Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More on Freeways to Parks

A couple of months ago I did a post on the movement to deck over urban freeways and cover them with parkland.  My opinion was that this movement was not imaginative enough.  Instead of simply covering the freeway with a park and allowing the traffic to pass underneath, I thought cities should give more consideration to simply removing some freeways entirely and replacing them with parks, streets, stores, apartments, schools and other useful amenities.  Today on Marketplace I heard a report about architects and urban planners proposing exactly that.  Imagine, for example, the beauty of the views that would be revealed if the FDR Drive and adjoining structures near the Brooklyn Bridge could be torn down and replaced by a park.

Such suggestions always run into the problem that people cannot imagine how we would all get around without the urban expressways we are accustomed to.  As the Marketplace report points out, however, every time a freeway gets torn down, people are always surprised to find out that the cars that used to take that freeway just somehow . . . disappear.  Very little of the expected congestion seems to materialize.  Traffic is dissipated to other roads, or people just find alternative modes of transportation.  Meanwhile, everyone else benefits tremendously from the peace, quiet and beauty that abound once the highway is removed.

The former mayor of Milwaukee, John Norquist, who is now a big proponent of removing urban freeways, and who tore down a freeway through downtown Milwaukee, is quoted in the report as saying that you don't hear many people complaining that "Milwaukee was a great place till that freeway got torn down."   I think the same could be said about a lot of urban highways.  If they were removed, people would wonder how we ever put up with them.

(Illustration by Terraform and Michael Sorkin Studios, from Marketplace website)

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