The foto above from the internet. This is Washington DC.
The blog below is a draft from my book currently being written Notes From The Suburban Frontier. I was so amazed by info and images I came across research about the Interstate HIghway System, I had to put this on line. I knew a lot about the consequences of the freeways and cars but the comparison image between Atlanta and Barcelona, Spain really made it clear why making dozens of American cities reasonably friendly to people and planet in terms of land use, transportation, resources,,,,,is likely NEVER going to happen. Here is the text that will be Chapter Three in the book.
The greatest public works project ever for the United States came into focus in the mid 50's. Then President Dwight Eisenhower appointed a blue ribbon panel to study the idea of a massive system of super highways. The chair of the panel was a board member of General Motors.
Besides that, more that decade before Eisenhower's blue ribbon panel, the American Road Builders Association was busy at work. Formed in 1943, the Association was made up of the American Trucking Associaton, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, motor bus operators, and even the American Parking Association – all the vehicles will need a place to park when they arrive. The group also included interestes in oil, ribber, asphalt, construction, car dealers and partners in banking and advertising.
Their local accessories included real estate companies and home building associations.
Not surprisingly, Eisenhower's panel recommended building the Interstate system, much to the approval of vehicle, oil, tire, cement, steel, and union interests. In 2006 dollars, the cost for the System at completion is about $425 billion. There are also many supporting road projects to the Interstate that are not explicitly part of the Interstate System.
The System totals about 47,000 miles of divided roadway, bridges and interchnges. The Interstate System has contributed immeasurably to insuring the nation's culture and economy will depend heavily on automobiles, petroleum and related industries for the forseeable future.
Specific to Eugene, Interstate 5 runs north and south through Lane County. Fortunately, it is only on the margin of Eugene. A five mile spur, I 105, does connect central Eugene with I 5. Eugene also has an interstate grade highway called Beltline, constructed in several stages through the 1960's to the north and northwest of central Eugene with a two lane extension from the northwest to straight west of central Eugene.
The northern boundary of River Road Neighborhood is the east-west oriented Beltline with Santa Clara Neighborhood on the other side of Beltline from river Road.
Another freeway grade highway, cutting across three miles of rich agricultural land, connects Beltline with I 105, just before it crosses the Willamette River.
Fortunately for Eugene, these are the only freeway grade highways in town. Few people know, but there were draft plans and ideas for substantially more divided highways in Eugene. For example, Beltline would have become a ring road all the way around the city.
The Rooselvelt Freeway would have connected I 5 at the Willamette River with Roosevelt Blvd in far west Eugene. It would have run all along the River except south of Skinners Butte and then under I 5 at the Rose Gardens, continuing along the River until connecting with current Rooselvelt Blvd south of the rail yard, then to near Highway 99. That would have been a major connector divided road instead of the Greenway. Skinner's Butte Park and bike paths along much of the Willamette River would not exist. Eugene said no to other major highway projects such as a higher capacity loop around downtown and the West Eugene Parkway which would have impacted important wet lands and parks.
If all these higher capacity roads had been built, Eugene would be a very different town from what it currently is, especially south of the Willamette River. Neighborhoods would have been bisected. Suburban sprawl would have been aggravated. Eugene's character and for many, livability, would have been serverely damaged. Public opposition saved Eugene from land use practices that have degraded countless cities and towns.
These never built highways were part of a larger freeway rebellion. Surprisingly, there are dozens of freeways porposed and planned all over the country [all over the world as well] over the years that have been scrapped or scaled down because of local opposition. [search highway revolt]
Its good to take a look at several projects that never happened. Here are several cancelled, downscaled or delayed freeways - The Long Beach Freeway in LA, The proposed Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and at least two freeways that would have bisected Manhattan.
In Boston, the Southwest Expressway, an inner city project five miles long that would have impacted Jamaica Plain was cancelled due to public opposition. Instead of a freeway, the corridor now features the Orange Line of the MBTA, light rail, set below grade level There are also community gardens, playgrounds and bike paths and open space where there would have been an eight lane freeway.
Citizens of Santa Rosa California stopped a short freeway that would have included a bridge of a lake in a favorite local park. A public process is set to begin in 2015 for deterining what to do with the 52 acres surrounded by suburbia.
There are dozens of highway projects canceled, downscaled or stalled on Long Island, in the Hudson River Valley, around Chicago and dozens of other places. At least one freeway was stopped by a state highway agency. The Somerset Freeway in New Jersey was canceled because it would have competed for traffic and revenue on a toll road managed by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
A freeway was stopped in Breckenridge Park in San Antonio because it would have violated the 4F clause for federal road building which prohibits building a federal highway through park lands unless there is no other alternative.
A freeway was stopped in Portland, Oregon and the money intended for the freeway was used to construct a light rail line. Harbor Drive, a freeway along the west bank of the Willamette River near downtown Portland was part of the Pacific Highway before WW II and was Portland's first freeway. In 1974, Harbor Drive was removed and the area turned into a river front park and esplanade.
Although Portland is considered one of America's greenest cities, its transportation pie chart – car, transit, bike, walk – and its urban residential density is much more like Houston and Atlanta than even some Canadian and Australian cities. Many cities in northern Europe maintain bike and transit usage at levels far higher than even the most bike and transit friendly US cities.
Thankfully there have been an appreciabale number of success stories of local citizens protecting their communities from freeway and major highway construction, but the fact remains other highway projects too mynerous to count have been completed, leading to a great deal of damage to the environment and degrading countless inner city and suburban neighborhoods while at the same time, diminishing many communitys' potentials to develop alternatives to the automobile.
At full buildout in the mid 1970's, the Interstate Highway System amounted to 47,000 miles. It has had a profound effect on the United States in terms of transportation, urban land use, the environment, lifestyle, employment, the economy and even foreign policy. Personal mobility is a core part of the American Way of Life and to a very large degree, the Interstate Highway System has super charged that mobility.
Over the past forty years, some critics blame the Interstate for a huge proliferation of cars, decline of public transit, an explosion of suburbia while others would counter; suburbia, more cars and the decline of transit were trends already well underway for years before the interstate.
In general, assessments of the Interstate Highways have a mixed record at best -
1] The Interstate's funding mechanism made it hard for states to say no. With the Feds paying 90% and locals paying the rest, one might describe the process like bait for a fish. The freeways were too good to pass up.
2] No question, the Interstate made driving more convenient, saved a lot of time, was a huge boon to the trucking industry, reduced the price for many manufactured products and fresh food.
3] The Interstates are directly repsonsible for turning many thousands of square miles of farm land and open space on the fringes of cities into suburbia, shopping malls, office parks and industrial areas.
4] Building the Interstate has catalyzed many hundreds of thousands of jobs in road construction, suburban houses, development infrastructure, commercial construction and the myriad other jobs related to these employment sectors.
5] The Interstates were intended to relieve congestion and did but by the 1980's, traffic jams and chronic congestion were typical all over the country on many freeways only a few years old, leading to an enormous loss of productive time and wasted energy
6] Transit was already in decline before the Interstate but its safe to say, the freeways and dispersed land use it has caused, has put transit at an even greater disadvantage. The Interstates have created automobile dependent land use practices and lifestyles that will be very difficult to reverse.
7] The interstate highways have severely degraded many urban neighborhoods.
8] The Interstates have either created or greatly assisted a dispersed urban land use form that creates even more automobile dependency because it is often too dispersed and low residential density for transit to be effective.
9] The Interstates have consumed tens of billions of dollars that, arguably, could have been better spent for other projects relating to transportation of frieght and people that could have been better for the environment and public health like rail and responsible urban planning.
Some people see the Interstate highways as a great investment while other see the System as a disaster.
Looking a bit further afield provides an idea of different approaches to transportation in other parts of the world. There is no other country in the world that has so committed itself to highways and cars as the United States. The US has the most impressive highway system in the world and arguably, the worst public transportation system of the affluent countries.
Canada and to an even greater degree, Europe, have made significantly different choices for their transportation mix. Most cities in Europe and east Asia, less so Canada, overall, have far more diverse transportation profiles than the United States in terms of transit, bike and walking versus cars. What is the explanation?
For the most part, cities in Europe and east Asia have far greater urban densities than the US. Greater residential density is a primary condition for more efficient, eco friendly land use and transit. This is not to suggest Omaha should look like Hong Kong but its no secret, low urban population densities typical of American cties are a liability in many ways. See below. Higher urban density are often the result of older cities developed before cars but just as important, a different set of transportation policy choices and goals.
Transit has been considered a public benefit and public cost for a longer time in Europe. For the most part, transit systems have been maintained and upgraded over the years. Europe has no comparable history like the Trolly Scandal in the US. Cars are also taxed far higher in Europe which discourages their use.
Quite possibly, the more laissez faire economic system in the US has made transportation policy and decision making more accesible to influence by commercial interests such as business lobbies that would benefit from road building. Recall, in the hay day of trolley construction in the US, trolley companies were often land development companies at the same time. In Europe, that duality was prohibited to avoid spread out development and to protect farm land.
Other cultural and economic factors may play a part, too. Lifestyle advertising - the celebration of cars and sububia - have been far more a part of the cultural mythology in the US. The total amount of suburban development in the United States is far greater than Europe. Gasoline prices are also much less which makes driving easier. Interestingly, aside from the United States, suburban style development and lifestyle is much more common in English speaking countries such as Austalia, South Africa and New Zealand.
Even cities and countries in Europe and Canada that do have freeway systems, often, those freeways do not penetrate the inner city. They are usually for connecting cities, not to facilitate automobile use within cities. Many cities in Europe restrict cars in the city center or charge a premium toll to drive close to town.
Urban and suburban freeways in the US have resulted in suburban commercial and office park development characterized by multi story business clusters close to free way interchanges. This dispersed land use is difficult for transit to address. In any larger city, Dallas, Denver, Houston and others, the urban periphery is dotted with office parks and “campus” style development near freeways and freeway interchanges.
Tyson's Corner in Washington DC is great example of office park by the freeway. Where I used to get a hair cut as a kid, in Dallas on the north edge of town, is now an office park with a 6 level interchange next to it. Transit does not work so well connecting these kinds of dispersed places. Transit is far better connecting the periphery to a central down town.
A striking contrast in urban form and transportation can be found comparing Atlanta, Georgia and Barcelona, Spain. The two cities have populations about the same, something over three million.
Transit ridership in Barcelona is seven times as high as Atlanta while its rail network counts 99 km compared to Atlanta's 74 km.
Sixty percent of Barcelona's population lives within a third of a mile from a metro station while for Atlanta, its four percent within a third of a mile. Barcelona's population density is 28 times that of Atlanta. For Atlanta to build a metro network to be accessible to 60% of its population, it would need to be expand its tracks by twenty eight times because for the same population, Atlanta takes up some 28 times more space. Not likely. As an added benefit to Barcelona's density, far more daily needs can be met simply by walking. People live much closer to where they need to go. Eight percent of all trips are on foot in Barcelona.
The United States, with its automobile centric urban design has built itself into a massive dispersed corner that will be almost impossible to transform away from automobiles. Research has identified residential densities of about twelve persons per acre as the critical point where transit [bus and rail] becomes viable. With a residential density of scarcely over 2 persons per acre, Atlanta, and most other cities in the US would be hard pressed to host successful transit systems.
Building transit to overcome automobile use is a challenge. Redesigning freeway dominated urban areas in the US to a transit friendly density would also be a challenge. There is no easy off ramp from what the Interstate Highway System and local freeways have done to the US.
Cities, towns and suburbia have different densities. A medium sized city will have a wide range of densities. Here in suburban River Road, most properties with a detached house will be about a quarter of an acre. With an average of three people per property, thats about twelve people per acre. Thats about 7,000 people per square mile. But, for an area of a square mile, we need to factor in all kinds of other land use that will reduce that number of people per square mile such as streets, commercial areas, parking, schools, water, open space. Eugene's overall density is only 3,600 residents per square mile.
Important to keep in mind, greater density means more of the needs of daily life are usually closer to where people live. Also, when designed well, greater density can mean more open space. Streets and parking lots take up an enormous amount of urban space. Imagine parking lots becoming nicely landscaped multi storey residential areas with gardens and open space. Consider these numbers to gain an idea about urban densities in different parts of the world.
The following figures from 2010 are for cities and towns as a whole and rounded off to the nearest hundred. Eugene, Oregon 3,600. Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2,900. Jacksonville, Florida, 1,100. St. Louis, Missouri, 5,200. Boise, Idaho, 2,600. Syracyse, New York, 5,800. Boston, 12,800. Lubbock, Texas, 1,900. Manhattan, 67,000. Paris, France, 22,500. Hong Kong, 94,000.
Automobiles have an enormous social, public health and environmental footprint as briefly described earlier relating to external costs. Many apologists for the car will claim people want cars. There is an almost a sacred quality to defending the car, like they are an entitlement or decree in the Bill of Rights. Its completely true that cars are hard to live without. Most of our cities are designed around cars. For many people transit might be inconvenient or not accessible at all.
The United States has built itself into a serious corner.