I spent most of my childhood traveling often with my family. On lucky days, I’d get to ride shotgun, a huge oversized copy of Rand McNally’s in my lap, tracking the miles. I once asked my father how they built highways. I didn’t know at the time about the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, about Eisenhower, or that highways were originally designed for national defense, not for road trips. Highways are such a classic staple of the American urban landscape that I was surprised to hear about a new movement in some cities to tear them down. As much as I love highways, it’s been well-documented now that, when they slice through cities, they often cause blight, economic segregation, pollution, and congestion…among other things.
The Center for New Urbanism put out a fascinating report last month, highlighting ten cities where individuals are advocating that their city officials tear down old, underused highways that they don’t really need anymore. Their argument is simple: tearing down highways can help cities make more money while improving safety and clearing the air. I wrote about it for The American Conservative.
The report contends that the cores of American cities have seen a massive hollowing out since the passing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act in 1956. “As highways were built through existing communities,” the report begins, “residents were cut off from social and economic centers, key resources and services, and the nearby destinations of their daily lives.”
Today, many of those highways are reaching the end of their design life and cities are facing what CNU calls a “watershed moment.” Instead of rebuilding and repairing old highways, the report suggests cities should replace them with infrastructure that is pedestrian friendly, density prone, and extremely profitable. “Cities are waking up to a simple solution: remove instead of replace.”
The Atlantic also has a colorful write-up, while the writers at The Washington Post point out the especially crippling effect highway construction had on minority communities. If you want to read about what this looks like on the street level, read this piece on the I-345 in Dallas. The author answers some practical questions like: “Where will the traffic go?” Doesn’t get more practical than that.
Speaking of local, citizens and officials here in Providence are disputing the future of the 6-10 connector, a smaller highway that twists through town. I’ll be covering it for TAC and will post it here.