7 Cities Consider Removing Major Urban Highways

National, Newsletter
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
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Proposed highway removal along Louisville's riverfront (Courtesy 8664.org)

Proposed highway removal along Louisville's riverfront (Courtesy 8664.org)

In a shift from America’s traditional 20th century landscape, more and more cities are now considering removing major highways in favor of housing, parks and economic development.

The chief motivation seems to be money, according to a recent NPR report highlighting the growing movement and the removal of Cleveland’s West Shoreway. As highways age, keeping them around doesn’t justify the high cost of maintenance.

But tearing these highways down also means new opportunities for developing valuable real estate and rehabilitating blighted land. The federal government awarded $16 million to replace a New Haven highway with pedestrian boulevards last fall, and other TIGER II funds to explore highway removal in the Bronx and New Orleans have also been issued. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. remarked, “We think this is a big f—ing deal.”

Decades after urban renewal programs first put up highways, most city planners now realize that highways drain vitality from healthy neighborhoods and lower property values. San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway are two poster children for how highway removal can rejuvenate neighborhoods. The collapse of the Miller Highway in New York also made way for what’s now West Street and Hudson River Park.


BALTIMORE: Demolition of Baltimore’s infamous “Highway to Nowhere,” a one mile stretch that ends in a grassy slope, began last fall. In 1974, construction sliced through a vibrant working class area of west Baltimore, demolishing 700 homes and displacing 2,000 residents, mostly African American. The area is now characterized by vacant homes and high poverty rates. President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded $2.8 million for the highway’s removal, which will make room for transit-oriented development.

NOW:

Baltimore

Baltimore

PROPOSED:

Baltimore

Baltimore


CLEVELAND: The only way to get from downtown Cleveland to the waterfront is through poorly lit tunnels underneath the West Shoreway freeway. NPR recently highlighted the city’s plan to convert the highway into an urban boulevard, in line with efforts to develop the waterfront, but opposition from suburban commuters forced the city to scale back the project. The original proposal would have added crosswalks to the road, parks, offices and housing, while the actual project will just focus on rebuilding the pedestrian tunnels.

NOW

Cleveland

Cleveland

PROPOSED (rejected):

Cleveland

Cleveland


NEW ORLEANS: Decades before Hurricane Katrina and getting its own HBO series, Treme was one of the wealthiest African American communities in New Orleans, and Claiborne Avenue was its teeming commercial center. The construction of the Claiborne Expressway in the 1950s changed all that, displacing families and over 100 businesses. City planners are currently debating removing the highway as part of post-Katrina rebuilding. The plan would reclaim 35-40 city blocks from urban blight and 20-25 blocks of open space.

NOW:

New Orleans

New Orleans

PROPOSED:

New Orleans

New Orleans


SEATTLE: A battle is raging in Seattle over the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The highway’s coming down after sustaining damage in a 2001 earthquake, but the $4.2 billion tunnel slated to replace it by 2016 remains a political hot potato. The project is entangled in lawsuits, with critics seeking to vote on the project. Mayor McGinn came out against the Seattle’s political establishment in support of a street level replacement. He’s also pushing for removal of the Viaduct next year, citing the damage it would cause in an earthquake.

NOW:

Seattle

Seattle

PROPOSED:

Seattle

Seattle


NEW HAVEN: The city recently received a $16 million TIGER II grant to convert part of Route 34 into an urban boulevard. Residents envision a re-do with narrow car lanes, wide sidewalks and a bike lane. The plan will add 960 permanent jobs and reclaim 11 acres of land that can be developed and taxed. It will finally unite the city’s central business district with the rest of New Haven, ending the highway’s stifling effect on economic development. Built in 1959, the highway displaced 600 families and 65 businesses and was never completed.

NOW:

New Haven

New Haven

PROPOSED:

New Haven

New Haven


BUFFALO: After several multi-million dollar projects failed to slow Buffalo’s decline, planners set their sights on removing two of the city’s major highways. The Skyway and Route 5 make commutes more difficult, cost millions in annual maintenance and block waterfront development. The state Department of Transportation decided to keep the elevated roadways in 2008, even though local officials and residents wanted a street level boulevard. A coalition of citizens and civic organizations appealed the decision in 2008, and continue to advocate demolition.

NOW:

Buffalo

Buffalo

PROPOSED:

Buffalo

Buffalo


LOUISVILLE: In the opening scenes of Elizabethtown, Kirsten Dunst maps out Interstate 64 in Louisville for Orlando Bloom because “the roads around there are hopelessly and gloriously confusing.” He gets lost anyway, banging his hands against his steering wheel and yelling “60B!” The Ohio River Bridges Project, a $4.2 billion plan to expand the highway to 23 lanes of traffic at its widest point, would make things even more challenging. In 2005, two Louisville businessmen launched a grassroots campaign to remove the highway and develop the waterfront with a pedestrian-friendly boulevard. But it looks like the project’s continuing with wider elevated lanes of traffic with some cost cut adjustments made in recent days.

NOW:

Louisville

Louisville

PROPOSED:

Louisville

Louisville

7 Responses to “7 Cities Consider Removing Major Urban Highways”

  1. Bill Millard says:

    This is for your web editors rather than the comments section per se: Please fix a hidden typo that’ll keep your readers from finding valuable information. The URL for the grassroots campaign in Louisville should be http://www.8664.org, not 8864.org (which leads nowhere). Eighty-sixing the dreaded Highway 64 and simplifying Spaghetti Junction are components of several wider plans to liberate more parts of this eccentrically beautiful riverside city from the foul dominion of King Car.

  2. jason prince says:

    This is inspiring.
    I would like to invite you as a guest blogger to our site: http://www.turcot.ca
    Our provincial government is about to make a huge mistake with an inner-city highway intersection replacement jobby, in Montreal. A BIG mistake. There is a credible counterproposal.
    Let me know if you would like to copy-paste your story into our blog and we can arrange it. LOVE IT! A simple link just just won’t be enough!!!
    After, we can translate it into French so it has maximum impact.
    Good job.

  3. Alex says:

    Not sure why you didn’t include St. Louis and I-70 next to the St. Louis Arch. It’s on the list of CNU’s “Freeways Without Futures”, each of the five finalist design firms for the Arch grounds competition endorsed its removal and a local grassroots effort has lined up significant endorsements for its removal: http://www.citytoriver.org

  4. Aurash Khawarzad says:

    Great article. It’s encouraging to see planners and architects coming together to put community first by reversing auto-centric planning patterns.

  5. Thanks for pointing out the link issue, Bill. The bad link has been 86′ed.

    St. Louis’ City to River campaign is a great one and definitely deserves attention. Thanks for pointing it out here, Alex.

  6. TC says:

    Dallas is removing the elevated SM Wright Freeway (US-175) through the area directly south of downtown (http://www.smwrightproject.org/), as well as decking over, but not removing, the Woodall Rodgers Freeway (TX-366) on the north side of downtown (http://www.theparkdallas.org/)

  7. steve poppitz says:

    god bless you , everyone

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