Can Removing Highways Improve Cities?
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Major metropolitan areas, like Rochester, have long been divided up into smaller sections by their highway and interstate systems. For commuters, highways are important for decreasing the amount of time it takes to get downtown in major urban areas and lessening the wear and tear on their cars from driving more miles.
However, these highways have created boundaries between residential and industrial areas of town. Now, many cities are thinking about removing the highways altogether in an effort to reconnect neighborhoods, reduce pollution, and positively impact the quality of life for residents.
Highways help people travel in urban areas but also come with consequences | Twenty20
Highways hurt the neighborhoods they cut through
The New York Times recently highlighted the consequences of past highways built throughout America. The construction of highways has often displaced entire communities of people, and hurt the culture, economic well-being, and environment in previously thriving minority communities.
This happened in many cities and neighborhoods. In the 1950s, Rochester built an Inner Loop highway to help people commute from the suburbs to downtown Rochester. But the construction of the highway also destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses.
Many urban areas have started implementing plans to renovate their transportation structures, and replacing highways with more connected, walkable neighborhoods. More than 30 cities nationwide have started programs to remove or modify their existing highway systems.
Highway removal shows positive potential
Rochester has been successful at removing the mile-long eastern section of the Inner Loop highway. The city has filled in this stretch of highway with a boulevard of more walkable spaces, bike lanes, and land which will be available for developers. By filling in the highway, Rochester is hoping to patch together a neighborhood which has been divided by six-lanes of traffic for nearly 70 years.
Norman Garrick, professor at the University of Connecticut who studies how transportation has shaped American urban areas, said that cities have “basically destroyed themselves” trying to accommodate more commuters.
“Rochester has shown what can be done in terms of reconnecting the city and restoring a sense of place,” Garrick said to the New York Times. “That’s really the underlying goal of highway removal.”
Aside from reconnecting neighborhoods, the removal of highways has a long list of other benefits for major metro areas. This includes a reduction in vehicle emissions and air pollution caused by a car-filled community. Urban areas will benefit from reduced noise, as well as a reduction of fatal car accidents due to lower speed limits allowed on new, smaller streets.
Cities face uncertainty about whether to remove highways
However, Autoblog reports that there are some arguments against highway removals. For instance, locals worry that the newly developed land will be too expensive for the current residents to afford. This can further gentrify the area and push out minority communities.
While others argue that revitalizing the area is important, there seems to be a lack of community spaces and parks and simply a different style of road. Some worry about the lengthening of commute times and the congestion of other city avenues as a result of changing the current system.
For Rochester residents, there doesn’t seem to have been much of an impact on commute times, so far. City officials have been encouraging commuters to embrace rideshare options and use newly opened bike lanes.
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