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Freeways Without Futures
September 28, 2008 10:02 AM   Subscribe

The Congress for the New Urbanism has just released Freeways Without Future, their top-10 list of aging highways that should be demolished in favor of city-friendly boulevards. "There's a whole generation of elevated highways in cities that are at the end of their design life," says John Norquist, head of the Congress for the New Urbanism. "Instead of rebuilding them at enormous expense, cities have an opportunity to undo what proved to be major urban-planning blunder." Take that, Robert Moses.
posted by Afroblanco (54 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I take #2, the Sheriden, sometimes, when going from home to Queens or Brooklyn. It is pretty useless. The most damning nugget is that the taxi drivers all skip it. And the area that surrounds it is a wasteland.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:11 AM on September 28, 2008


When I first moved to Chicago, I thought the activism to depave Lake Shore Drive was goofy. Now that I've lived here, and seen what an absolute blight on the city it is, I have to agree that getting rid of it would be nice. At the least it would be great to put it underground. The road was so poorly planned in the 60s that it actually had two deadly 90 degree turns which had to be straightened later. Obviously the planning was clueless and inept. The drive completely cuts the city off from the lake front, making it nearly impossible to stroll from town to the lake.

Anyway, LSD isn't on this list, but it should be...
posted by wfrgms at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2008


I had a feeling the southeast freeway in DC would be there. When I lived in MD, I drove it all the time to get downtown to go to clubs (I miss you, Nation), but it is an eyesore.

There's another one in DC that I'd dump, too, the Whitehurst Freeway. It's saves a few blocks from the admittedly nightmarish drive down M street in Georgetown, but it utterly destroyed the Georgetown waterfront.
posted by empath at 10:26 AM on September 28, 2008


I actually consider it a little bit sad that freeway-demolishing efforts are Norquist's calling card, when they seem to me to be the weakest element of his New Urbanism toolkit.

In my opinion, Norquist did wonders for Milwaukee. When I lived there, the city made the leap from a slightly beleaguered rust-belt city into a glistening metropolis -- seriously, if you haven't been to Milwaukee in a decade or two, check it out. The downtown and third ward areas were turned into beautiful, hip, walking-friendly areas, and the Milwaukee Art Museum expansion brought Milwaukee one of the most beautiful, visionary buildings in the country. A lot of people don't like the convention center downtown, but I think it's lovely. Norquist's zonings laws strongly favored local, independent "sidewalk-facing" businesses, and because of that, the East Side and Third Ward/Downtown areas are eminently walkable, enjoyable places. I very much respect what the man did, and how his New Urbanist leanings made Milwaukee a substantially better city.

But what was to be his crowning victory -- the demolishing of the Park East Freeway, which fed car traffic from Highway 43 into the East Side/Downtown area -- just wasn't a good idea. When I recently visited Milwaukee, I forgot my geography for a second, and happened upon the area where the Park East used to be. It was an apocalyptic looking series of fields and lots, incongruous with the glistening downtown and previously industrial, now "loft commercial" areas that lined it. It hasn't been redeveloped, and if you ask me, things look far worse in that area than when the Park East was there. It's not like the Park East vanished yesterday; there's been six years for development to get underway.

To make matters worse, driving on the Park East at night was something of a wonderful experience; it was like floating into downtown Milwaukee in the sky, something out of a movie or video game. I'll concede that the Park East was short and underused, and not all that attractive from the ground, but the experience of being on it -- especially late at night during the winter, while snow lazily drifted from the sky around your car -- was one of my favorite things about going home when I lived in Milwaukee.

Norquist may have thought it was blight, but it wasn't. But there's blight now. I hope the developers can eventually make things right, but with Norquist out of Milwaukee, I'm not so sure.
posted by eschatfische at 10:28 AM on September 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


A "national list" and #9 is in Toronto. Wow, Calgary really isn't the most American city in Canada.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2008


Yeah seconding LSD in Chicago. You're standing in River North looking right at the beach and you can't figure out how to get there because of this stupid, ugly, no-signal travesty that's in your way.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:52 AM on September 28, 2008


A "national list" and #9 is in Toronto.

Makes me wonder why Montreal isn't on the list. Its highways are terrifying.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:53 AM on September 28, 2008


Seattle's Alaskan Hwy has always confused me ... who the hell thought up *that* one in the first place?! Mother Nature did good with that earthquake demolition-start.

"Instead of rebuilding them at enormous expense, cities have an opportunity to undo what proved to be major urban-planning blunder."

RE-building? Out here we still have idiots blundering on --- they are still *building* like they live in Robert Moses' 1950 brain!

Hawai'i (on the brink of yet another 'grab-FREE-fed-money' boondoggle) fought - from 1960-1997 - to build the most expensive (useless ) highway in the world - H3 ! It is cursed by the native Hawaiians, has cost the extinction of native species, and is now mainly used for street racers, motorcycle tricks, Hummer ads, and -- of course -- the military. (Sen. Inouye got the H3 project pushed through on a defense bill -- by adding on an exemption from environmental laws).

All urban planners -- and political leaders! -- should have to live without cars for a year before they can be allowed to work on any government projects!!
posted by Surfurrus at 10:55 AM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The skyway in Buffalo is a joke. It's constantly being closed in the winter since it's such a danger to drive on when it's cold and icy. They actually installed lights at either end that flash when it is shut down- it's that frequent.

And, it is redundant. Rt. 20 can get you to the same places without fear of being blown off the skyway.

It just frustrates me that, while so many people are trying to help revitalize this city, some of what could be the most valuable land is just gravel under an elevated road, and this bridge that serves only to get people who want to live in the suburbs and work in the city in and out as fast as they can without having to see any of the city beyond a couple square blocks.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can absolutely get behind destroying the Claiborne Expressway. Such an ugly, useless, economically destructive piece of road. When I was down there this summer, whenever I'd have to go from Uptown to the Lower Ninth, my car's GPS would always take me over it, and it was a scary, broken pain in the ass. Whenever I had "native" New Orleanians in the car wth me, they'd instinctively do whatever they could to avoid it, at one point actually warning everyone never to take it.

It's an absolute scar on the area. Tear it down.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2008


Yeah seconding LSD in Chicago. You're standing in River North looking right at the beach and you can't figure out how to get there because of this stupid, ugly, no-signal travesty that's in your way.

You mean other than the many pedestrian tunnels and bridges built specifically for this purpose?

I think the car/bus/cab traffic is bad enough on the local streets. And then you eliminate the PRIMARY north-south traffic route? No thanks. That would just make it worse for cyclists and pedestrians. I understand how it separates the city from the lake, but it is what it is now. Until we have our flying cars.
posted by ninjew at 11:16 AM on September 28, 2008


Eerie synchronicity: I had The Power Broker open on my desk when I opened Metafilter and saw this post.
posted by WPW at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2008


#4, Route 34 in New Haven, is a great one. The best part is that it's terminated by the "Air Rights Garage", which was this grand plan to use the space above the highway to get extra parking. Except that they ended up stopping the highway right before the garage. So people lost their homes so they could build a parking garage.
posted by smackfu at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2008


The end of the 8664 study for Louisville is fascinating, particularly in light of events in the state Transportation Cabinet. As it is now, you go to Waterfront Park, and if it's crowded you stand under the freeways (mostly I-64) and hear nothing but the rumbling.
posted by dilettante at 11:25 AM on September 28, 2008


CNU President and CEO John Norquist says that compared to the prospect of completely rebuilding aging freeways -– something that’s inevitable after 40 or 50 years -- highways-to-boulevards projects are real money savers.

New isn't necessarily better than old ; by this simplistic logic the Brooklyn bridge, opened to traffic in 1883 should, have been rebuilt at least two times. There's a practice called "maintenance" that works pretty well, when properly implemented and it can cost a lost less then just restarting from scratch.

As for the money saver part, it always pays to see whose money would be saved and what would be the effect on today economy and whose money would paid for the recostruction effort. As socialization of costs appears to be very much fashionable these days as a mean to profit, it pays to be very cautious when someone proposes to change something that still works.

Consider, for instance, the "classical" old PC versus new PC question: should I buy this flaming new PC which is extra fast and nice, or should I keep this old PC that still does exactly what I need ? Maybe all you need is just some maintenance, a nice cleanup of all that crap and autoloaders that's affecting its performance.
posted by elpapacito at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2008


I had a feeling the Gardiner (#9) would be on there. However, I would amend this sentence...

The girth of the Gardiner's elevated eight lanes separates the city's bustling core from its Lake Ontario waterfront.

to:

The girth of the Gardiner's elevated eight lanes - plus 4-6 lane Lakeshore Blvd. and an ever-rising impenetrable wall of condo developments - separates the city's bustling core from its Lake Ontario waterfront.

Seriously. You could live your entire life in Toronto without even knowing it's on a lake.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:05 PM on September 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Alaskan Way Viaduct is currently a political football in Seattle and the state of Washington. Various proposals have been put forward -- a traditional tunnel, a "cut and cover" tunnel, a complete refurbishment, partial refurbishment, demolition in favor of a wider parkway. One idea is to put a mile-long building on the waterside of it, which would serve as a boardwalk/park type thing.

Regardless, it has to go. The damn thing is an earthquake tragedy waiting to happen. And it's an utter eyesore.

However, political will in Seattle/Washington is lacking. We just built two new stadiums and lost a basketball team for which a stadium was refurbished. Meanwhile, everyone wants light rail, the Evergreen Point Bridge (SR-520) needs to be replaced almost as bad as (if not more than) the Viaduct, schools are crappy, and the state is terribly unhappy about all the dollars flowing to Seattle anyway.

Prediction: In 2020, we have a mediocre expansion to light rail, a new bridge that still doesn't meet traffic capacity and the Viaduct is still standing with duct tape and baling wire.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2008


Totally and completely on board with the idea of making the Alaskan Way Viaduct go away and replacing it with surface streets and parks. It's the waterfront - why not make it a nice place to be?
posted by evilangela at 12:14 PM on September 28, 2008


The 1989 earthquake in San Francisco damaged a number of these aging poorly-designed-for-earthquake highways, giving the city an excuse to tear a number of them down, including Embarcadero Freeway eyesore, that blocked the view of and access to the historic 1898 Ferry Building.
posted by eye of newt at 12:22 PM on September 28, 2008


1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA

What a lot of this "tear it down, it's an eyesore," vein of things fails to understand is that the viaduct is the only North/South alternative to I-5 running through Seattle.

Sure, go ahead and do away with, what, 40 or 45% of your capacity, because people can use the wonderful public transportation system that Seattle offers.

Yes, the A.W. Viaduct is an eyesore, and as seismically sound as a child's couch fort, but for the time being, it is going to have to be replaced by some other limited access, higher speed roadway until Seattle matures enough to get a working public transit system in place.

You can only do away with freeways when there is another effective way to get from point A to point B. And in Seattle, you pretty much have to have a car, since there is no effective alternative.
posted by Relay at 12:35 PM on September 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting how many of these roads are along the waterfront of their respective cities. Was there ever a time when waterfront property was seen as undesirable or worthless to the point that it was only suitable for an elevated road?
posted by Kellydamnit at 12:38 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


A Road to Nowhere?
posted by TedW at 12:43 PM on September 28, 2008


Relay, the viaduct is but a small segment of SR99, the rest of the highway will still exist as a N/S alternative once the elevated portion is gone. The waterfront itself is often wide-open and accessible via E Marginal Way S, but if a cruise ship is in you can cut over to Dearborn, go North on Rainier->Boren->Fairview which will drop you at S Lake Union and you're back on SR99. Another alternative is to use the carpool lane on I-5, which is seldom as congested as the normal lanes are. I know our public transit sucks, I've lived here for 30 years, but our existing highways (including the viaduct) aren't solving the congestion problem so why spend money to rebuild them when it could go to healthier and more future-proof alternatives? When I-5 was closed people found different routes or carpooled or took the bus or changed their work schedules; the same will happen when the viaduct is gone, and the city and it's people will be better off for it.
posted by bizwank at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2008


Claiborne and 34, my god, yes.

34 does nothing than minor expansions of North & South Frontage Roads couldn't handle. As is, it confuses navigation from the interstates into downtown, cuts off the busy train/bus station from the center of the city, and adds to the isolation of a low-income housing area.

The area under Claiborne is completely wasted. There's a serious amount of open space around it in the residential areas near Elysian Fields and St Bernard. Turning parts of it into strip parks would work wonders for the neighborhood--I bet there'd be music and open-air markets in no time, and a sense of light and air and greenness along Claiborne Ave that would make things far more walkable as it heads downtown.
posted by hippugeek at 1:09 PM on September 28, 2008


And in Seattle, you pretty much have to have a car, since there is no effective alternative.

I lived in Seattle for four years (quite comfortablyI) without a car. I even took my backpack on public transportation all the way across the peninsula to trek-camp on the coast! And that was ten years ago.

You must be one of those 'communters'. Sorry you chose that lifestyle -- the writing has been on the wall for a long time.

And ... as for your idea, You can only do away with freeways when there is another effective way to get from point A to point B.,

... you might consider that Seattle people might not be thrilled with paying (economically, socially and environmentally) for a corridor THROUGH their city to accommodate people who simply want to get from A to B. The city people live there, play there -- and want to do it healthily. They made a choice to live where they work and play.

Point A to B? ... You can go around.

And ... you can start coming to terms with the death of the American automobile.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:12 PM on September 28, 2008


Really, you lived in Seattle for four years? I lived in and around Seattle for forty, and if you don't have a car, and you need to get more than a few miles, at best, you're hosed.

I lived on Cap Hill and worked in Tukwilla for a number of years. Commute by bus: 2 hours, 20 minutes, each way. Commute by car: 30 - 40 minutes.

A friend of mine living in West Seattle just started working on his masters at the UW, bottom line: had to buy a car, getting to or from campus via bus was a 90 minute proposition at best.

Point A to B? ... You can go around.

Yeah, people that live in Greenlake and work in Georgetown can go get fucked. What rights do they have? If it means making the waterfront more "livable" for the few hundred people that actually live there, then screw the hundreds of thousands that might have to actually use it for something more than a view during lunch.

If you do not give people a way to get around that is better than their cars, the will continue to use their cars.

If the best a community can do is to make driving harder and slower, make parking less available and tries to outright punish people for having cars, or even having the temerity to travel from Wallingford to Redmond via car, then all you're going to end up with is even more pissed off commuters, and a lower standard of living.

Why do people use cars less in a place like New York City? Because driving is much more of a pain than using public transportation.

Seattle needs to get with it, and start acting like a real city, not just saying that they are a real city and expect everything else to follow.

Get a functioning mass transit system that can get you from Northgate to Southgate in 30 minutes, and from West Seattle to Bellevue in the same amount of time, and then you can start talking about getting rid of the cars and some of the streets.

Until Seattle does that, transportation will continue to be a nightmare.
posted by Relay at 1:36 PM on September 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Was there ever a time when waterfront property was seen as undesirable or worthless to the point that it was only suitable for an elevated road?

In the earlier part of the century, waterfront in cities meant a port, and a port meant warehouses. Then when containerized shipping took over, no one needed warehouses, since there was no need to store the goods portside, and they become abandoned warehouses. Building highways through the area was cheap politically, compared to the alternative of seizing people's homes and destroying neighborhoods.
posted by smackfu at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Seattle needs to get with it, and start acting like a real city ...
Get a functioning mass transit system ... and then you can start talking about getting rid of the cars and some of the streets.


Like that is a choice?

All American cities are facing the transportation challenge right now. AND ... it is unlikely that any will be able to solve it. We are going to see a lot of violence, decay, destruction, pain and chaos as car addicts resolutely cling to their oil habit. As I said, the writing has been on the wall for a LONG time.

I would suggest that the people who now commute 'from Greenlake to Georgetown' start looking for work in Greenlake, or a home in Georgetown. Screaming about how 'unfair' it all is is not going to change the inevitable.

The American automobile is doomed.
posted by Surfurrus at 2:04 PM on September 28, 2008


Interesting how many of these roads are along the waterfront of their respective cities. Was there ever a time when waterfront property was seen as undesirable or worthless to the point that it was only suitable for an elevated road?

In Louisville, the Ohio River floods every so often. Cuts way down on the uses for property right up by the river. No clue what the reasoning is with the places on big lakes.
posted by dilettante at 2:05 PM on September 28, 2008


Kellydamnit: "Interesting how many of these roads are along the waterfront of their respective cities. Was there ever a time when waterfront property was seen as undesirable or worthless to the point that it was only suitable for an elevated road?"

I know in Pittsburgh, the waterfronts were entirely lined with mills for at least a hundred years. The pollution from the steel plants made the rivers so disgusting that no would have even considered wanting to go near them. The idea that you'd want to build a park on the Monongahela river would have been laughable fifty years ago, the water was so polluted that it didn't freeze in the winter.
posted by octothorpe at 2:39 PM on September 28, 2008


Get a functioning mass transit system that can get you from Northgate to Southgate in 30 minutes, and from West Seattle to Bellevue in the same amount of time, and then you can start talking about getting rid of the cars and some of the streets.

Until Seattle does that, transportation will continue to be a nightmare.


Agreed wholeheartedly, but it's more complicated than "get mass transit now," because the system is broken now. The solution is "walk and chew gum at the same time." As in, replace the viaduct AND build light rail that goes everywhere.

And it will have to go everywhere. Going from West Seattle to Bellevue is only half the battle. You need to get from walking distance of your house to a station, and then from a station to walking distance from work. Bellevue and West Seattle were never, ever constructed with mass transit in mind. You and I can both work "in Bellevue" and be 10 miles away from each other.

And that will cost major, major, MAJOR dollars. Which aren't coming anytime soon. Meanwhile, the 520 bridge collapses and sinks to the bottom of Lake Washington...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:00 PM on September 28, 2008


Alaskan Way, #1!
posted by Artw at 4:10 PM on September 28, 2008


I think Cool Papa Bell hit the nail on the head - it isn't just a problem of putting in mass transit, it's a problem of changing whole cities that were never built to deal with mass transit. Where people work, where people live (and I'm not just talking about the suburb problem), you're going to have to uproot all of that, which is going to take more political will, and more financial muscle, than is available now or in the forseeable future.
Not that it wouldn't be nice. Spending a year in Austria, and then coming home just in time to witness the latest gas crunch, has together given me a profound respect for the idea of cheap, universally available public transport.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:18 PM on September 28, 2008


at the risk of turning this into an all seattle conversation i'm going to have to chime in and agree with relay. I live in White Center (south of West Seattle), because it's the only place in Seattle I can afford. I take the bus to wherever I can get work and usually spend 2-2.5 hours a day on the bus. The reason it doesn't take longer is because, you guessed it, the bus takes the Alaskan Way viaduct to downtown. If the viaduct weren't there, I'd be on the bus 3+ hours a day.

Also, the first link mentions the referendum a couple years ago which asked two questions:
1. Do you want to rebuild the viaduct as a tunnel? (Y/N)
2. Do you want to rebuild the viaduct as it is now? (Y/N)
I said no to 1 (it is a much more expensive option) and yes to 2. Of course I'd rather have a tunnel than nothing at all, but there wasn't a "no, but..." option on the ballot. I'd imagine a lot of people voted this way, but because neither option got a majority everyone reports on this as an embrace of the surface option (which wasn't on the ballot as I recall).
posted by nangua at 4:20 PM on September 28, 2008


Incredibly, none of the Freeways in the Los Angeles area, where the Freeway was born, are on the list. Well, not so incredibly, probably because they are almost all pretty darn good at doing what they are supposed to do... take large numbers of people from one part of an incredibly-spread-out metropolitan area to another. Which is why they have become so overused and congested. The perfect example of the YogiBerra-ism: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

L.A. has a mass-transit problem similar to Seattle. So much of what's here was absolutely not built with mass-transit in mind. But if you're lucky enough to live in certain locations where it works... it really does work!

Transportation was not one of the reasons I left L.A. after 40+ years. No, I won't go into the reasons I did. I'm currently living off a 'frontage road' for Highway 101 which goes directly to L.A. and through the neighborhood I grew up in... Freeway Close! (180 miles)
posted by wendell at 4:21 PM on September 28, 2008


You need to get from walking distance of your house to a station, and then from a station to walking distance from work. Bellevue and West Seattle were never, ever constructed with mass transit in mind. You and I can both work "in Bellevue" and be 10 miles away from each other.

That's true, but this is the kind of problem that could at least be mitigated by park and rides, bicycles on buses, and small, frequent local buses. but agreed Bellevue and West Seattle are disasters when it comes to mass transit.
posted by nangua at 4:24 PM on September 28, 2008


I think Cool Papa Bell hit the nail on the head - it isn't just a problem of putting in mass transit, it's a problem of changing whole cities that were never built to deal with mass transit. (and it) ... is going to take more political will, and more financial muscle, than is available now or in the forseeable future.

Choosing which huge infrastructure projects will get funding is going to be contentious and divisive ... we will probably have to move to a 'triage' mentality. (bridges before highways?)

One need only look at the Katrina disaster to know that the future of our urban areas will not include calm, civil, government solutions to these kinds of complex problems. Most of these problems have been worsening every year. Katrina was not simply a case of ineptitude (although that should be noted) -- it was a preview of the deterioration of our federal economic health. We simply cannot expect to see the government step in and fix everything.

There will have to be more community-level solutions. Personally, I like the 'Cuba model' ... building sustainability within small, interdependent communities, thereby avoiding transportation of goods and people as much as possible (something I believe can emerge from the will of the people.)
posted by Surfurrus at 4:54 PM on September 28, 2008


As Cool Papa Bell and other said, yeah, the problem is getting it installed.

I know it's going to be expensive, but Seattle just going to have to take a bite of the shit sandwich and frickin' pay.

Christ, how many times, when I was living there, did I vote for light rail or a monorail? Four? Five?

How many times was that money moved into something more "important", like two new sports stadiums.

And the ironic thing about taking money that was voted on, by the people, for mass transit and shuffling it into sports stadiums is that Seattle had been down that road before; that's how they got the Kingdome.

The feds, back in the late 60s said, 'Hey, want some money for high speed light rail?'

And King county said, 'No, we want a domed sports stadium.'

So the feds gave their money to The Bay Area and the built BART (which is still in use, although far from perfect) and King County moved a bond measure through to build an "all purpose sports complex" that was eventually demolished.

Seattle has been like this for time immemorial.

When they had a bunch of land become available in the middle of downtown, everybody said, "Put in a park!"

What did Seattle do? Put in a shopping mall and a brick plaza because they feared a park would "attract the homeless".

Seattle has a real hard time listening to its citizens and also realizing that what makes a truly cosmopolitan city of the world is not things like sports teams in shiny new arenas and lots of "world class" shopping, but things like parks in the middle of the urban environment (like New York and San Francisco and Paris and London) and viable public transportation that can get you from one end of town to the other (like New York and San Francisco and Paris and London).

Seattle (and a host of other, new-ish American cities) is going to have to deal with things like that in a real way, and soon.

It might cost a lot of money over the next 10 to 15 years, but if they put it off for another 20, and then try and do it, it will cost even more.

It's sort of like when your car starts making funny noises, and you think to yourself, "Jeez! That could cost a lot to fix - better ignore it."

And then you come to find out that it was just your brakes, and if you'd fixed it right away, it would have been a $300 job, but since you had "other priorities" for your money, now it's a full blown front end rebuild to the tune of $500.

Either Seattle starts thinking like a big city, and dealing with the problem like a bi city, or the transportation situation will just become more abysmal.
posted by Relay at 5:05 PM on September 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Two places in San Francisco that were greatly improved by removal of freeways: Embarcadero and Octavia-Fell. The change was like night and day, quite literally because those areas are no longer shrouded in the shadows of elevated freeways. I suspect many existing city freeways could be done away with to great improvement of the city landscapes they now befoul.

I also firmly believe that this is why Vancouver, Canada is such a pleasant city. NO FREEWAYS!
posted by telstar at 6:23 PM on September 28, 2008


Norquist may have thought it was blight, but it wasn't. But there's blight now. I hope the developers can eventually make things right, but with Norquist out of Milwaukee, I'm not so sure.

It's still slow going on the Park East Corridor(PDF) but maybe things will pick up a little with the completion of the billion dollar reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange. Norquist hated freeways but there is such a thing as cutting off your nose to spite your face. The city tore down the Park East and then spent years trying to figure out what to do with land, maybe they should have waited a bit. I don't know that vacant lots or piles of rubble do much to attract development. Anyway, they should have torn down 145 North A.K.A. "The Freeway To Nowhere".
posted by MikeMc at 7:33 PM on September 28, 2008


The girth of the Gardiner's elevated eight lanes - plus 4-6 lane Lakeshore Blvd. and an ever-rising impenetrable wall of condo developments - separates the city's bustling core from its Lake Ontario waterfront.

I've got no love for the gardiner, and anything that makes life harder on drivers is fine with me as a general principal, but.. Well, I was reading an interesting blog post about the Gardiner about a month ago. The thing is, just tearing it down doesn't really solve anything. Much better to try and find innovative use of the space around/under it. It isn't just buildings that learn, but the entire cityscape.
posted by Chuckles at 8:39 PM on September 28, 2008


Tearing down the Claiborne expressway (built after none other than Robert Moses had written a proposal for the Vieux Carre Riverfront Expressway, which would have gone right past Jackson Square; the fight against it was one of the early successes of American preservationists) would be appealing, but it would be next to impossible from a financial perspective. Post-Katrina street repairs have only begun in earnest fairly recently, due to delays in federal funding. Now that Uncle Same is bailing out Wall Street, and the nation is almost certainly headed into a deep recession, the chances of getting any funds for a Claiborne Ave. renewal project are zilch, for all intents and purposes.
posted by raysmj at 8:45 PM on September 28, 2008


There's nothing in the L.A. sprawl on this list: either the whole city's a lost cause, or it's the only place elevated freeways actually work.
posted by limnrix at 8:50 PM on September 28, 2008


I would suggest that the people who now commute 'from Greenlake to Georgetown' start looking for work in Greenlake, or a home in Georgetown.

Talk about timely. I drive over the Alaskan Way viaduct every day but I'm interviewing this week for a job that is 6 blocks from my home. Between the cost of gas, the hour a day of wasted time sitting in my car, and the unease I feel driving over a road that is clearly disintegrating, I am thrilled at the prospect of taking a 30% pay cut to avoid the viaduct. I don't pretend to understand the political barriers that prevent this problem from being dealt with. The viaduct is a hell of a convenient alternative to I-5 but we all *know* it's going to collapse within our lifetime and it's pretty bloody obvious if we wait until the next earthquake a fuck of a lot of people are going to die.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:12 PM on September 28, 2008


Alright, Washington's #1! Hooray! Go Get'em, Alaskan Way Viaduct~!

Spoiler Alert: At this point, all the involved parties are going to squawk back and forth about that rickety road until it falls the fuck over.
posted by EatTheWeak at 12:00 AM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


"The waterfront itself is often wide-open and accessible via E Marginal Way S, but if a cruise ship is in you can cut over to Dearborn, go North on Rainier->Boren->Fairview which will drop you at S Lake Union and you're back on SR99."

Have you actually tried this? I live on Beacon Hill and work near Pier 70 on the waterfront. I have tried to take that route a few times when baseball traffic prevented me from getting to the Viaduct. It takes substantially longer, and I learned from sad experience that I should never take that route unless I absolutely have to. (The bus would be a possibility, but the job starts in the evening and gets out late enough at night that there have been some issues with getting a bus home in a timely and safe manner. If it was a normal daytime job the bus would be fine for that route.)

And "wide-open and accessible via E Marginal Way S"? The problem isn't Marginal, the problem is Alaskan Way. Right now going up Alaskan Way at surface level during rush hour is a crap shoot. Ferry terminal traffic can make it very bad.

"Another alternative is to use the carpool lane on I-5, which is seldom as congested as the normal lanes are."

Well, there are no carpool lanes through downtown Seattle, exactly. There are the Express Lanes, but they are not restricted to carpools. (Some of the entrances are, but not all.) And of course, they are not always available in the direction you need to go. Tried going south on I-5 through North Seattle during the afternoon? It's really ugly.

The actual carpool lane going into the city from the south stops being a carpool lane when you are passing the stadiums, roughly. And from the north, it ends at Northgate (or feeds into the Express Lanes when they are open).

"When I-5 was closed people found different routes or carpooled or took the bus or changed their work schedules; the same will happen when the viaduct is gone, and the city and it's people will be better off for it."

When I-5 was closed it was summer, and it was a pre-arranged limited time situation. (And it wasn't completely closed, was it? Just limited.) It is far easier to deal with that situation when it's only going to be for two weeks. People take vacation, and they cut back on trips for a couple of weeks. But a lot of those trips are things you have to take eventually. You close a freeway permanently, and many of those trips still have to be taken one way or another.

We would have had a decent transportation system to replace the Viaduct corridor, but idiocy on all sides sank the Monorail. Which would have opened next year. God damn the assholes who killed it. Next year, we would have had a monorail from Ballard to West Seattle, and light rail through Southeast Seattle, both connecting around the stadiums, and though it wouldn't have been perfect, it would have been a substantial step toward a real, useful, functioning system to get around 3 of the 4 quarters of the city without riding a slow bus that gets stuck in traffic with all the cars. But nooooooooooooooooo.

So until someone proposes an actual grade-separated rapid transit solution for the Highway 99 corridor, and people stop whining like little babies that they might have to pay for it, we need the Viaduct. The people in Ballard and West Seattle aren't using it to pass through town -- they use it to get to places in the city.
posted by litlnemo at 12:08 AM on September 29, 2008


In the earlier part of the century

Ah yes, I recall the heady days of water transport in aught one and aught two.

Was there ever a time when waterfront property was seen as undesirable or worthless to the point that it was only suitable for an elevated road?

Quite often, yes. As noted, many waterfronts developed as sea or river ports, and remained thoroughly oriented to this function even as land transport changed from horses to trains to trucks. By the middle of the last century, though, this function was in decline, and many waterfronts were blighted areas. The idea of gentrifying the old warehouses and making lofts was still to come. With containerized shipping and other conveniences simplifying the source-to-market routes, the buildings were disused or demolished. There was political advantage in putting freeways where nobody lived: many urban freeways built where they did encountered bitter opposition.

There were other factors. The Futurama exhibit by Norman Bel Geddes at the 1933 Century of Progress (World's Fair) General Motors pavilion envisioned gleaming grade-separated transportation in both rural and urban settings. Cities would have a ground level for deliveries, an elevated road level for uninterrupted travel, and a pedestrian level safe from runovers. The well-meaning efforts of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright (Broadacre City) contributed to this vision, which cities rushed to build, to accomodate the growing car culture. There were some horrible flaws with this, starting with the personal safety in the dark lower levels, and the impossibility of accomodating enough traffic on a grid for massive skyscrapers, and crucially, the way that elevated roads (and bypasses) whisk travelers past the ostensible "destination", but nobody realized this at the time.

There's a long history of urban planning and the idea of expensive condos and luxurious shopping gallerias down by the docks in midtown is relatively recent. Sure, if you were rich enough, in the 19th century you built a house on the water -- but twenty miles outside of town. (It wasn't healthy to stay in polluted, crime-ridden cities, so the modern suburb was invented.) It really wasn't until the cities began dying in the 1960s that there was a wide movement to rejuvenate them.
posted by dhartung at 12:39 AM on September 29, 2008


Alaskan Way Viaduct history, complete with details of the three opening ceremonies.

I've lived in Seattle for 25 years, first with a shared car, now depending on Metro and my feet. I'd happily see the Viaduct torn down.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:42 AM on September 29, 2008


What's the over-all verdict on the results of Boston's Big Dig?
posted by Auden at 5:49 AM on September 29, 2008


it is what it is now. Until we have our flying cars.

I know this was refering to LSD, but it could be applied to a lot of these projects. They do suck, we can acknowledge that, but at this point there is little alternative and with $700 Billion going to fund summer homes for investment bankers, there is little chance of high pricetag big dig or public transit solutions getting funded in the near future. We fucked up the landscape, we didn't maintain what we did build no matter how foolishly, and now we're broke, better get used to it.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:54 AM on September 29, 2008


Auden- I'm from Boston, my parents live there, I stayed there a summer during college and had a girlfriend in a suburb on the opposite side of Boston. Honestly, it's not bad for a highway. It's a little tricky at times, eg. getting on Storrow Drive from the tunnel requires knowing a few lane changes ahead of time- difficult for someone who hasn't done it before or isn't clairvoyant. But it was better than the old elevated expressway.

I've been in during rush hour only a few times, and from what I can remember, it wasn't that bad. The expressway leading up to the tunnel is horrendous, but the tunnel itself was ok.

Other aspects of the big dig: The Ted Williams Tunnel is really nice if you live south of the city for getting to the airport. Once again, avoided during rush hour.

Whoever was the dipshit who diverted money from the proposed new subway line and instead put in the silver line buses has a special place reserved for him/her in hell. A subway line that actually ran right to the airport, one that connected North and South stations, etc. would have made the 14 billion they spent on this project seem a little worthwhile. Those buses, while nice (air conditioned, comfy seats, etc.) are basically worthless. They get stuck in traffic and don't have dedicated bus lanes. A new T line would have been great.

So yeah tunnels are great as, every city should have one, as long as they don't run 13 billion dollars more expensive than the original budget.
posted by Hactar at 7:43 AM on September 29, 2008


The Silver Line is a complete and utter sham. Not only is it so useless that they're actually cutting back some of its routes, but it represents all the broken, empty promises which the MBTA loves to make and then forget about. The MBTA and the MTA are the worst mommy and daddy a transportation system could have.

"Give us funding for the Big Dig!" they said, loudly clattering their forks and knives on the table. "We'll ... we'll build that Blue Line - Red Line connector you've always been talking about so you can get to the airport easier! We'll extend the Green Line from Lechmere into Somerville and Medford! And you know that trolley service between Heath and Arborway which we 'temporarily suspended' in 1985 and never got around to reinstating? We'll, uh, bring it back! Yeah! We'll do all this, baby! Just give us the money! We swear!"

They got the money but over ten years later, the trolley tracks from Heath to Arborway have been paved over and lost, the Blue-Red connector was superceded by the Silver Line airport service from South Station (which, yes, uses surface roads and makes you wait between the aboveground/underground portions while they shut off one power source and activate the other) and progress on the Green Line expansion has been moving along, but not without several attempts from the agency to block it or cancel it outright. Local outcry has been key in keeping the project alive.

I realize this is a bit of a rant in the middle of a highway thread, and as far as highways go Boston finally connected I-90 with the airport and they did get rid of that albatross which was the Central Distressway (the elevated portion of I-93) but man, this city can't do anything right.
posted by Spatch at 8:22 AM on September 29, 2008


Another relevant precedent is San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway, which was never replaced after it had been destroyed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
posted by jonp72 at 8:28 AM on September 29, 2008


Development along the Park East corridor in Milwaukee happened during Norquist's administration. There were expensive condos and townhouses built and a shopping center well before the structure itself was demolished. The land which was liberated from the deconstruction is sitting vacant and should be used at least temporarily for parking but it's not the end of the world. Essentially, it is no different than what it was before the elevated highway was torn down.
posted by JJ86 at 11:17 AM on September 30, 2008


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