A recent Sunday New York Times Style section (why the Style section?!) ran a story headlined “Exit the Expressway” (the headline has since been updated) about cities looking at tearing down some of those huge highways that were plowed through cities and parks in the construction heyday of the Interstate Highway System and states’ new-road projects.
In many towns and cities these highways rent the urban fabric, cutting off neighborhoods from each other even as they encouraged suburban sprawl. The Times’s story focuses on the Scajaquada (!) Expressway, aka New York State Route 198, in Buffalo. Its construction in the early ‘60s tore the lovely Delaware Park in half. Similar stuff happened in other cities during the orgasmic phase of the Automobile Age.
Now there’s a plan to convert at least part of the expressway into a lower-speed boulevard. It recalls proposals to turn the infamous 6/10 Connector in Providence into a boulevard.
Removing expressways has worked elsewhere, perhaps most successfully with downtown San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway, whose removal helped reenergize the city’s waterfront and led to a real-estate boom in the area.
Of course, another way to help repair the damage done to cities, and especially downtowns, by expressways is to put them underground, as was done with Boston’s infamous Central Artery in the Big Dig. The Central Artery’s roof is now a park. Unfortunately there’s far from enough money to a do a similar project with Route 95 in Providence, which creates a fearsome barrier through the middle of the city. But we can dream….
But what does seem likely is that changes in lifestyles, economics and environmental considerations will prevent a recurrence of the expressway- building boom of the ‘50s through the ‘70s. For one thing, we have a much stronger appreciation now of the need to preserve neighborhoods and to reduce our dependence on cars. Further, young people especially (say 35 and under) drive less than their parents and many of them much prefer cityscapes to suburbia; indeed they're turning parts of suburbia into places that look like walkable cities.
To read The Times’s article, please hit this link: