Louisville, Ky.,
has finished the vast expansion of a concrete gulch mess of interstate highways through the heart of the city known as “spaghetti junction.” It further divides and degrades neighborhoods and access to the waterfront. They could have chosen a different path (a visionary plan existed) as many other cities have done, but no, as an article in Vox writes eloquently.

The article naturally calls to mind the ongoing planning of 30 Crossing, the $600 million (conservative estimate, not counting induced costs on what it will do to other roads) project to widen the Interstate 30 concrete gulch through Little Rock in the supposed interest of moving traffic through town more quickly to the suburbs. It’s folly. Many cities around the world have recognized this, if not Louisville and official Little Rock. Some slices from the Vox article:


… jamming interstates and freeways through cities — something Eisenhower never envisioned [in birthing the interstate system] — was a terrible idea. The power of cities is in the connections that form among people and institutions in close proximity. Intra-urban freeways destroy that connectivity. They chop cities into pieces, creating disconnected zones, isolating people from business districts and often from urban waterfronts. They occupy enormous swaths of valuable land but produce no tax revenue; they only absorb revenue in maintenance costs.

What’s more, the impact of urban freeways is not evenly distributed. It is most often poor communities and communities of color that are displaced to build freeways, and it is most often those communities that get herded into low-value zones adjacent to freeways. [Interstate 630 in Little Rock, for example, whose junction with I-30 will become a bigger tangle of concrete spaghetti through 30 crossing]

…Some cities have made the bold choice to remove freeways altogether. The evidence from those experiments is overwhelmingly positive — see this post, or this one, for some examples (and great before-and-after pics); see here for a more formal list of case studies. I am not aware of a single example of a city that removed an urban freeway and later decided that doing so was a mistake.

However, the notion that you can rip out a freeway, traffic will simple disperse, and the reclaimed land will produce more value than what it replaced is highly counterintuitive to most people, including most city officials. Despite copious empirical evidence to the contrary, they simply cannot shake the notion that traffic is a static quantity that will flood onto urban surface streets if freeways are gone.

The article is full of specific examples and links to successful projects elsewhere that defy the conventional wisdom of Arkansas freeway builders and business and political leaders — if six lanes of freeway are good, eight must be better.

Many cities have ripped up freeways without creating traffic nightmares, while spurring positive developments. See the San Francisco waterfront, where an elevated freeway was planned, then scrapped. This is the part that the wise men [and they are nearly all men] of Arkansas simply won’t accept. Emphasis supplied:


We know why freeway closures don’t cause traffic problems, at least at a general level: Commuting drivers choose other regional routes, local drivers choose other forms of transport, and thanks to the new land uses and connections freed up by freeway removal, fewer people need to travel long distances. At this point, we probably shouldn’t be surprised anymore.

Just some Sunday shouting into the wind of local chamber of commerce wisdom. Given what that thinking has helped do to the community and its schools  — I’m talking past annexations, development patterns and preferences for segregating initiatives and governance, not just the recent effort to destroy democratically controlled public schools — you can see why people want to get out of town fast.