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.
Nobody likes being stuck in traffic and in the recent past the solution was to build more roads (or add more lanes). Ironically this makes traffic worse as an increase in traffic capacity means more people will drive places. These narrow-minded solutions are still applied in some places like Toronto where Crack-Mayor removed bike lanes. Hopefully the next time transportation options are being looked at crack-voters will come to understand that the best way to make traffic flow better is to not cater to car drivers.
Whenever some city proposes taking lanes away from a road, residents scream that they’re going to create a huge traffic snarl. But the data shows that nothing truly terrible happens. The amount of traffic on the road simply readjusts and overall congestion doesn’t really increase.
For instance, Paris in recent decades has had a persistent policy to dramatically downsize and reduce roadways. “Driving in Paris was bad before,” said Duranton. “It’s just as bad, but it’s not much worse.”
So where did those other drivers go? Many of them switched to public transit, which in Paris has increased by 20 percent in the last two decades. Other trips have simply been avoided, or done on foot. It’s not just Europeans who are eager to get out of their cars. San Francisco removed a highway section, called the Central Freeway, that carried nearly 100,000 cars per day in 1989. The boulevard that replaced it now only carries around 45,000 daily cars and yet they move. (Yes, I’ve been stuck in traffic on Octavia Boulevard, but it’s not like you never get through.) Perhaps the biggest success story has been in Seoul, South Korea, where the city tore down a highway that was considered a vital roadway corridor, carrying 168,000 cars per day. After replacing the cars with a river, parkland, and some smaller roads, traffic didn’t get worse and many other things, including pollution, got better.
Car-dominated infrastructure is clearly bad for local communities, transit, the environment (local and global), and the economy. So why do so many places refuse to tear down crumbling urban highways? The addiction to the car is a powerful one in many parts of the world and we need to curb it.
Over at Firefly Living, this issue is examined and argues that yes the highways should be torn and lists some places where this has worked rather effectively.
3. Milwaukee Tears Down the Past East Freeway
The cost of repairing Milwaukee’s aged Past East Freeway would have been upwards of $100 million. The cost of removing a mile of it was a quarter of that. The freeway used to carry 54,000 cars a day, now the boulevard that’s replaced it carries 18,600 cars a day. The area has added 3,400 residents in 5 years, thanks to the removal of the freeway. The city-owned land around the torn-down freeway has benefited from $700 million of investment to date.