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.

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

  1. This much. In the biography of Robert Moses called “Power Broker” by Robert Caro, there is a section about the unsuccessful protests against Cross Bronx that exemplifies the contempt in which he held people.

  2. he wasn’t a monster…he just had a different view of planning that appeared to be auto-centric

  3. No, he was a monster. This is Robert Caro, reflecting on Robert Moses:

    “Did I think in that moment of Robert Moses’ racism — unashamed, unapologetic? Convinced that African-Americans were inherently “dirty,” and that they don’t like cold water (“They simply didn’t like swimming unless it was red hot,” he explained to me confidentially one day), he kept the water temperature deliberately frigid in pools, like the ones at Jones Beach and Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, that he didn’t want them to use. Did I think of the bridges he built that embodied racism in concrete? When he opened his Long Island parks during the 1930s, the only way for many poor people, particularly poor people of color, to reach them was by bus, so he built bridges over his parkways too low for buses to pass. Or of the “slum clearance” projects he built that seemingly created new slums as fast he was clearing the old, or of the public housing he placed in locations that cemented the division of New York by race and class? Did I think in that moment of the more than half a million people he dispossessed for his projects and expressways, using methods that led one observer to say that “he hounded them out like cattle”? Did I think of how he systematically starved New York’s subways and commuter lines for decades and blocked proposals to build new ones, exacerbating the region’s dependence on the automobile? ”


  4. Oh please yes. Cap the damn thing and build housing and parks atop the below grade sections (which accounts for most of it). Great opportunity because of its proximity to the core of NYC and well served by mass transit.

  5. It wasn’t just blacks he dispossessed. By the 1980s, thanks in large part to his expressways and the systematic destruction of NYC’s mass transit, many good jobs relocated to office parks in Long Island. Many of these jobs were in science, research, or engineering. NYC at the time still had the best science high schools but the graduates of those schools were forced to either be underemployed, or buy a car and drive to work. I wonder how many people ended up with a lackluster career on account of this? Remember the families of quite a few of these students were poor. They certainly didn’t have money to buy junior a car to get to his first job. Not to mention it makes no sense having a potentially very valuable asset to society engage daily in the single most dangerous activity people regularly do, or to waste their time doing something totally pointless like piloting an auto.

    The sad part here is given his enormous power, had he used it for good he would single-handedly stopped the decline of NYC in the 1960s and 1970s. “White flight” is something which just never needed to happen.

  6. I agree with a tunnel but as a resident of the area I am opposed to retaining an elevated roadway atop new buildings. Reduce the surface running Bruckner to a two-lane Blvd each way with BRT, protected bicycle lanes, new public spaces and mixed use buildings from Port Morris to the Hutch River. The underground expressway could assume the extra capacity for thru-traffic.

    I also feel that the Bruckner Expressway should be submerged in Soundview and Castle Hill as well. The at-grade sections are worse than the elevated area because you reduce the number of connections.

    I would also mostly bury the interchange where the Bruckner and Bronx River Parkway meet, which is a huge burden on the mostly walking/mass transit taking population.

  7. I have looked at a burial extending towards the interchange with the BRP, and very much like that idea of uncovering the mouth of that river.

    I have thought of various alternative ideas, all involving most or all the expressway traffic within tunnels, but with the optional idea of a *southbound* rooftop roadway because of that great view of the city, that would have to be a no ramp access express route, as the access ramps would conflict wit the rest of the idea for a line of new buildings flanked and perhaps over the underground expressway roadways. Access ramps into the underground roadways would be of the more pedestrian friendly center loader configuration, loading to and from the center of the surface streets rather than from along one side.

    Also, I would deck over the adjacent railroad, incorporate the various NY Westchester & Boston station buildings, and preferably reconnect that to the Dyre Avenue line.

  8. The Bruckner-Bronx River Parkway interchange burial could perhaps be an opportunity for a park-like traffic circle on the surface.

    Where are the community meetings for coming up with such a long term plan for these roads?

  9. Local politicians are increasingly focused on the Sheridan Expressway Blvd conversion, an initiative I support. There hasn’t been much local discussion about the Bruckner/BX River Pkwy because they seem permanent to many if not most.

    At the Bruckner Express/BX River PKWY interchange, with an underground expressway the connections to and from the parkway would also be buried.

    Without the at-grade Bruckner and the loops to the BX River Pkwy, it would be substantially easier to walk between the 6 train+surrounding area and area surrounding Soundview Park.

  10. I still definitely prefer submerging the Bruckner Expressway. Considering that most residents surrounding the expressway do not drive, I would argue that it would be most preferred. Bruckner Blvd can remain an artery above, but must be no wider than two moving lanes in each direction to make it more human scale. BRT would also be great, as would protected bike lanes, new mixed use buildings and public space.

    The Bruckner Expressway takes up an enormous amount of land, and if you also deck the rail you have a hue opportunity for a tremendous amount of new development close to the city core.

  11. Reconstructing the Bruckner underground would permit a far better plan for the Sheridan, eliminating its elevated segment, with the northern segment retained beneath a new boulevard.

  12. Most local activists and an increasing number of politicians (all immediate area and the borough president among them) favor the construction of a boulevard, with two automotive moving lanes in either direction for the Sheridan (plus park expansion and new mixed use construction).

    The traffic volumes on the Sheridan are very low for a limited access roadway. This is an anecdotal observation but I run alongside it a couple times a week and I would argue that nearby Westchester Ave experiences substantially more traffic.

  13. A rooftop expressway roadway I believe would have the noise travel upwards, not downwards, and be sufficiently high to not be that loud from street level with proper design- another Streetsblog posts had a comment showing a roof top roadway somewhere in Japan, however I have not visited it, and without access ramps except at the ends avoid the noise of vehicles accelerating uphill onto it. I believe that such a structure may be feasible, however have no domestic U.S. examples to refer, and only see it as a supplement to the underground roadways to provide the option of retaining that wonderful vista of Manhattan when one drives upon the current viaduct. An alternative idea would be a rooftop pedestrian park-promenade alone, so people can still get that view if they want.

    In any event the mainline Bruckner must be taken down and replaced starting with a set of flanking cut and cover tunnelways, followed by a median set once the viaduct is removed.

    The northbound flanking tunnelway would require indexing the railroad a few feet east, which should be decked over.

    Such a project would indeed open up a vast new corridor for development, which should IMHO occur.

    A pity though that they are going to hamper the new development along the surface segment of the Sheridan by having it become the boulevard that is still fed directly by freeways at both ends, rather than a boulevard on a deck atop the existing recently reconstructed Sheridan roadbed which they plan to wastefully rip up, while neglecting the opportunity for increased development space by extending such also eastward to cover the railroad between Westchester Avenue and Jennings Street. Future development in Port Morris, new ramps to Hunts Point, and the construction of the Deegan in the Mott Haven area are only going to increase traffic upon the Sheridan.

  14. Also feasible would be a deck with new buildings atop the depressed southern segment of the BRP

  15. I have seen zero consideration of the idea of taking advantage of the topography to have the boulevard on a deck, with the new buildings ‘1st’ floors facing such, as the area rises up as a hill to the west. No do I see any consideration of long term traffic in the Sheridan removal planning regarding the effects of future redevelopment in Port Morris or Mott Haven. Ultimately, a boulevard atop a deck would be undeniably a far far more neighborhood friendly environment than what is now being planned. And doing it by incorporating it into the current planning would be far far less expensive than correcting it later by digging out that segment.

  16. See the area at and just past that images’ lower left corner- that area should have a deck to eliminate the surface rail bisection from the river while providing a better way for added development space- all apparently totally overlooked by the existing planning.

  17. Never experienced a rooftop expressway but traditional elevated structures have been noisy in my experience. The view is indeed pretty nice but it’s not worth the negative side effects I mentioned. Most Bronxites, especially from the surrounding areas, would not be driving along it either.

    I hope that by the time the Sheridan Expressway is converted (which seems more and more likely), we will have several initiatives in place to reduce automotive usage. Congestion pricing, residential parking permits, and an expansion in the elimination of parking minimums to all buildings (old and new) for starts.

  18. Agreed, though I would also like to retain a greenway along that section of some type to better link Soundview Park to those areas south of the CBX.

  19. The section south of Westchester Ave? I agree that area around Westchester Ave should be decked but how would that remove the necessity to convert the Sheridan north of Westchester Ave into a Blvd? Do you suggested decking the entire thing? It’s at-grade in the latter section. Even south of Westchester Ave is a transition into the elevated section after a brief dip below the Ave.

  20. The city needs to discourage automotive traffic substantially through aggressive new policies.

    If I understand your plan correctly, then the deck can work with the Blvd configuration. The deck would only surround Westchester Ave on either side. That’s the only area below grade. Yellow area in the photos.

    Correction: I think I see what you mean now. You want to bring the Blvd up to grade with Westchester Ave?

  21. Decking the railroad where it is along the west side of the Bronx River would provide extra space for development.

    I would deck over the Sheridan ideally from Westchester Avenue northward to a new at grade intersection with 174th Street.

    The Sheridan to the south of Westchester Avenue could be decked but only for a brief portion. That viaduct segment needs to be demolished.

  22. If you brought the Sheridan to grade with E 174th St, you would need to also bring up areas more inland along W Farms Rd because E 174th St is elevated to Boon Ave. There’s already permits filed to redevelop that area and construction is progressing quickly.

    I agree that the rail should be decked.

  23. Yes.. The deck would be the location of the new boulevard itself, with the existing recently reconstructed Sheridan roadbed retained beneath for through traffic.

    It would effectively be the new ground level as the topography rises to the west as a hill, and would be flanked by new buildings as now envisioned, but with their ‘1st’ floors facing the deck, and with the existing ground level as a below deck service area. Additionally, more development space could be obtained by somewhat cantilevering a portion of the new buildings over the existing service road.

  24. Seems much more expensive than the current proposals to provide capacity for automotive traffic that we may never see. Though I don’t have the $ numbers, I assume that a deck throughout would cost a lot more money than reconfiguration at-grade.

    Looking forward, like I mentioned, if the city does increasingly discourage private automobile ownership (likely, and already happening though slow) and/or new technologies such as autonomous vehicles enable closer following distances and many more shared trips it would be for nothing. That just seems like a significant increase in automotive capacity. It would be almost double the number of lanes in each direction, in an area that is not, and is unlikely to be automotive dependent in the near future. Excess capacity may likely induce more automotive demand as well.

    I have a personal bias against increasing automotive capacity though I must mention lol. I do support decking the areas (including rail) near Westchester Ave though to promote development on either side of it of course.

  25. The existing plans must note the added expense of demolishing the existing Sheridan roadbed that was recently completely reconstructed to support decades of truck traffic, and thus include this sunk cost, rather than simply adding traffic lights and different curbs and sidewalks to this existing roadbed.

    Yes a deck would be an added expense, but it would be a fraction of having to come back years later to dig out a cut and cover tunnel, after adopting plans that made no apparent consideration of the vast new redevelopment envisioned for Port Morris and Mott Haven, bring perhaps 10s of 1000s of new residents in what are now relatively desolate industrial areas. Please also note the Re-Think NY proposal for extending LaGuardia into Port Morris. A deck allows the new Sheridan boulevard to be more of a surface street rather than a higher flow artery that remains fed directly by freeways at both its northern and southern ends. Also do not overlook the recent reduction in through lanes from 3 to 2 per direction on the lower Deegan in Mott Haven, following NYDOT acceding to demands to not widen its right of way for merge lanes, and to instead achieve such by re-striping the outer lanes as such.

  26. The new buildings along West Farms Drive and 174th Street could effectively accomplish the grade increase.

  27. My idea of a boulevard on a deck atop the existing surface Sheridan would discourage that new boulevard from getting anywhere the amount of vehicular traffic as the boulevard fed directly at each ends freeway version now being promoted .

  28. There needs to be community meetings to discuss, refine and promote this idea. Alas all of the Sheridan boulevard planning that I have seen assumes perpetually retaining the elevated Bruckner.

  29. The deck boulevard could be configured in different optional ways. One option would be to have it unified all the way to Westchester Avenue. Another would be to have to split to use Whitlock and the service road to the east of the expressway.

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