The New York Times offers yet another story on the new urbanism that holds that all those 1950s-era freeways are community destroyers. It recounts how cities from Buffalo to Milwaukee to San Francisco are moving to mitigate freeway damage and even remove them entirely.
Don’t bother sending this article to the Arkansas Department of Highways (
I exaggerate a bit. But the refusal to consider alternatives to wider freeways on the part of the Arkansas business and highway establishment in the 30 Crossing Project to widen I-30 through Little Rock (with its induced and unplanned-for new stress on other roads and highways in addition to the $700 million disruption the main project will cause) is not much in line with evolving thinking around the country. But Arkansas has rarely been on the cutting edge.
From the Times article, focusing on a drive to remove a Buffalo expressway:
The Scajaquada is not just a local barrier but also a poster road for a growing movement being championed by progressives in the urban-planning community. They want to tear down some highways in cities and replace all that elevated-and-barricaded pavement with lower-speed streets that favor pedestrians and bicyclists and foster greater connectivity among neighborhoods and residents.
The change isn’t easy. And it strikes many as radical.
But already, several cities have removed or decommissioned existing highways, including Paris; Seoul, South Korea; Boston; and Portland, Ore. Last year, Rochester buried a portion of a downtown expressway known as the Inner Loop, a stretch of sunken highway the city’s mayor likened to a “moat.” It is being replaced with a boulevard on the same grade as the rest of the streetscape.
And because of a confluence of factors, including the embrace of ride-hailing services like Uber and the rebirth of cities as places to live, work, raise families and retire to, advocates like Ms. Richards see an “incredible opportunity” to remove even more pavement. “When we put out a call last summer for freeways without a future, we got almost 75 recommendations,” she said. “This can kick-start a conversation about the best way to spend infrastructure dollars.”
Many in-city highways were built during the post-World War II boom years with easy money from the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act. They hail from an age when the automobile was ascendant and were built to quickly move commuters in and out of urban centers; many of these highways were used by white suburbanites and built in low-income minority neighborhoods (“white men’s roads through black men’s homes,” went a saying in Washington).
Perhaps the greatest argument that removal advocates have is that so much of this infrastructure is nearing the end of its life span. In this era of tight budgets and political gridlock, it may be cheaper for local and state governments to remove a freeway rather than repair or build a new one.
Catch that last sentence? It might fit in the current debate about highway construction money. Republican politicians and many taxpayers want more construction without paying more taxes. How about just reducing expenditures?
The chamber of commerce publicity stunt last week to blow off Little Rock as an Amazon expansion site bragged about our livable downtown at the same time it bragged about 22-minute average commutes at the same time it is advocating for more concrete and other steps to encourage commuters. Anybody else
For your reading pleasure: Major cities that are reimagining freeway gashes.