More cities consider tearing down highways

A recent article highlights efforts in Syracuse and other cities to tear down highways in dense urban areas:

“It seems like it’s gaining popularity,” said Ted Shelton, a professor of architecture at the University of Tennessee who studies urban highway removal. “For so long, we’ve thought when a highway gets to capacity, we need to add a lane. But what we’ve learned is there’s no way you can build enough capacity.”More cities — including Long Beach, Dallas, New Orleans, Nashville and Hartford, Conn. — are debating the idea of tearing down highways and creating something designed to keep people in the city, not send people out. In Seattle, a double-decker highway is slated to come down, although a giant machine called Big Bertha has run into trouble excavating the 2-mile-long tunnel for the new roadway.

In most cases, tearing down freeways would create “rich urban fabric that supports complex cultures and economies in a way that it can’t right now,” Shelton said…

“There’s not been a single city in the world that’s taken a freeway out and things haven’t gotten better for everybody,” said Peter J. Park, who ran the project to tear down the Park East Freeway in Milwaukee several years ago.

Still, in many cities where Americans are accustomed to using their cars to get places quickly and cheaply, urban planners might have a tough road ahead of them. For many Americans, urban highways are as essential to day-to-day life as washing machines or light bulbs.

At the least, getting rid of an urban highway opens up space and eliminates the noise, pollution, and congestion generated by the highways. At the better end, innovative projects can use that space for parks or new projects that help beautify spaces and jumpstart economic development. As noted, this is counterintuitive: building more roads is not the answer and alternative plans of action can actually reduce traffic while enhancing space. This is a reminder that cities don’t have to revolve around providing automobile access.

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