto's Gardiner East Expressway. Photo: Gardinereast.ca

Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway. Photo: Gardinereast.ca

The debate has been heating up ahead of a key City Council meeting next week.

A poll released Monday showed a plurality of Toronto residents prefer tearing down the Gardiner to rebuilding it. Among respondents, 45 percent supported the teardown, compared to 33 percent who favored rebuilding. The remaining respondents didn’t know enough to answer or didn’t like either option.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory this week reiterated his opposition to the teardown, saying, “I didn’t get elected to make traffic worse, and let’s be clear, removing that piece of the Gardiner will almost certainly make traffic worse.”

But just 3 percent of downtown Toronto workers commute on the Gardiner East. As teardown proponents have pointed out, the boulevard option doesn’t reduce traffic capacity compared to the rebuilding option supported by Tory, and even the feared decline in driving speeds is likely overhyped, given everything we now know about how drivers adjust to new conditions.

Tearing down the 1.7 kilometer road and replacing it with a boulevard, meanwhile, will cost about half as much as the mayor’s preferred “hybrid” proposal, which would rebuild the Gardiner East “with three of its support trusses/ramps slightly modified.”

Among the coalition supporting the teardown is the city’s chief planning official, Jennifer Keesmaat, who said it would allow the city to build connected “complete communities” within walking distance of downtown.

Part of the Gardiner was demolished in 2001 and replaced with a boulevard — and somehow Toronto managed to avoid grinding to a halt.

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Boston Says So Long to the Casey Overpass, a 1950s Highway Relic

The image shows plans for the at-grade street that will replace the overpass. Image: Arborwaymatters via MassDOT

The Casey Overpass will be replaced with an at-grade street. Image: Arborwaymatters via MassDOT

This month, Boston is demolishing a monument to 1950s-era car infrastructure: The Casey Overpass, a short elevated road built in 1955 to whisk drivers over the Forest Hills MBTA station in Jamaica Plain without encountering any pesky things like intersections or pedestrians.

The last car drove over the decrepit 1,600-foot-long structure just a few days ago, and construction crews have begun taking it apart. Soon the residents of Forest Hills will say goodbye forever to the hulking eyesore blighting their neighborhood.

The Casey Overpass had gotten so ? that it was down to just two extremely potholed lanes. Photo: Arborwaymatters

The lovely view beneath the Casey Overpass. Photo: Arborwaymatters

In its place, the state will construct an at-grade street with three lanes in each direction and a protected bike lane.

The road removal encountered its share of resistance along the way, including from a local bike shop owner, but the arguments for the teardown won out.

Removing the overpass will enable the creation of a more walkable street grid and reintegrate the neighborhood with Boston’s beloved “Emerald Necklace,” the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park system.

Tearing down the overpass also saved a lot of money compared to rebuilding it — about $21 million, according to the Boston Globe.

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Dallas Highway Teardown PAC Snags Two Council Seats. Next Up: Runoff

A coalition of Dallas residents trying to build a more walkable, people-friendly city gained some momentum in Tuesday’s election, picking up at least two City Council seats. At stake is the potential replacement of a downtown highway segment with mixed-use development and parks. The balance of power in the council now comes down to a June runoff.

The A New Dallas Coalition wants to tear down IH345, rebuild the urban fabric and change the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

A New Dallas wants to replace a downtown highway segment with walkable urban fabric, changing the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

There were six open seats in the 14-member council, plus two incumbents facing challengers. Supporters of the highway teardown have to win four of the eight contested races to gain a majority on the council.

A New Dallas, the recently-launched political action committee which backs the highway teardown, endorsed candidates in four of the races for open seats. Co-founder Patrick Kennedy said the group was pleasantly surprised that two of its endorsed candidates — Mark Clayton and Carolyn King Arnold — got the necessary 50 percent to avoid a runoff altogether. The two other endorsees didn’t get into run-offs, but Kennedy said their campaigns influenced candidates who did, and the council’s position on the highway teardown will come down to the June election.

The coalition hopes to continue organizing on behalf of urban neighborhoods into the June runoff and well beyond, said Kennedy.

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re a legitimate political machine able to influence elections in just a few short months in operation, with strong grassroots neighborhood energy, business support, and a litany of very talented professionals volunteering their skills,” he said.

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Dallas Advocates Launch a PAC to Tear Down a Highway

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

The movement for a more livable, less car-clogged Dallas has legs.

A group of reformers advocating for the teardown of Dallas’s Interstate 345 has set out to reshape the political landscape — and they’re off to a blazing start. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the group, A New Dallas, has launched a political action committee to support City Council candidates who back their vision for removing the urban highway and opening up land for development. The PAC has quickly amassed an impressive $225,000.

The May City Council election is shaping up to be the key moment. Thanks to term limits, there are open seats in six of the city’s 14 districts. If highway teardown supporters can win four of those six spots, they will have the majority they need on City Council to move ahead with the demolition, opening up 240 acres of the center city to walkable urban development.

“We’ve built a real coalition that wants to see some different ways of thinking about the city,” said Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner and co-founder of the PAC who writes the Street Smart column at D Magazine (his pieces appear on Streetsblog Texas). “Our goal was $200,000 for the first year and we blew right through that the first week.”

The PAC’s leaders also include former state senator John Carona, church organizer George Battle III, and Wick Allison, co-founder of D Magazine. They have hired Matt Tranchin, who led Obama for America’s North Texas operation in 2008, to lead the PAC, Kennedy reports.

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Before/After: The 80-Year Leveling of an Oklahoma City Neighborhood

Before and after shots of Oklahoma City's "Core to Shore" area. Image: The Oklahoman and Google Earth, via Dustin Akers.

Shots of Oklahoma City’s “Core to Shore” area. Left image 1932. Right image 2014. Image: The Oklahoman and Google Earth, via Dustin Akers

What happened in the last eight decades to Oklahoma City’s Core to Shore neighborhood? That’s what these two photos compiled by Dustin Akers will have you wondering. The one on the left is from a slideshow by the Oklahoman, shot in 1932. The one on the right is from Google Earth in 2014.

The answer, according to Akers, boils down to a few things: An elevated highway, misguided urban renewal policies, flight and disinvestment.

But there’s good news. That elevated highway, Interstate 40, was torn down a few years ago. There’s a plan to replace it with an at-grade boulevard. Oklahoma City wants to redevelop 750 acres area here. The concept currently calls for mixed-use housing surrounding a 40-acre park.

Here’s an illustration:

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Talking Headways Podcast: Crown Prince of Fresh Air

podcast icon logoWhat would you think of a city planner, out ruffling feathers with his bold ideas about density and urbanism — who commutes to work an hour each way from his ranch way outside the city? Ironic — or hypocritical? That’s the question we wrestle with in our discussion of Brad Buchanan, the head honcho at Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development.

And then we head from Denver to Dallas, where MPO chief Michael Morris has unilaterally declared that the plan to convert I-345 into a boulevard is going nowhere. Trouble is, he doesn’t actually have the authority to say that, and his facts are wrong. But by asserting it, will he make it true?

Say your piece in the comments. And subscribe to this podcast on iTunesStitcher, or our RSS feed.

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Other Cities Look to Tear Down Their Old Highways, But Not Denver

Denver's plan for I-70 is to bury it, widen it and cap it. Image: I70east.com

Denver’s plan for I-70 is to widen it, bury it, and cap a small part of it. Photo: I70east.com

Denver has one of those golden opportunities that many American cities are seizing: An elevated highway that damaged neighborhoods is nearing the end of its life, giving the city an opening to repair the harm.

Unfortunately, as Tanya has reported, Denver seems poised to double down on highway building instead. The city is looking to bury and widen Interstate 70 through the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, then cap a small section. The $1.8 billion proposal would add four lanes to I-70 — two in each direction — for a total of 10 lanes.

This visualization shows how the highway would look widened and with a cap. Image: I70east.com

A look at the proposal to sink and widen I-70 and put an 800-foot-long park on it. Image: I70east.com

While Denver has been booming in general, the neighborhoods bisected by I-70, which was laid down through the city in the 1950s, haven’t shared in the good fortune. Thanks to the many trucks roaring through and the eyesore of the elevated highway, Elyria-Swansea and nearby communities suffer from excessive traffic, environmental problems, and disinvestment.

Proponents of the highway plan call it a “corridor of opportunity” and are promising a network of parks, open space, and transit. A big sweetener is the proposed 800-foot-long park they say would be built on the highway lid.

But according to community activist and  former City Council member Susan Barnes-Gelt, the design does little to mend connections between the two neighborhoods. She says there’s no excuse for widening highways through urban neighborhoods in an age when many cities are choosing to tear them down.

In a Denver Post editorial earlier this year, Barnes-Gelt wrote that under Mayor Michael Hancock, what could have been a big step forward for the city is “morphing back into a highway project.” It’s especially disappointing considering Denver’s recent history of smart planning, she said.

“This is what happens when people that can make a difference don’t pay attention,” she told Streetsblog.

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