As urban freeways age and deteriorate, cities increasingly consider removing them. In a 17-page brief on Re-Thinking the Urban Freeway, the Mayors Innovation Project reports that “the time is right” for cash-strapped American cities to consider permanent removal and conversion to boulevards and parks. Freeways often occupy valuable real estate without paying taxes and are costly to maintain. They lower property values and increase blight, the report says.
Although urban freeways were welcomed in the 1950s and 1960s as economic drivers, now they are under scrutiny for interrupting street patterns, making local businesses inaccessible, worsening pollution and demaging public health. Such diverse cities as Boston, Milwaukee, New York, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, and Seoul are among those to have demolished highways – and they have discovered that pollution diminished, local roads absorbed traffic, and real estate values soared.
Note the “before and after” photos of the San Francisco waterfront. On top, see how the hideous Embarcadero Freeway, built in 1959, long blocked bay views and devalued the downtown waterfront. In the bottom photograph, see how installation of the Embarcadero boulevard promoted pedestrian movement and commercial revitalization of the Ferry Building and adjacent areas, after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake prompted removal of the elevated freeway.