People make cities an interesting place to be. It’s the people that produce culture and economic prosperity, yet many cities have highways going right through them. These highways make the city worse in every regard.
Now, cities in America will be getting funding to repair the cities from the damage done by highways. Hopefully other parts of the world will see that highways are a thing of the past and we need to build cities for people.
The future of the country’s highway system is about much more than those neighborhoods, too. It will also affect public health and climate change. And the debate is happening at a fascinating moment: Many of the midcentury highways are reaching the end of their life span, and attitudes toward transportation are shifting.
“As recently as a decade ago,” said Peter Norton, a University of Virginia historian, “every transportation problem was a problem to be solved with new roads.” That’s not always the case anymore.
Urban highways occupy a lot of space that can otherwise be used for parks, housing, offices, or anything else that produces economic benefits. The post war highway building boom in North America destroyed communities (in the USA highways were built to purposefully isolate black communities), fuelled car-dependent suburban developments, and plunged cities into debt to finance the construction. Now, we pay the price for the thoughtlessness of previous generations with unsustainable developments, polluted land, and large swaths of our cities taken over by tarmac.
No more. Cities are removing their highways instead of going further into debt to maintain them (Toronto is an exception to this). As a result new land is essentially being created and new vibrant, prosperous communities are popping up.
Rochester’s Inner Loop, completed in 1965, is one prominent example. This freeway destroyed hundreds of businesses and homes while separating downtown from the rest of the city, theNew York Timesreports. And in recent years, local officials have been trying to undo the damage.
In 2013, Rochester spent roughly $25 million to take out an eastern segment of the freeway. Apartment buildings have since been built in its place, and smaller roads once separated by the Inner Loop have now been reconnected, facilitating the easy transportation of walkers and bikers in the area. Following the $25 million removal project, over $300 million of private investment was brought into the city,according to aRochester City Newspaperarticle.
Regular readers of this site already know that highways are amongst the worst ways to move people effectively and also a way to ensure urban development is built to cater to cars instead of human beings. Yet, in Ontario the government wants to build a $6 billion highway to promote low-density car-based development and increase the region’s carbon output. The utterly incompetent Conservative party is set on destroying the efforts of environmentalists and farmers to conserve prime farming land.
Building a highway isn’t good. If you want to actually improve transportation in Ontario – or almost anywhere – build better public transit. Vox explores this concept in a recent video.
The concept of induced demand has been around since the 1960s — nearly as long as the inception of the federal highway system — and has been proven by several studies since. But it still hasn’t stemmed the tide of big, expensive highway infrastructure projects as a Band-Aid to congestion.
Highways are loved in America due to their ability to allow single occupant vehicles to move uninterrupted, thus they crisscross the entirety of the United States. This makes for a lot of land covered by asphalt, cars spattering litter, brake dust, exhaust onto the roadside, and large swaths of manicured grass. The highway side grass is expensive to maintain (people need to be paid to cut the grass) and does little to deal with the exhaust blasting out of automobiles. Kansas as a solution to this grassy knoll – better grass. Kernza is being tested on a Kansas highway because it requires barely any landscaping and captures more carbon than regular grass.
The plant was bred at the Kansas-based Land Institute from a type of wheatgrass related to wheat, but unlike more common grains, like corn, wheat, and barley, it grows perennially, rather than having to be plowed and replanted every year. As it grows, its roots stretch as far as 10 feet underground, helping make the plant more resilient, preventing erosion, and capturing more carbon in the soil.
The plant was highlighted in Paul Hawken’s book Project Drawdownas an effective tool for fighting climate change. Hawken, who has connections to The Ray, helped introduce the organization to the plant. They’d previously considered growing other plants, such as bamboo, but realized that the roots of fast-growing bamboo could be destructive to pavement.
Car culture has ruined cities with never ending traffic problems and made the streetscape untenable for modern living. Smog from cars kills too many people every year. Yet, we still see places looking backward and ensuring that this regressive car-focussed planning continues. Toronto is one such place with it’s obsession on keeping a decaying highway running right through it’s downtown.
Gizmodo has collected six examples of cities that are actually doing something about their traffic problems: the highways got torn down. One example not included in their list is Maastricht which is presently in the process of removing a highway.
Let’s hope that even more places learn that the best way to deal with urban traffic planning it is to make it urban and not for cars.
Looking at San Francisco now, it’s hard to believe that a massive, stacked freeway ran right along what is now one of the most scenic views of the bay. But there it was, State Route 480, until the 1989 Loma Prieta quake damaged it. There had been talk about removing the freeway since the early 1980s, but the earthquake spurred the conversation along, and demolition began in 1991.
The result was a triumph for downtown San Francisco, which now had miles of public space, walking and bike paths, plus new transit routes where the double-decker freeway once was. The city also helped prove to the rest of the world that freeway removal was not only possible but could be an economic boon for the city, since San Francisco both saved money on construction—installing the wide boulevard was cheaper than fixing the freeway—and the new development increased property values. San Francisco actually got two great removal projects out of this earthquake: The city’s damaged Central Freeway also became Octavia Boulevard.