Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Modern Freeway: A Thing of the Past?

As walkable and bikeable development continues to gain popularity, many cities, developers, and organizations have forced cities to consider tearing down inner-city freeways.  While a freeway teardown isn’t an easy feat, the process offers many benefits including the opening of land for real estate development, the addition of parks and open space, and, above all, the creation of a place for people. 
Seoul, South Korea tore down a 14-Lane Elevated Freeway Running through Downtown, credit: SDOT blog

To date, four cities in the United States have torn down freeways: Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Providence, Rhode Island.  As a result, Portland witnessed a 10.4 percent annual increase in downtown property values due to the leveling of the Harbor Drive and the construction of Tom McCall Waterfront Park (Peirce 2012).  Similarly, the demolition of San Francisco’s Embarcadero, due to an earthquake, proved to be beneficial as the pedestrian boulevard and transit that replaced it increased adjacent land values up to 300 percent and it transports more people per day than the old freeway did, according to Walkable City (Preservation Institute 2007).

Embarcadero, San Francisco, credit: David Yu
We often forget how the freeway boom in the 1950s and 1960s severely degraded the city environment, cutting off its live to inhabitants and displacing families.  Now cities are realizing that freeways must go in order to remain competitive, while offering a high standard of livability and the amenities that come with city living. Dallas, New York City, New Haven, Connecticut, and Seattle are all considering the removal of major inner-city freeways.

Ultimately, we learned the hard way and have suffered the consequences of inner-city freeways.  However, now it is critical that we plan and design cities for multi-modal access and the wellbeing of visitors and inhabitants. 

Thanks to Ben Chaney for editing this post!


1 comment:

  1. I remember then outgoing Mayor Adams releasing a concept report about burying part of I-5 on the eastside. It does seem like central city freeways cause huge losses in (potential) property tax revenue. I wonder if a city's ever borrowed against expected value increases to fund a tunnel/cap/reroute/bypass for an urban freeway?

    The math would be complicated, but I wouldn't be surprised if something like burying I-5 through the city penciled out.


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