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You got a lot of money but you can't afford the freeway.
March 17, 2012 6:00 AM   Subscribe

"The Detroit metropolitan area is covered with freeways. Ever freeway you could possible imagine has been built. And they have solved the problem that they identified, which was congestion. The city of Detroit doesn’t really have a problem with congestion anymore. That’s the least of their problems". How demolishing freeways is reviving American cities. [via][bonus]
posted by unSane (83 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sun belt cities, where the growth is really taking place in America, aren't demolishing freeways; they're building new ones.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:19 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"The city of Detroit doesn’t really have a problem with congestion anymore. "


Either he's never been to Detroit, or his definition of "congestion" is very different than mine.

The difference between LA and Detroit: In LA you expect some slowdowns, you drive accordingly, when you hit them, you deal with them. In Detroit people drive like idiots, there are still slowdowns, and when you hit them, you frigging literally "hit" them and people die.
posted by HuronBob at 6:29 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever the good or ill of freeways, I think it's overclaiming to suggest that freeways were a principal reason as to why congestion in Detroit was transferred to congestion in the suburbs, let alone why congestion in Detroit is absent nowadays. There were socio-economic reasons for the former (having to do with race, class, and plant location), and purely economic reasons for the latter.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 6:33 AM on March 17, 2012


Tragically, Scotland is going down the endless new roads route even as the rest of the UK has largely learnt this kind of lesson. And this piece, great as it is, doesn't even go that far with the research showing both journeys and car ownership rising alongside the provision of more roads.
posted by imperium at 6:34 AM on March 17, 2012


HuronBob When I commuted from Ypsilanti to Southfield (it's in outer Detroit, for other MeFites), I was always terrified of what I called the 80-to-0 effect. Traffic moves so fast, you feel pressured to drive near 80, as the speed limit was 70, but then you round a sweeping corner and traffic has hit a dead stop. I learned really quickly how to utilize the emergency shoulder, like most Detroiters. I also tried to drive 70 whenever possible.

Now I live in Charlotte and my path to work doesn't utilize the freeway. In fact, there is no interstate between my house and where I work.
posted by Slothrop at 6:35 AM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


For example, when the Embarcadero Freeway, a double-deck freeway, was torn down, a majority of the trips—according to a study by the city of San Francisco—got shorter and faster because of the increased connectivity. With the freeway, there were a lot of trips where you overshot your destination and had to come back. It also attracted trips that didn’t add any value to the neighborhood: People going from Oakland to Marin County were cutting through San Francisco. When the freeway was torn down and replaced by a boulevard, it suddenly didn’t look so attractive to go that way, and [drivers] found a different way to get to Marin Country or, in some cases, didn’t make the trip.
This part of Norquist’s first response to the interview heartens me.

I went carless for the first time in my adult life (24 years) in 2010 and found that my savings went up astronomically. Not only did I save on parking, gas, maintenance, and insurance, I also found myself forgoing many trips that were motorvehicular excuses to spend money.

By moving closer to my work and living in a city with high walkability/bikability I have saved myself well in excess of $15,000 per year.

Getting to the subject of removing freeways, I am a little leery because honestly I think SF would be greatly improved for all concerned if privately-owned automobiles were not allowed to in the city center.

But I’m not holding my breath on this one. The only thing Americans unselfreflixively love more than guns are their cars.
posted by mistersquid at 6:36 AM on March 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Re: congestion and piggy-backing off of HuronBob

Fairly recently (past month) riding to Ann Arbor from Ypsi for my usual commute, I was approaching the exit. Things were going real smooth. Guy in front of me decides to merge left to avoid what I first thought was the usual slow down for the exit, but it only took a second to realize it was a full stop. ***SCRRRRRREEEEECCCCHHHHH****** I merge right into the shoulder and slowly slow down to catch my breath.

So yeah, Greater Detroit still has a congestion problem. And to be specific, check that I94-US23 interchange... my Lord. Construction to improve that situation would be an annoyance, but I think the finished product would be worth it.

Also, occasionally I have to venture out into the real suburbs along I275 and 696. I have to be real careful there.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 6:43 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with the ~1960s highway construction specifically in America is that it was done right through the centers of cities and required massive neighborhood demolition. Cities require inter-connectivity to thrive. Slice up and disconnect a city from itself enough times (and demolish entire city blocks for parking), and you don't have much left over.

You only have to look across the border to Canada — which didn't have its federal government pushing for those kinds of highways and paying for them — to find cities that never had to entirely sacrifice themselves for a future of highways and parking.
posted by parudox at 6:43 AM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, the Michigan Dep't of Transportation has not yet received this memo. They are still on track to widen I-94 to 8 lanes, which is a completely unnecessary waste of 2 billion dollars. Even recently, they were trying to extend I-375 (a 1.5 mile spur that empties into downtown) all the way to the river (an additional distance of 4 city blocks) so that people could drive to the Renaissance Center more easily.

Detroit does have a complete abundance of surface streets. For instance, this is the first major intersection I hit on my bike commute. There's at least 6 extra lanes on those three roads. Unfortunately, Detroit DOT is unwilling to go on a 'road diet' or convert some of those car lanes to bike lanes because then they would lose federal funding (which is based on how wide the streets are).

I can't wait until the day they start tearing down the freeways here, even though I will probably be an old man.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 6:47 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Toronto barely avoided being split down the middle by an expressway. Fortunately we had Jane Jacobs to lead a charge against the idea. You still occasionally hear people complaining that it didn't go through. None of these people actually live here, of course.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:51 AM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


It would be really nice if Philly tore down I-95, but I doubt it will happen. This is all one of those areas where everyone kind of knows what the right thing to do is but momentum is just going to carry the same old policies forward.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:51 AM on March 17, 2012


Whatever the good or ill of freeways, I think it's overclaiming to suggest that freeways were a principal reason as to why congestion in Detroit was transferred to congestion in the suburbs, let alone why congestion in Detroit is absent nowadays. There were socio-economic reasons for the former (having to do with race, class, and plant location), and purely economic reasons for the latter.

I think it is overclaiming to say that the freeways caused the exodus. But it would be correct to say that the road construction made it possible. Without the freeways and big arterials, you would not have had so many people moving to the suburbs and beyond.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I'd rather they keep some of the freeways but make them payways for private vehicles and put the car tolls into maintaining the roads and establishing bike lanes and toll-subsidized bus routes in dedicated bus lanes. Just raise the price every year until car traffic congestion becomes reasonable.
posted by pracowity at 6:54 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Either he's never been to Detroit, or his definition of "congestion" is very different than mine.

He means the city of Detroit proper, not the suburbs.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 6:54 AM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


A slightly-related study of rebuilding the Cypress Freeway in West Oakland. Not rebuilding after the 1989 earthquake was apparently floated as an option, at least for impact studies, but they ended up moving it to try and help the community it cut in half.
posted by hoyland at 6:56 AM on March 17, 2012


Toronto does have a similar problem with the Gardener, mostly in the east-end. Not going to happen with Ford in office though.
posted by bonehead at 6:59 AM on March 17, 2012


From the article:
You could take care of congestion in New York in a similar way: If you eliminate the 700 miles of subway, eliminate the commuter trains, build the Cross-Manhattan Expressway, put the West Side Highway back in—build all the freeways that Robert Moses didn’t get around to building—you could probably solve the congestion problem in New York. Manhattan’s population would drop from 2 million down to half a million, and the city would become a really poor place instead of a rich place.
(emphasis mine)

Why would you remove commuter trains and/or subways if you're trying to increase transportation 'bandwidth'? I was under the impression that commuter trains were one of the fastest ways possible to move many people in parallel (ferries are also very good). A ten car subway train with 200-300 people per car, arriving every 10 minutes delivers roughly 15,000 people an hour. Is it possible for cars to come off of a freeway exit ramp at that volume? Where would they all park? Eliminating those rail lines seems like a counterproductive step.

Or, is his point that without mass public transit, it would be impossible to import enough people via other means to cause the same amount of congestion? In which case, why not narrow and/or close down the existing freeways while you're at it?
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2012


Oh, I understand now - both removing public transit, and putting freeways through the middle of town decrease the connectedness of the city. Need more coffee
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:23 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with the ~1960s highway construction specifically in America is that it was done right through the centers of cities and required massive neighborhood demolition. Cities require inter-connectivity to thrive.

Most New Yorkers know how the Cross-Bronx expressway helped (but didn't necessarily cause) the decline of the Bronx. Also Robert Moses wanted to build an expressway through Soho, the Cross-Manhattan expressway. Can you imagine how different a city New York would've been? And finally, when the West Side Highway became structurally unsound and was torn down, NIMBYism, controversy, and lots of lawsuits helped to put the kibosh on any rebuilding of highways and the West Side has grown. It probably would have happened anyway, what with gentrification, real estate speculation, etc. but it would be interesting to speculate on how alike, or how different it would've been.

Now, knock down the Harlem River drive and well, let us see what will happen. Also congestion pricing for all of Manhattan.
posted by xetere at 7:25 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even after reading it three (now four) times, I didn't quite get that part of Norquist’s response, ceribus peribus.

My best interpretation is that Norquist is saying one way to relieve congestion in that part of NYC is to increase transportation pressure on privately owned vehicles which would have the effect of depopulating (gutting) that part of NYC. In other words, a pyrrhic victory.
posted by mistersquid at 7:27 AM on March 17, 2012


Tear down the BQE, the FDR, the Cross-Bronx, the Van Wyck, the Sheridan, the rest. Tear them all fucking down.
posted by weinbot at 7:41 AM on March 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


~60 years ago all the experts were talking about the benefits of demolishing the rail infrastructure in favor of highways, which were supposed to be cleaner, better, the modern thing.

Now a bunch of experts are touting the benefits of dismantling freeway infrastructure--as the cleaner, healthier, better way to live.

It would be nice if we could grow up and learn to invest in a mixture of infrastructure technologies in such a way that long-term maintenance is assured, gradual improvement and innovation of existing technology is promoted, and we don't just unbuild our biggest investments every half-century or so.
posted by jann at 7:42 AM on March 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


My best interpretation is that Norquist is saying one way to relieve congestion in that part of NYC is to increase transportation pressure on privately owned vehicles which would have the effect of depopulating (gutting) that part of NYC. In other words, a pyrrhic victory.

He is saying that you could "solve" the "problem" of congestion (meaning private vehicle congestion) in NYC by ramming through a bunch of highways and removing transit options, with the result of more vehicle movement in and out, along with the destruction of much of what makes New York a booming economic hub and the removal of much of its population. I suspect he's right, but I'm sure you could find people who would disagree and cases that run counter to this argument.
posted by Forktine at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2012


I think his thesis is that removing effective local transit -- no public transit, and having to go through the ordeal of freeways just for short local trips -- makes the locale much less desirable to live in. Like you said, misterquid, a pyrrhic victory of congestion reduction through depopulation.

The wonderful thing about New York is that every couple of blocks is like a small town: an assortment of restaurants, a grocery store, a teeny post office, a transit stop, some office towers and local businesses, a bar, maybe a nightclub, drycleaners, retail stores, etc, and ten to twenty thousand people living in apartments. A self-contained little community. That kind of density would be impossible to achieve if you had to get in your car and enter/exit the local freeway in order to go somewhere half a mile away.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:54 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years ago, I got to do the 'freeways' research for a city history project here in Minneapolis. If all the highways that had been planned or officially suggested in Minneapolis had been built, today there would be:

--a freeway down Hiawatha (where light rail runs today), neighborhoods fought this for decades
--another freeway north-south down Cedar (instead of Hiawatha, maybe, or possibly in addition), imagine if the freeway segment of MN-77 extended all the way up to Cedar-Riverside
--an east-west freeway instead of 26th/28th Streets in south Minneapolis, which would curl north on the east end and feed into MN-280 in Saint Paul
--a "southwest diagonal" freeway that would have gone between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, neighborhoods fought this hard in the early 60s and killed it
--Interstate 335, originally supposed to go from I-35W around Johnson/Stinson westward, just south of Broadway, to connect with I-94 around Plymouth. Concept was to complete a "loop" around the city center somehow. Neighborhoods fought this for decades, but it progressed far enough that land was cleared and houses demolished before the project finally died in the early 80s
--the original route of I-94 in the 50s was planned to go down West Broadway/Bottineau Blvd towards Robbinsdale, cutting North Minneapolis in two, instead of the river route it was built on in the early 80s

In addition, there were heavy protests against building I-35W through the Dinkytown/U of M area in the 70s, those didn't succeed. And probably more that I'm missing. This is just on the Minneapolis side, one could probably dig up more stories from the Saint Paul side.
posted by gimonca at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Robert Moses. Thanks, ceribus and xetere -- I was spinning wheels, trying to remember the name of the Great Satan od U.S. Urban Development. Robert Fucking Moses.

Even though Moses (sic) helped to engineer the necessary expansion of the US Highway system and our urban infrastructure, he wrecked many a city by demolishing many a city block and forcing walls up around the neighborhoods of lower-income peopple, creating defacto economic ghettoes. HE was a misanthropic developer and an unelected official, to boot.

I'm betting that Moses' plans precluded the urban practice of 'redlining' neighborhoods and making waterfronts inaccessible. Though Moses and his efforts were necessary for the Automobile-accessible American Century, Moses' innovations broke the traditional urban model here in the US.

It's sort of fucked-up to see your city restore infrastructure -- like trolley cars -- that they had only eliminated 20 years ago.
posted by vhsiv at 7:58 AM on March 17, 2012


It's not surprising that Detroit of all places would have gone for massive investment in the idea of everyone owning a car and driving everywhere.

But the point he is making is that it wasn't just the socioeconomic factors that drove people out of the city, it was the fact that the city's design made moving out and commuting to work a reasonable and even encouraged idea. If there are no freeways, and you work in the city, then you have to live in the city. But if there are easy to use freeways that take you right from the suburbs to your job, then it's easy to live in a suburb.

The NYC subway takes you from one part of the city to another. It doesn't deliver you to any destination you want anywhere outside, which you can do in a car. So if you had all these freeways, people would move out. He even points out how removing some of the freeways in Manhattan actually greatly increased the value of land nearby, a large part of that probably had to do with the fact that if you had a job on, say, wallstreet and no freeway to drive into town on, living in the city makes a lot of sense.
posted by delmoi at 8:10 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Be aware that the AAA and CAA lobby for expressways.

My local CAA magazine in Toronto published a bullshit talking point to help whip up anger over a streetcar right-of-way project. The talking point was widely quoted in the papers and AM radio as if handed down from God on High. This anti-streetcar/lightrail fervour is what helped motivate suburbanites to vote in our current (lying sack of shit) mayor Ford.

The CAA magazine also proposed a transit "vision" that included an extention of the Allen (trying to revive the Spadina Expressway by stealth?)

They won't get any more of my money.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:21 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Moses held a monopoly on toll funds and was yes, unelected.

He also never learned to drive.
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Freeways and the riots of the 1960s is what destroyed the cities. (or more properly, the conditions that caused the riots). Make it easy to get in and out of the city, and then give people any reason at all to move, and it just empties.
posted by empath at 8:38 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


If your mission was to reduce land values and destroy livable communities in America's inner cities, you could not have accomplished your task more efficiently than by building your existing series of beltway Interstates. What this has done to an America that once was is sort of a crime against humanity. It's certainly a crime against urbanity. The cadre of private industry players (business leaders, car manufacturers, lobbyist groups like AAA, politicians living in back pockets) who helped enshrine the suburb as the ultimate expression of the American Dream for their own person gain will never be vilified to the degree that they've earned it.

Sorry. I'm a little over the top before my first coffee.

I've been collecting American cities with strangling rings of highway. I've posted some of that collection here. Freeways are in blue. These images are heartbreaking. They were built with so much harmful intent, with so much disregard for what makes a city a city, and a person a person. It's heartbreaking.

The final slide is Toronto, Canada, which is a city that dodged many bullets, but not all of them. In that slide, you can see a row of diagonal greenspace near the top where a freeway was planned, and another would have penetrated the downtown along Spadina (the road that runs through Chinatown). It's depressing to think of what this city's downtown—one of the most healthy and livable on the planet—would look like if it had been choked out by these freeways.

How much of America's 20th century downfall—social, political, economic—can be attributed to this widespread urbanicide? Well, it's a piece of the pie, let me tell you. A big, delicious piece of a pie.

Again, sorry.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:52 AM on March 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Urban highways are an attempt to solve a problem that urban highways themselves create.
posted by Freen at 8:59 AM on March 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I do understand this argument, dislike highways, use public transit, etc.

However, the structure of these claims, including in the posted article, is a bit disconcerting. It's okay to make moving around difficult, because then people make do with what they have locally, and don't make "useless" trips. And it's great to make urban enclaves, and even better if the people able to afford to live in these transportation-gated communities also want to staff all the enclosed services and businesses.

Just to say that it's hard to get rid of aesthetic eyesores like highways and transit terminals without changing income inequality and housing and employment patterns. This doesn't all magically fall into place.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:00 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ford Motor Company Presents: Freedom of the American Road (1955).
posted by octothorpe at 9:12 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


tapesonthefloor and bonobothegreat -- I really suspect Ford's current jerrymandering to destroy/misspend and use up the funds for Transit City is related to a long-term plan to bring back the Spadina Expressway.

As far as he's concerned, cars are the only way to get around a city: the 'people want subways' rant is only designed to eliminate surface light rail lines in favour of two more stops on the Sheppard subway. Then he can push for the re-establishment of freeways, since, after all, everyone drives.
posted by jrochest at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2012


Sheppard is a financial quagmire. It's designed to hogtie and bankrupt the TTC until only privatization will save it.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The wonderful thing about New York is that every couple of blocks is like a small town: an assortment of restaurants, a grocery store, a teeny post office, a transit stop, some office towers and local businesses, a bar, maybe a nightclub, drycleaners, retail stores, etc, and ten to twenty thousand people living in apartments. A self-contained little community. That kind of density would be impossible to achieve if you had to get in your car and enter/exit the local freeway in order to go somewhere half a mile away.
See, I understand that to you that sounds great and everything, but to some people, that can sound kind of suffocating. Also, what's the good word on the homogeneity of those self-contained little communities?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:20 AM on March 17, 2012


OK. I'll bite.

Why is there such romanticism regarding the American city? It's such a thoroughly impractical and unworkable model with the population distribution of most urban centres. Would you like every city to end up like New York? Block after block of twenty story apartment buildings with businesses running from ground floors infesting everything on Manhattan Island? Would you like it to end up like Copenhagen? What's the real endgame here?

IMHO the delusion is that all business needs to be conducted in zoned areas of business. Even when we have industries outside city centers we segregate these large pockets of business that everyone needs to get to at the same time. Even when we zone in residential areas among the business areas (i.e. North Park smack in the middle of Silicon Valley) the prices are way too high for such small apartments because of the "convenience" factor that people just end up living in the surrounding cities anyway even without freeway access.

Freeways in this case are just a convenient scapegoat.
posted by Talez at 9:25 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


That portrait of a dense New York community is hardly the only possibility for car-free living, This, and New York's neighbourhoods are renowned for the cultural and economic diversity therein, even today.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:27 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever people talk up NY, especially directly compared to the rest of the country, I get suspicious. Not saying all pride is pathological or anything, but.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 9:32 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]




Why is there such romanticism regarding the American city? It's such a thoroughly impractical and unworkable model with the population distribution of most urban centres. Would you like every city to end up like New York? Block after block of twenty story apartment buildings with businesses running from ground floors infesting everything on Manhattan Island? Would you like it to end up like Copenhagen? What's the real endgame here?


Do you realize that this is not an accurate characterization of New York?
Or even Manhattan Island?
posted by ocschwar at 9:38 AM on March 17, 2012


Our city has a noose of highway that separates downtown proper (the big business district) from the rest of the city. It effectively destroyed the neighborhoods inside the loop and helped split the city along racial/socioeconomic lines. Coupled with the whole "white-flight" thing, the closing of the subway, and the removal of our trolley system, the population of our city has declined by about 33% since construction began in the 50's.

The kicker is that nobody fucking drives on it; even during rush hour, people prefer to use surface streets to get to the edge of the city.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


"But the point he is making is that it wasn't just the socioeconomic factors that drove people out of the city, it was the fact that the city's design made moving out and commuting to work a reasonable and even encouraged idea. "

I have to respectfully disagree on this one. There ARE NO jobs to speak of in Detroit. Unless you're working at the RenCen or one of the sports venues or casinos. The exodus from the city began after the '67 riots and has slowly eroded the population base ever since. Most people commute OUT of the city for jobs, and many of them do so via public transportation (when/if it is available).
posted by HuronBob at 9:39 AM on March 17, 2012


wikipedia brown boy detective, I take it you're familiar with the flustercluck that is the MLK-Trumbull-Grand River intersection(s), no?
posted by joe lisboa at 9:42 AM on March 17, 2012


"I know how proud you must feel at this moment to know that your obscure and unsung hamlet will now arise reborn as the very splendid and worthwhile Cottington service station."
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:45 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whenever people talk up NY, especially directly compared to the rest of the country, I get suspicious

I wish you wouldn't. New York does many things right that other cities in America haven't been allowed to do in decades. This should be studied dispassionately, not regarded with suspicion.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 9:47 AM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


That may be, but NY also has geographic and historical advantages that many other cities don't have. Also, they have their own problems, viz. gentrification, etc.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:17 AM on March 17, 2012


Gotta love white people claiming to be "from Detroit" who respond to stories like this by saying "check out the traffic between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor."

Check out the traffic in Detroit. Oh, right, you never actually enter Detroit.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:31 AM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


See, I understand that to you that sounds great and everything, but to some people, that can sound kind of suffocating.

City life sounding (or being) suffocating for some people is not a good reason for suburbs to be subsidized.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2012


@dead town

big city livin' ain't all it's cracked up to be
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:50 AM on March 17, 2012


Gotta love white people claiming to be "from Detroit" who respond to stories like this by saying "check out the traffic between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor."


Same deal with Chicago.

If you live outside Chicago, in [Tree Species] [random word selected from the set (park,lawn,river,forest,grove,meadow)], you are not Chicagoan.
posted by ocschwar at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Haha. My first attempt at ocschwar's game: I found a Pine Meadow Golf Course, on 1 Pine Meadow Lane. It's in a distant satellite of Chicago characterized by a giant mall, some sprawling suburban neighbourhoods, and, well, Pine Meadow Golf Course. This is fun!
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:16 AM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


See, I understand that to you that sounds great and everything, but to some people, that can sound kind of suffocating.


Vehicle emissions from freeways are a lot more suffocating.
posted by ocschwar at 11:44 AM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


big city livin' ain't all it's cracked up to be

Still a poor excuse for most of suburbia demanding the benefits of living in a rural area (your own space) and the benefits of living in a city (close, time-wise, to things you want to go to), while demanding that someone else pay for it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:59 AM on March 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Not defending suburbia but it would be nice if there were models that could accommodate the benefits of cities (proximity, fuel economy, economies of agglomeration) without the downsides (alienation, homogeneous isolated enclaves, susceptibility to catastrophic pandemics, vulnerable centralization, etc.)
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2012


I really wish people could make the pro-urban case without being so stuck-up about it.

If the condescension were turned down to 8, we'd have a much better pattern of development in America. Unfortunately, all the pro-city talk centers around how suburbanites aren't really from the city, these dumb rubes and their strip-malls and SUVs, the "creative class", don't I look cool on my bike, etc.

Like so many things in America, progressives make what should be a debate between different modes of living into a culture war - one that given the numbers they can't ever hope to win.
posted by downing street memo at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Gotta love white people claiming to be "from Detroit" who respond to stories like this by saying "check out the traffic between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor."

Gotta love people who casually imply that race is required to be authentically urban or, bizarrely, that it would be a different matter if someone opined about a suburban traffic pattern -- if only they were black, I guess. I'll try that on Calgary sometime soon.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


homogeneous isolated enclaves

Indeed, removing structures that isolate neighborhoods from their surroundings seems like an excellent way of ending this.

I wonder what large structures are responsible for this isolation?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:05 PM on March 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Clearly not a man who tries to cross a city on foot. I calculated i spent between a third and two thirds of my commuting day, depending on time of day, waiting to cross the road.
posted by maiamaia at 2:16 PM on March 17, 2012


If the condescension were turned down to 8, we'd have a much better pattern of development in America. Unfortunately, all the pro-city talk centers around how suburbanites aren't really from the city, these dumb rubes and their strip-malls and SUVs, the "creative class", don't I look cool on my bike, etc.

Like so many things in America, progressives make what should be a debate between different modes of living into a culture war - one that given the numbers they can't ever hope to win.


We had pretty good mixed use streets before and we abandoned them as street cars were removed from the road in favor of buses and pedestrians became second class citizens that people are only now waking up to.

The culture war doesn't need to be won, economics is going to change the suburbs soon anyway. As the price of oil and commuting rise and the population grows, traffic is going to get worse, the price of gas is going to get higher and suburb dwellers are either going to work closer to home or find a house closer to work.

It is already happening if you look at the numbers.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:57 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"If the condescension were turned down to 8, we'd have a much better pattern of development in America"

...yeah, progressives really need to tone it down. That'll fix everything.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:49 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Freeways and the riots of the 1960s is what destroyed the cities.

I think I'm going to need a cite on New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and most other major American cities being "destroyed."

Big cities have mostly gone into decline because they depended on one or two big industries (Detroit, cars; Baltimore, steel and the port) and when those industries went south so did the city.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:26 PM on March 17, 2012


On a tangent re: L.A. traffic- I had a realization lately: traffic in L.A. really isn't bad. The freeways work great AS LONG AS YOU'RE NOT GOING TO WEST L.A.

My new commute is from Silver Lake to Manhattan Beach- almost 25 miles. It takes as little as 30 minutes, and almost never more than 50. Despite the long distance and going past downtown, it's totally fine. Because I avoid the goddamn clusterfuck where Westwood meets the 405.

posted by drjimmy11 at 5:29 PM on March 17, 2012


Someone mentioned Toronto. A really dramatic example of this is the short section just west of Leslie where they tore down the Gardiner. As soon as the Gardiner starts, it's a desolate fucking wasteland (I should know: I've photographed it obsessively). Where the Gardiner ends, suddenly, well it's hardly paradise but at least it's interesting and ALIVE. Before they tore that section down... it was a hole.
posted by unSane at 6:31 PM on March 17, 2012


Hmmm, cities destroyed by A: slum clearance/urban renewal, B: freeway construction. Projects conceived and championed by ... which party again?

Oh, that's right: the Democratic Party. Which has NEVER taken responsibility for the devastation that resulted and still blights almost every American city of any size.
posted by TSOL at 8:46 PM on March 17, 2012


^^ This is why you don't have nice things ^^
posted by unSane at 8:49 PM on March 17, 2012


mistersquid writes "I am a little leery because honestly I think SF would be greatly improved for all concerned if privately-owned automobiles were not allowed to in the city center."

I know this is the case in some other areas but how does it work in practice? Incorporating is cheap and once you've done that you can assign as many vehicles to the corporation as you need. Make it a hot shot service to give you an excuse to drive anywhere in anything.

Talez writes "IMHO the delusion is that all business needs to be conducted in zoned areas of business."

This is a disconnect I just don't get. Vast swathes of people don't want so much as a convenience store within walking distance of their homes. All the new, non-infill, single family housing around here caters to this desire and it's bizarre. 20 years ago I lucked into living across form a tiny community business hub (a small super market, hair salon, neighbourhood hardware store and an office of some sort) and it was a Revelation. Being able to slip across the street in your jammies for milk for cereal was awesome. Ever since I'm been living in or next to mixed use areas whenever possible.
posted by Mitheral at 8:53 PM on March 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's another article that also talks about the effects of highway removal. I think this point is key:

What happens to traffic when a major artery is removed is probably the biggest concern for most drivers, and legitimately so. Intuition would suggest that replacing highways with boulevards with stoplights and lower speed limits would make traffic even worse. But that’s not necessarily the case, says Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do.

“The record seems to show that in many cases, when a highway segment is removed, the subsequent impact on traffic congestion and travel times has not been as dire as many would have predicted,” he said. Planners have consistently found that highway traffic demonstrates so-called “evaporated demand”—just as cars will come if there's a new highway, the reverse is true when highways are removed. “Traffic demand is elastic,” said Vanderbilt.


The phenomenon is called the Braess Paradox. Basically, when a city makes a large, direct route (like the Cross-Bronx Expressway or the Cheonggye Highway) , drivers are disincentivized to find alternate routes, and so paradoxically create slower traffic with more comprehensive highways. When there's a single, large, central and straight route through the city--everyone is more likely to use it, rather than the smaller roads that might be closer.

If you're still curious about this, this report covers six case studies of highway removal.
posted by myelin sheath at 9:59 PM on March 17, 2012


This is a disconnect I just don't get. Vast swathes of people don't want so much as a convenience store within walking distance of their homes. All the new, non-infill, single family housing around here caters to this desire and it's bizarre. 20 years ago I lucked into living across form a tiny community business hub (a small super market, hair salon, neighbourhood hardware store and an office of some sort) and it was a Revelation. Being able to slip across the street in your jammies for milk for cereal was awesome. Ever since I'm been living in or next to mixed use areas whenever possible.

No shit hey. One thing I just don't get is convenience stores. They seem to be run by corporate using minimum wage workers with no other skills than push buttons and move boxes. Back home you'd have lunch bars everywhere that would make sandwiches and rolls, prepare large varieties of hot food and would even toss together a salad if need be. You don't have a lot of those in suburban USA.
posted by Talez at 11:18 PM on March 17, 2012


I have to respectfully disagree on this one. There ARE NO jobs to speak of in Detroit. Unless you're working at the RenCen or one of the sports venues or casinos. The exodus from the city began after the '67 riots and has slowly eroded the population base ever since. Most people commute OUT of the city for jobs, and many of them do so via public transportation (when/if it is available).

This is outdated. Yes, Detroit has a pathetically small share of regional employment compared to the suburbs. But to characterize Detroit jobs as only RenCen + casinos + sports is factually incorrect. Additionally, the population and employment in several neighborhoods is growing faster than any of the suburbs.

joe lisboa: Yes, I am familar with that intersection. It's not too bad on bike, but intolerable on car (esp. if you are not traveling on Grand River). My dream is that one day it's made into a traffic circle, along with the E. Grand Blvd/Jefferson intersection.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 4:38 AM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Detroit has jobs. I have friends who work in Detroit, shit one of the works in Compuware. Don't write about things you don't know.

Anyways, I love 96, take that freeway downtown all the time, or M14/23 to go out to school.

But 275 and 696, fuck em, those freeways can be discarded for all I care. Those are nothing but a pain in the ass at most times of the day.
posted by handbanana at 7:44 AM on March 18, 2012


Other than the hyperbole about "no jobs", what HuronBob said wasn't untrue. Detroit's population is still dropping. There are individual neighborhoods that are growing, but not the city as a whole.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:18 AM on March 18, 2012


Hmmm, cities destroyed by A: slum clearance/urban renewal, B: freeway construction. Projects conceived and championed by ... which party again?

First of all, these projects date back to the late 1930's, well before post-civil rights act realignment; the 1949 housing act was sponsored by a Republican and received 33 GOP votes in the house, and the 1956 highway construction act was championed by a Republican president. So take your historical revision elsewhere, please. The whole "urban poverty shows why Democrats can't govern" shtick is played the fuck out.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 9:33 AM on March 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Detroit's population decline is based on a couple of issues. First, as home prices in the suburbs tanked more people that couldn't afford houses in the nearby burbs could. Second, Detroit has way too much services issues for the population. I couldn't blame anyone for wanting to leave many sections of it. If you can't summon a police officer or an ambulance in 30 minutes or less that is a serious problem.
Shit, where I live, the police are practically here before you hang up the phone. Then again, I am in a city with far too much police resources, racism, and geographically smaller than Detroit.

I love Detroit and all that it has to offer, but I myself wouldn't want to live there again right now. There are so many logistical challenges, as well as societal ones. I have a feeling one day I will live in the city again, but not until basic services are met, and the local government has been through an overhaul.
posted by handbanana at 9:46 AM on March 18, 2012


Also ironic people commenting about Detroit seem to have little knowledge other than newspaper clipping about our current situation. Seems to me that perhaps people should really come down and visit Detroit instead of talking out of their ass while living in Canada or elsewhere.
posted by handbanana at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2012


My dream is that one day it's made into a traffic circle, along with the E. Grand Blvd/Jefferson intersection.

My wife is jumping up and down behind me: she's been saying exactly that for years!
posted by joe lisboa at 10:25 AM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The articles and comments I've read about this topic seem to focus on cars as the fundamental unit of traffic. I don't see much mention of semi trucks, which are important variables to consider in the design of roads and highways. Would reduced highway availability result in more trucks gumming up city roads? Would road design need to be altered to accomodate this increase? Would this adversely effect the overheads of companies enough to justify hiring an army of pro-highway lobbyists? Even in light of existing case studies, I'd like to know more about the role of trucks in these concepts.
posted by yorick at 11:56 AM on March 18, 2012


18-wheeler trucks only make sense where you've got a large network of highways and wide roads. If you cut down on central-city highways, it is perfectly possible to have smaller cube trucks do the delivery work between suburban highway-adjacent warehouses and the central city.

In thinking about cities, we're so used to engineering for the fixed quantity of cars and trucks. But for a healthy city, we need to design it for people first. Cars and trucks will adapt — whether or not we design for them, we get them in some capacity. Whereas when we don't design for people, we get a collection of roads and parking lots but no city and no people.
posted by parudox at 1:05 PM on March 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some people have the misfortune of living in the 'robust grid system' where New Urbanists wish the traffic to flow to and are pretty aware that distributing the problem is rather different from solving it.
posted by srboisvert at 6:36 AM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you live outside Chicago, in [Tree Species] [random word selected from the set (park,lawn,river,forest,grove,meadow)], you are not Chicagoan.

Just a tourist. Though it's funny how the larger Chicago Metro Area is defined, with communities 50-75 miles away from Chicago proper defining themselves as part of 'Chicagoland'.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:20 AM on March 19, 2012


Detroit has jobs. I have friends who work in Detroit, shit one of the works in Compuware. Don't write about things you don't know.

Detroit technically "has jobs". It's the ratio of jobs to people that's the problem. As of last spring Detroit's unemployment rate was up around 20% and let's not even talk about joblessness. I haven't heard the numbers for the city specifically since then. *Metro* Detroit is doing fine, but the City is still depressed as hell. Detroit's population isn't just "dropping". The '00-'10 population declines were the fastest in relative (and absolute) terms since the declines began. Whatever might be happening in isolated pockets has very little to do with the big picture so far.
posted by pjaust at 11:55 AM on March 19, 2012


yorick writes "Would reduced highway availability result in more trucks gumming up city roads?"

Trucks, even heavy trucks, don't need freeways. Obviously no one wants triples traversing the street in front of their house but a multi lane surface arterial isn't going to have a problem handling a tractor and even a 53' trailer.
posted by Mitheral at 6:33 PM on March 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


All That Is Solid Melts Into Air (Michael Berman) -- Marxism, Modernism, (Robert) Moses and the Bronx Expressway
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:06 PM on March 22, 2012


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