The Congress for the New Urbanism has issued a list of the top ten freeways in the United States whose demolition, as CNU has aptly phrased it, would “stimulate valuable revitalization by replacing aging urban highways with boulevards.” These are the freeways on the list:
1. Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, WA
2. Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NY
3. The Skyway and Route 5, Buffalo, NY
4. Route 34, New Haven, CT
5. Claiborne Expressway, New Orleans, LA
6. Interstate 81, Syracuse, NY
7. Interstate 64, Louisville, KY
8. Route 29, Trenton, NJ
9. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto, ON
10. 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway, Washington D.C.
|Embarcadero Freeway. Credits: Telstar
Logistics (top), Wayfaring (bottom).
Since San Francisco’s infamous Freeway Revolt, the Bay Area has enjoyed first-hand examples of successfully reborn neighborhoods that bloomed on the land once occupied by freeways, but then returned to human access. Given the successful revitalization of San Francisco’s Embarcardero — the addition of spacious pedestrian plazas; the adaptive reuse of the Ferry Building; and historic streetcar service so well-used that it is apparently “too popular for its own good” — it is easy to forget that before the 1989 earthquake, there was a functioning double-decker Embarcadero Freeway that viciously sliced the waterfront off from the rest of the city. Meanwhile, empty fenced lots that still remain on and near the redesigned Octavia Boulevard in Hayes Valley retain an eerie deadness that feels decidedly out of place, when set off against the density that characterizes the rest of the neighborhood. Those empty lots serve as a keen reminder of the Central Freeway that once stood there. But one day, they, too, will be filled with new homes, in accordance with the zoning controls adopted in the Market-Octavia Plan that was approved this past spring. And yet, for these successes, we might have done even better. It would be a bit much to hope for the removal of Interstates 580 and 880 in Oakland, but what if they had never been constructed? Instead of thousands of drivers using freeways to speed past largely neglected neighborhoods in East Oakland, what if those thousands of people rode trains through subway tunnels aligned under East 14th Street and MacArthur Boulevard, with a neighborhood station serving each of the commercial districts that are strung along those two thoroughfares? It is a fun thought experiment to consider what the Bay Area’s urban landscape would look like had our transportation network developed to look more like that of Europe, and less like California.
None of the top ten freeways in the CNU list are in the Bay Area, or even California. If the choice was yours to make, which freeways would you demolish (either in California or elsewhere)?