Architecture

Detroit Kills off Freeways in Favour of Walkable Streets

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The midwest’s Motor City is the latest metropolitan area in the United States to consider ditching freeways for walkable streets.

The City of Detroit and the Michigan Department of Transportation are consulting with local stakeholders, including development agencies and local employers, to study transforming I-375 into a pedestrian-friendly parkway.

The transformation would make for easier connections between more central residential areas, with the potential for a combination of retail, parkland or mixed-use development. It would come at the cost, however, of high-speed connections from the suburbs to downtown.

Built in 1964 at a cost of $50 million (about $375 million today), the 50-year-old freeway and the bridges that cross it are likely to need upgrades or repairs in the near future.

Supporters of walkable cities say removing these roads is a major plus for urban communities.

Ian Lockwood, a Florida-based urban planner who has worked in Detroit, argues that I-375 and I-75 helped destroy the thriving Black Bottom neighborhood.

“It’s no surprise that the suburbs around Detroit grew tremendously over the last several decades while the city declined. The highways are the conduit of that. They export value and people to the suburbs. That’s what they do, and they create automobile dependence,” Lockwood told the Detroit Free Press.

More and more major cities in America are proving that the removal of freeways can be highly beneficial.

Milwaukee, San Francisco and Portland have all ripped out parts of their freeway systems, replacing them with parks or surface roads, while Cleveland and other cities are intent on pursuing similar plans.

New urban neighbourhoods have been built, a Fortune 500 company has relocated, and municipal tax rolls have risen ever since the Park East Freeway in Milwaukee was removed. These outcomes were made possible by opening up 26 acres to prime redevelopment and removing a visual and environmental blight.

San Francisco has already removed two freeways, albeit in response to earthquake damage, and John Norquist, the former Milwaukee mayor and now president of the Congress for New Urbanism, wonders why the city doesn’t go all the way and become fully freeway-free.

He claims that freeways have only degraded the value of cities and that cities that have removed or avoided building the structures have generally thrived as a result.

“Traffic engineers are learning that urban street grids can distribute urban traffic more efficiently than do superhighways,” he said.

The current mayor of San Francisco, Ed Lee, agrees and is pushing for the removal of the northern spur of highway 280, replacing the elevated structure with a boulevard which will also provide the potential for housing.

He says the move will bring significant benefits to the economy, as well as the engineering and construction professions with the possibility for high-speed rail now a viable option and further opportunities for other property development schemes on the unlocked land.

Detroit will choose a consultant next month to oversee the process of coming up with a proposal by mid-next year. No doubt opponents of the East-West link in Melbourne will watch on with keen interest.

Swanstson Street Melbourne

Swanstson Street, Melbourne

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