The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

The destruction of interstate highways

Two stories, in two directions. First, a cool interactive history of how the construction of Chicago's Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) displaced thousands of people and destroyed thousands of buildings:

In the late 1940s, the Oak Leaves newspaper in Oak Park predicted that the new superhighway would replace the West Side’s “appalling slums” with “orderly dwellings where orderly people are living in health and comfort.”

Of all the neighborhoods that the expressway sliced through, the Near West Side had the largest population of blacks in 1950. Nearly 40 percent of its people were African-American.

In February 1949, city housing coordinator D.E. Macklemann said some people in the neighborhood simply didn’t believe that the highway would actually get built. “One man forced us to get an eviction order from the court because he said he had been reading about superhighways for years and thought the whole thing was a dream,” Macklemann told the Tribune. “In several instances residents paid no attention until the buildings next door were being torn down.”

Second, a report about how Rochester, N.Y., has followed San Francisco, Boston, and other cities in burying or removing highways that blighted or isolated their downtowns:

Rochester lucked out. The eastern quadrant of the Inner Loop was isolated from the main flow of traffic into the city, and thus, the traffic volume on that segment of highway was never particularly high. As a result, discussions about burying this portion of the Inner Loop weren’t sidetracked by circular debates about what to do with the traffic it would displace. It may have taken decades to move forward, but that’s still more progress than many cities can claim.

Our research at the University of Connecticut shows that cities that transformed their downtowns with freeways, parking, and monolithic developments were flooded with traffic even while they were losing jobs and residents. The few American cities that maintained most of their prewar urban fabric saw much less growth in traffic congestion and have retained their character as vibrant walking cities.

We also know that cities that have removed freeways—usually due to an act of nature—have seen a decrease in traffic congestion. In some cases, the decrease was more than 50 percent.

I hope that someday, years from now but in my lifetime, we'll see the Eisenhower buried as well. There have been proposals to do that in Oak Park almost since it was built. But that would require a commitment to livable spaces that the U.S. doesn't seem likely to make.

Comments are closed