Alaskan out of the way

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Some time ago, David Sucher, author of the great urban design book City Comforts, rechristened his blog as "City Comforts, temporarily known as Viaduct, The Blog." His focus has narrowed from a wide variety of urban design issues to (mainly) a single crucial issue affecting his hometown of Seattle: Whether to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an earthquake-damaged double-decker freeway between downtown and Puget Sound, with a stronger viaduct, a tunnel, or something else. Sucher's blog has been so focused on the details of the issue, it's been hard to get the big picture, but USA Today provides a summary in today's edition.

Sucher's solution is "repair and prepare": "Repair the Alaskan Way Viaduct so that we can prepare to tear it down in an orderly fashion." Don't build a new viaduct, don't build a tunnel, but strengthen the current structure. Meanwhile begin to create the transit infrastructure that can replace the people-moving capacity that will be lost when the viaduct is eventually removed.

Seattle certainly doesn't need to endure what Boston suffered with the Big Dig, the 15-year, $15 billion project to convert a similar elevated expressway, separating downtown from the waterfront, to a tunnel. But many cities have simply removed waterfront freeways. Portland removed Harbor Drive in 1974. When the 1989 earthquake weakened the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, it was closed and remained closed until it was demolished, turning real estate in the shadows of an elevated expressway into sunny waterfront property. (Casper Weinberger, later U. S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and Secretary of Defense, opposed the building of the Embarcadero Freeway as a member of the California Assembly and was gratified to see it torn down at long last.)

In the '70s, Milwaukee stopped the construction of a lakefront expressway, and just a few years ago the city demolished an expressway spur that cut off downtown from the Milwaukee River and the north side.

And other cities are reconsidering waterfront highways. A citizens' group in Louisville is arguing against the widening of "Spaghetti Junction" -- where three interstate highways come together between downtown Louisville and the Ohio River -- and instead calling for the removal of a segment of I-64 between downtown and the river, realigning the route along an existing loop road.

Thanks to the work of citizen activists in the '70s and in the '90s, Tulsa has avoided having either a limited-access freeway or a high-speed six-lane parkway cutting off access between the river and the rest of the city. We don't have to remove what we never built.

We made our own mistakes, however, in the construction of the Inner Dispersal Loop, which cut downtown off from its surrounding neighborhoods, blighting land on both sides of each leg of the road. The construction of I-244 and the last section of the Broken Arrow Expressway from 15th Street into downtown also split and damaged neighborhoods.

An element of Nashville's 50 year vision is to eliminate its own inner expressway loop, making hundreds of acres of land available for new development. Perhaps Tulsa should envision a similar long-range plan to reconnect neighborhoods, downtown, and the river.

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manasclerk Author Profile Page said:

In Chicago, our outer drive along Lake Michigan (Lake Shore Drive) has been part of the plan since Burnham. It's not perfect but it does work. It has slower speeds and more turns than an interstate, and the city seems committed to not increasing its size. LSD even has stoplights which makes it less attractive as a freeway.

Of course, we also have the "lakeshore, ever free and clear" thing from Montgomery Ward (God rest his soul). I'm pretty sure that he never liked LSD, thinking that it obstructed access. I'd bet that it initially worked to get people to and from the Expositions and resort areas on what is now the south and north lakeshore. As long as you are in Chicago, the lakeshore belongs to no one, and only the museum / convention complex violates it in any meaningful way.

Another nice advantage is that it does not give good access through the city: once you get to Evanston, you're back on city streets. Fairly quick ones as Chicago streets go, but streets nonetheless.

On the whole, LSD works for Chicago, but I think that the lay of the land and water out here make it hard to avoid. Of course, we also have real mass transit, which works because yuppies take it.

I'd bet that what Chicago would love to remove is the Eisenhower-Kennedy-Ryan-Stevenson nightmare at the Loop now that the land to the west has become expensive.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 9, 2007 11:09 PM.

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