America’s Least Wanted Highways

sheridan_map_1.jpgThe Congress for New Urbanism released a highly entertaining top ten list today: the North American highways most in need of demolition. At the top is Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct, a structurally damaged elevated highway that, if removed, would free up 335 acres of public land by Elliott Bay.

New York’s Sheridan Expressway, which traverses 1.25 miles of Bronx River waterfront (right), comes in at number two. Thanks to the advocacy of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, the state DOT is considering a proposal to replace the lightly-traveled, Moses-era Sheridan with housing and parks. As the Tri-State Transportation Campaign reported last month, preserving it is becoming harder and harder to justify.

Here’s the full "Freeways Without Futures" list, issued as part of a joint venture between CNU and the Center for Neighborhood Technology called the Highways to Boulevards Initiative:

  1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA
  2. Sheridan Expressway, New York, NY
  3. The Skyway and Route 5, Buffalo, NY
  4. Route 34, New Haven, CT
  5. Claiborne Expressway, New Orleans, LA
  6. Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY
  7. Interstate 64, Louisville, KY
  8. Route 29, Trenton, NJ
  9. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto, ON
  10. 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway, Washington D.C.

Previous highway-to-boulevard conversions have succeeded in cities from New York to San Francisco to Seoul, often in the face of opposition from carmaggedon-predicting doomsayers. More from CNU President John Norquist on why freeway removal makes sense, after the jump.

CNU President and CEO John Norquist says that compared to the prospect of completely rebuilding aging freeways — something that’s inevitable after 40 or 50 years — highways-to-boulevards projects are real money savers. "There’s a whole generation of elevated highways in cities that are at the end of their design life. Instead of rebuilding them at enormous expense, cities have an opportunity to undo what proved to be major urban planning blunders," said Norquist, Mayor of Milwaukee when it replaced the Park East Freeway with McKinley Boulevard in 2002. "The Federal Highway Fund just received a short-term bailout. The money that does exist can be invested much more efficiently in surface streets and transit. The development that results is walkable and close to jobs and city life. It helps residents keep a lot of money in their wallets that they’d otherwise spend driving."

"Fifty years ago, when there was flight from cities, industrialized waterfronts seemed like a convenient place to run freeways," Norquist said. "The result for the neighborhoods has been blight. Cities like San Francisco that have removed freeways and reclaimed waterfronts have turned them into magnets for people and investment."

17 thoughts on America’s Least Wanted Highways

  1. Route 34 definitely belongs on this list. There have been numerous attempts to extend it, including plans for a new tunnel, that have gone absolutely nowhere. Any one who has driven in or around New Haven has felt the effects of this poor forsaken piece of asphalt.

  2. Wooo Hooo!!!

    Rt. 29 is on there!

    Luckly NJDOT agrees and from what I know they have plans to eliminate it and integrate Rt 29 back onto the surface streets, opening up the Delaware River waterfront to parks and redevelopment.

    After visiting Seattle 2 years ago (I had to miss ProWalk/ProBike this year) I couldn’t believe what a retched thing the Alaska Highway was. Just nasty! Gray, filthy and crumbling, totally blocking the beautiful old buildings from spectacular views of Puget Sound.

  3. I believe that more specifically, #6 is opposition to running I-81 right through the middle of Syracuse. (Ditto I-690.) We’ll always need a way to get from Ontario to Tennessee, or vice versa, or points in between.

  4. What about the Van Wyck Expressway section from Grand Central Parkway to the Whitestone Expressway, blocks access to the Flushing River, and is totally redundant, considering the GCP on the other side of the park has been retrofited for trucks and busses. This gets rid of one unnecessary highway.
    What about the Cross Island Parkway from the Clearview to the LIE, since the Clearview is there, the CIP is pointless.

  5. Huh, I’ve driven through Syracuse on I-81 a bunch of times (though none more recently than five years ago or so, to be fair) and never thought it was particularly in need of extensive work.

  6. “Thanks to the advocacy of the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, the state DOT is considering a proposal to replace the lightly-traveled, Moses-era Sheridan with housing and parks.”

    That’s great news! What is the best way to support this happening?

  7. Josh, that’s cause you were up on the highway. I believe that the people on the ground are less happy that interstate highways divide Syracuse into north and east and west.

  8. Where is New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn on the Sheridan project?

    She should be using the Sheridan removal as an example of her agency’s commitment to smart growth.

  9. I-481 runs around downtown Syracuse to the east and loops back in to I-81 south and north of town so you can rip 81 out of downtown without breaking up the long-range I-81 route.

  10. I lived in Seattle for 15 years and I absolutely agree with #1. The Alaska Way Viaduct is not only hideous but very dangerous as well. In an earthquake the whole thing is likely to collapse. The structure is very similar to the double decker highway that came down in the 1989 San Francisco quake.

  11. What about the Cross Island Parkway from the Clearview to the LIE, since the Clearview is there, the CIP is pointless.

    Genius, Joby! It’s even pointless further south, as far as the Grand Central, since it’s a parkway too. And that part of the CIP is the part that most interferes with the recreational and natural environment. Imagine walking through Alley Pond Park or along the Little Neck Bay without the parkway! At the very least, it could be closed on Sundays.

    I wonder if we could get support for this from the Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces?

  12. Thanks Cap’n,

    I’ve heard from long-time Baysiders that the particular stretch along the CIP was host to mansions and hotels and get this – an actual beach!!! before they threw up the CIP. I’m pretty sure the Crocheron Park/Golden Park section of Bayside overlooking the CIP is where Boss Tweed hid out before he absconded.

    Anyways, I think a Sunday Closure would be wonderful, and might actually help people to walk and wonder at the natural environment that they zip past every day.

    The whole CIP/Belt system is long overdue for a overhaul/retirement. In the case of CIP an overhaul is pointless because the parkway is redundant. The section south of the GCP is a bit more complex of a situation, as the Clearview ends at Hillside Ave.

    Do you think anyone at QCPGS would be interested in this idea?


  13. Every time I drive on the Gowanus Expressway in Brooklyn I recall the time a car service took me up to Manhattan via 4th Avenue, at rush hour. It took less time than taking the highway. The Gowanus has been under construction for 10 years or so, and it’s still a crumbling piece of junk. Removing it completely and streamlining 3rd Avenue into a nice boulevard makes the most sense at this point.

  14. Most folks don’t know why the Sheridan is there. It was supposed to be the main route from the Triboro to New England. It wasn’t supposed to end where it does, but instead was intended to be extended alongside the Amtrack line.

    Driving north on the Brucker to the Bruckner/Sheridan interchange, doesn’t it seem as if the Sheridan is the main route and the continuation of the Bruckner the diverging route?

    In that sense, it is sort of like the little-used Richmond Parkway.

  15. I asked my girlfriend, who is from Seattle, what she thought about the viaduct, and this is what she had to say:

    Well, as like most things, it depends on who you ask. 😉 Admittedly, major sections of the highway will collapse in a strong enough earthquake with a direct hit on the city, although it has survived several smaller / less direct earthquakes in my lifetime. The real estate space that it takes up is valuable–for development into (yet more) condos in the downtown area. But overall, I think the highway gets a bad rap. For instance, we used it almost every day when we were visiting Seattle–it is the highway that turns into Aurora Avenue North–this is the street that our hotel was located on and we drove fairly quickly and easily from the south end (ie, my parent’s house) up to the North end (Greenlake) using the Alaskan Way Viaduct / Highway 99 / Aurora Avenue North. If it was taken down, our only viable option for going North / South (and Seattle is a N/S city because of the hills) would be to take I-5, which is often slow, dangerous (some sections quite dangerous) and clogged with traffic. The section of the viaduct that traverses the downtown area is elevated and the area underneath has not gone to total waste–it is actively used for businesses, commercial parking, and even sections of the Pike Place Market.

    In my option, the fact that the Viaduct is there takes away a lot of surface traffic from the downtown core, which makes it much more walkable and enjoyable for pedestrians. Now if they tore down the Viaduct and REPLACED it with a monorail train system and / or underground subway system, I would be on board for that, in fact it would be pretty cool. But this is where local politics get tricky–the voters approved a VERY-POPULAR-WITH-THE-PEOPLE mass transit system almost ten years ago–they passed it into law (if I remember my history correctly here) but then the state said that it had no money for the project and it when into either perma-delay or was shut down entirely. Maybe the construction that we witnessed down by the airport is the surviving-half-bastard-step child of the original project.

    That is probably a longer answer than what you were looking for, but in conclusion, no, I don’t think it should be torn down until the state / city comes up with more real, feasible, & funded solutions to transportation in the Seattle area. Complete the promised light rail system connecting the downtown core, and then take down the Viaduct, and devote at least 1/4 of the re-claimed land to public space / public parks / the arts.

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