Freeways that never were
In the 1950s and 60s, urban planners were busy constructing freeways across America, through plains and mountains where they were needed, and into the centers of cities where they bulldozed vibrant communities and hastened sprawl and urban decay.
In most cities, local activists fought these highways and, with varying degrees of success, eventually halted new construction. In many areas the local Departments of Transportation never entirely gave up on these plans. Here is a quick roundup of what freeways would look like in some of our most walkable, neighborhood cities had planners had their way:
First, the poster child for freeway opposition, San Francisco, which cancelled its freeway construction as early as 1959 in the famous Freeway Revolt. SF Cityscape has a great annotated map of freeways that were and were not built.
1948 plan from California Department of Highways, via BikeSummer.
In Boston, the Inner Ring would have demolished much of Central Square in Cambridge, Cambridgeport, the neighborhoods around BU, and much more; activists killed it and other expressways in 1972. Some of the funding was rerouted to transit; Northwest and Southwest Expressways (to Burlington and Canton) were replaced by the Red and Orange Lines respectively.
1948 Master Highway Plan sketch by Mass. Department of Public Works. From BostonRoads.com.
Should BU have looked like this? Courtesy Scott Moore.
Washington DC built most of its planned freeways on its southern side and in Virginia, but not downtown and in suburban Maryland.
1955 proposal for Washington DC. Photo by Richard Layman.
As Zachary Schrag points out in this op-ed, the money that was to be used for the DC freeways in the 1960s was directly put into the Metro instead, to DC's great benefit.
I'd always thought that the black communities, such as in Southeast DC, had failed to stop the freeways because they were poor or minority, while the white areas of Northwest had successfully fought them off (as in New York, where the Cross-Bronx bulldozed black neighborhoods while Jane Jacobs and the white people of Greenwich Village were able to kill the Lower Manhattan Expressway), but that's apparently not the case, or at least not entirely:
Photo by Richard Layman.
And speaking of Jane Jacobs, the most celebrated urban activist and the one who personally sparked public awareness of the fallacy of then-conventional wisdom in urban planning, she and others succeeded in killing the terrible Lower Manhattan Expressway and other roads. But the sadder part is that by 1961, when she published Death and Life, Robert Moses had already built most of the roads that he'd wanted to build. In the below map, all of the solid lines were actually built.
Regional Plan Association expressway plan, 1964. From NYCRoads.com.
New York has the most extensive subway system in the U.S., sure, but who knows how many of these subway lines would have been built had transportation funding been reallocated to transit as Washington did? How different might Queens be today?
Unlike San Francisco, where opposition stopped 80-90% of the planned freeways, New Yorkers only stopped the last few. Unlike San Francisco, which killed the freeway that was to run through Golden Gate Park (except the very short transverse segment of CA-1), Moses successfully ran parkways through Inwood Hill Park, Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx River Park, and what is now Riverside Park and Flushing Meadows Parks. And unlike San Francisco, with a "Transit First" policy that favors public transportation over private cars in planning decisions, New York's DOT still moves cars first and foremost.
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