Imagine if instead of building more highways we got rid of some of them, or at least relocated them.
Oklahoma has a radical solution for repairing the state's busiest highway.
Tear it down. Build a park.
The aging Crosstown Expressway -- an elevated 4.5-mile stretch of Interstate 40 -- will be demolished in 2012. An old-fashioned boulevard and a mile-long park will be constructed in its place.
Oklahoma City is doing what many cities dream about: saying goodbye to a highway.
More than a dozen cities have proposals to remove highways from downtowns. Cleveland wants to remove a freeway that blocks its waterfront. Syracuse, N.Y., wants to rid itself of an interstate that cuts the city in half.
In the 1950s and '60s, mayors, governors and planners thought downtown highways would help keep cities alive by paving the way for suburban commuters to get in and out. Today, many of those same groups view downtown highways as a plague, wrecking neighborhoods, dividing cities and blocking waterfronts. Many big cities have long-term plans that call for eliminating some downtown highways or reducing their scale.
The future of many of these highways will be decided in the next few years because the old roads are nearing the end of their life expectancies. The federal, state and local governments must decide whether it's smarter and cheaper to renovate highways or to build new routes.
Some cities want traffic routed around downtowns. Others want tunnels or highways that pass under streets. A number of cities want to close highways and replace them with -- nothing.
In Oklahoma City, the interstate will be moved five blocks from downtown to an old railroad line. The new 10-lane highway, expected to carry 120,000 vehicles daily, will be placed in a trench so deep that city streets can run atop it, as if the highway weren't there.
The old highway will be converted into a tree-lined boulevard city officials hope will become Oklahoma City's marquee street.
By tearing down the Crosstown Expressway, the city hopes to spur development of 80 city blocks stretching from downtown to the Oklahoma River -- an area that contains vacant lots, car repair shops and a few small homes.
"We've always been a good place to live, but we've never had a city we could show off," Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett says. "Moving the expressway makes it possible for a day to come when hundreds or thousands of people will live downtown."
And it's something we should think about, because there's clearly value to be added by not situating highways where they will detract from the surrounding areas.
Many unpopular highways run along rivers or lakes. The path made sense when they were built because the route was flat, in existing rights-of-way and connected highways and busy ports.
Now, especially in old, industrial cities, waterfronts are often vacant, leaving the prettiest scenery blighted by highways carrying traffic passing through.
Cleveland wants to convert its West Shoreway, next to Lake Erie, from a 50-mph freeway into a tree-lined boulevard. "There was less appreciation for the scenic value of waterfront when the shoreway was built," says Cleveland Planning Commission director Robert Brown. "We need to connect the city to its parks and lakefront again."
In other cities, highways cut cities in half. "It's our very own Berlin Wall," Syracuse, N.Y., council member Van Robinson says of I-81.
Like many urban interstates, I-81 demolished a black neighborhood. The interstate has created a tale of two cities: thriving Syracuse University on one side, struggling downtown on the other.
Anyway. I don't ever foresee Houston seriously considering these options - we recently spent a ton of money renovating the Pierce Elevated, so even if we would consider them, it wouldn't be any time soon - but it's worth thinking about, if only to imagine what it might be like.Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 16, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles