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Logan Can't Run: Enviro-Utopia Plan For Cities Without Highways?

March 25, 2013
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Source: SCIAM

It's hard to create cohesive, connected communities when there are giant roads dividing neighborhoods. It's time to revitalize our cities by removing the highways.

Editor's Note
The following is from the essay "Cities without highways: Why our opportunity to transform streetscape is now" by Diana Lind, Next City's executive director and editor-in-chief, featured in City 2.0: The Habitat of the Future and How to Get There (TED Books and the Atlantic Cities, 2013).

On a clear spring day in 2010, I took a motorboat tour down the Delaware River with urban planner Harris Steinberg. Steinberg had helped develop Philadelphia's first cohesive plan for revitalizing the city's postindustrial waterfront, and I listened excitedly as he explained how those piers overgrown with shrubs and thin trees would soon become parks reconnecting citizens to this oft-ignored waterway and a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with new housing.

But viewed from the water, the city faced a clear obstacle to this visionary plan. Eight lanes of Interstate 95, elevated like a viaduct, sat beside six lanes of a heavily trafficked boulevard and collectively blocked Philadelphia's vibrant downtown from the Delaware.

When I mentioned what a shame the highway was, Harris told me offhandedly that all 51 miles of I-95 in Pennsylvania were undergoing phased replacement. The last portion of I-95 to be replaced would be the three-mile stretch along Philadelphia's waterfront. Its plan for the new version of the highway was simple: Remove the elevated highway and build it again, as a heinous eight-lane intrusion on the city.

Although my nonprofit organization, Next City, and other local advocacy groups have presented alternative options through forums, design competitions, and other efforts planners are uninterested in changing the highway's size or location--no matter its deleterious effects on the city. They refused to study other options, calling any changes to the status quo pie in the sky.

The number of automobiles and trucks on American roads now exceeds the number of people living here.
But what if replacing urban highways with city-scaled roadways and more transit options weren't impossible? What if we agreed that we needed to think less about the demands for infrastructure today and plan better for our lifestyles and transportation patterns 50 years from now?

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized the spending of $25 billion (more than $200 billion these days) for the construction of more than 40,000 miles of interstate highway over the coming decade to heighten Americans' quality of life.

As a result of highway expansion, the gross domestic product of the country quintupled between 1956 and 2013. The number of automobiles and trucks on American roads now exceeds the number of people living here. The highways spurred vast growth in Sun Belt states like Arizona and Georgia, and spawned new suburbs around the country.

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