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Posts from the John Norquist Category

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One Way to Cure Congestion: Urban Abandonment

Jeff Wood at Reconnecting America attended the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual gathering in Madison last week, and he recently posted this short Q&A with CNU President John Norquist. It happens to be a pretty timely and snappy interview.

Angie wrote this morning about Kaid Benfield’s ideas about “right-sizing” Detroit. Benfield focuses on how sprawl has hollowed out the inner city, expanding the footprint of metro region while the overall population held relatively steady. In his interview with Wood, Norquist expresses his take on Detroit:

In an interview with Ben two years ago, Norquist made this point even clearer:

You can of course defeat congestion. Environmentalists sometimes say that you can’t build your way out of congestion; that’s not true. It’s been done in Detroit, they built their way out of congestion. They built all these freeways all over Detroit and congestion is now probably their lowest priority problem. They have a lot of other problems, like they lost more than half their population, most of the jobs, the real estate values collapsed. They tore down all the streetcars by 1956 and built these freeways all over the city. So it does work, if the only priority you have is reducing congestion, you can do it by building these giant roads across cities. But then it’ll hurt the city in every other way and they hurt the national economy too, because your cities are what really drive value.

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Moving Beyond the Automobile: Highway Removal

In this week’s episode of “Moving Beyond the Automobile,” Streetfilms takes you on a guided tour of past, present and future highway removal projects with John Norquist of the Congress for the New Urbanism.Some of the most well-known highway removals in America — like New York City’s West Side Highway and San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway — have actually been unpredictable highway collapses brought on by structural deficiencies or natural disasters. It turns out there are good reasons for not rebuilding these urban highways once they become rubble: They drain the life from the neighborhoods around them, they suck wealth and value out of the city, and they don’t even move traffic that well during rush hour.

Now several cities are pursuing highway removals more intentionally, as a way to reclaim city space for housing, parks, and economic development. CNU has designated ten “Freeways Without Futures” here in North America, and in this video, you’ll hear about the benefits of tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, the Sheridan Expressway in the Bronx, the Skyway and Route 5 in Buffalo, and the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans.

Streetfilms would like to thank The Fund for the Environment & Urban Life for making this series possible.

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CNU Summit to Focus on Reforming Transportation, Planning Principles


The Congress for the New Urbanism will meet in Portland, Oregon, in early November for the annual Project for Transportation Reform, a summit to further define and clarify emerging urban transportation policies that embrace entire networks, rather than interdependent transportation segments, and that seek to balance modal transportation splits and reduce overall vehicular miles traveled (VMT).

Summit attendees and partners, including Streetsblog, will participate in discussions on emerging network planning and develop a strategy for informing the national transportation infrastructure debate, of particular significance as the climate and transportation bills move forward. As the draft CNU Statement of Principles on Transportation Networks notes [PDF], climate change and infrastructure problems in the US continue to intensify:

The US now has the world’s highest level of VMT per capita, while simultaneously experiencing the highest traffic fatality rates of any developed nation. Per capita traffic delay has more than doubled in the United States since 1982.3 This deterioration in transportation system performance has occurred in spite of an ongoing public investment of more that $200 billion per year in transportation infrastructure."

CNU President John Norquist said the current focus by transportation professionals on road capacity gives us cities like Detroit, where consistent spending to widen roads has destroyed communities.

"Federal and state DOTs don't understand how cities work. They still want to take rural forms and jam big roads into cities." he said. "Rather than measuring projected traffic flow, they should be measuring how much value it adds to a neighborhood. The US can't afford to be energy wasting and spending money on projects that destroy the value of neighborhoods."

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer will kick off the summit and representatives from Oregon Metro will showcase the many innovative transportation and design policies they have implemented in the region that have given Portland one of the highest walking, transit, and bicycle mode shares in the country.


Back to the Grid, Part 2: John Norquist on Reclaiming American Cities

brady_street.jpgBrady Street, which boasts some of the best street life in Milwaukee, has flourished thanks in part to the defeat of a nearby freeway spur and the redevelopment that followed. Photo: Steve Filmanowicz.
As mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2004, CNU President John Norquist made urbanism and livability top priorities. Some of his most notable achievements centered on the redevelopment of highway corridors with street grids and infill, culminating with the demolition of the Park East Freeway in 2002 -- one of the largest voluntary highway removal projects undertaken in America. Other projects, like the introduction of a light rail system, never reached fruition.

In the second part of our interview (read the first part here), Norquist discusses these victories and setbacks, and how federal policy can help cities and towns do the right thing.

Ben Fried: Expanding the transit system in Milwaukee has been a very long, protracted process. You wanted to build light rail. What sort of resistance did you meet from other public officials?

Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Buffalo, Detroit, Cleveland -- the regional planning commissions they have really aren’t looking out for city interests, they're looking out for the exurban interests.
John Norquist: Any time I had to fix a problem at one level of government, there was another one that would pop up. We had a Democratic governor, but then we had a county exec who was against light rail. The mayor wasn’t really for light rail. When I got elected mayor, I was for light rail but the county exec was still against it, that was Dave Schultz in 1988. And then we had Tommy Thompson as governor who wasn’t for it. He said he was open to it at the beginning when Schultz was against it. And then once Schultz left, then Thompson became more against it. The right wing talk shows went after it and so he followed their lead, you know the local Rush Limbaugh types. And then it just seemed like every step of the way, we get one group that had to be for it on the other side. The county runs the transit system, so it’s kind of hard to do it without them. If the city had run the transit system we would have been able to do it right away.

It’s frustrating, because Milwaukee was always ranked by the Federal Transit Administration as one of the best places to put in a light rail, because it was built around the street car system. There was over 350 miles of street car in Milwaukee at the end of the war, 200 miles of inner urban. We had a really, really good transit system and by 1958 it was all gone. But the land use patterns were all built around street car lines. Now I think my successor, Tom Barrett, has got himself some clout with this. They put an earmark in the budget bill that just passed that gave him control of a nice big chunk of money, so he might be able to get that street car going.