About two weeks ago I told a relative newcomer to San Francisco about the Embarcadero Freeway, which used to cover the Embarcadero from Fisherman's Wharf down to the Bay Bridge. From its construction in 1959 to its destruction (with the help of the Loma Prieta earthquake) in 1991, it stood, without question, as the biggest urban planning mistake west of the Rockies. Looking at it photos today makes me angry.
Removing I-480 showed other cities how their lives might improve if they also removed or buried freeways. Boston's Big Dig reconnected the North End with the Common; removing the eastern section of Rochester's Inner Loop has made that city more livable.
The New York Times reports on the other cities that have followed:
As midcentury highways reach the end of their life spans, cities across the country are having to choose whether to rebuild or reconsider them. And a growing number, like Rochester, are choosing to take them down.
In order to accommodate cars and commuters, many cities “basically destroyed themselves,” said Norman Garrick, a professor at the University of Connecticut who studies how transportation projects have reshaped American cities.
“Rochester has shown what can be done in terms of reconnecting the city and restoring a sense of place,” he said. “That’s really the underlying goal of highway removal.”
In recent years, more cities have started to seriously rethink some of their highways. The Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that tracks highway removals, counted 33 proposed projects in 28 American cities. And the idea is being discussed in many others.
Among the proposed removal plans: getting rid of the BQE in New York, the Buffalo Skyway, and New Orleans' Claiborne Expressway—all of them ugly roads that destroyed neighborhoods and made lives demonstrably worse. (See, for example, the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago.)
Not under consideration? Burying I-90/94 in downtown Chicago. Maybe someday.