Saturday, March 31, 2012

Life and Death of Urban Highways: New Report from Embarq

If the twentieth century was known for building highways, the twenty-first century may be known for tearing them down. A new report jointly produced by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and EMBARQ, The Life and Death of Urban Highways, re-appraises the specific conditions under which it makes sense to build urban highway and when it makes sense to tear them down.


After decades of building and maintaining urban highways, many cities are choosing to tear them down rather than repair or maintain them. Five such cities are showcased in this report: Portland, Oregon; San Francisco, California; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Seoul, South Korea; and Bogotá, Colombia. These cities demonstrate the social, economic, and environmental benefits that accrued when urban highways were removed and reconsidered.

As Peter Park, former planning director of Milwaukee during the Park East Freeway removal, writes in the foreword, “While the following report is about urban highways, more importantly, it is about cities and people. It is about community vision and the leadership required in the twenty-first century to overcome the demolition, dislocation, and disconnection of neighborhoods caused by freeways in cities.”

In the past fifty years, tens of thousands of miles of urban highways were built around the world. Many are now approaching the end of their life cycle. This is leading many cities, not just in the United States, to question the place of major highways in urban areas and whether they merit further investment or removal. Today, some of the same urban highways that were built in that period are being torn down, buried at great expense, or changed into boulevards. As cities around the world grapple with congestion, growth, and decline, the case studies highlighted in this groundbreaking report illuminate what can be done when a highway no longer makes sense.


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EMBARQ’s mission is to catalyze and help implement environmentally and financially sustainable transport solutions to improve quality of life in cities. Since 2002, the network has grown to include five Centers for Sustainable Transport, located in Mexico, Brazil, India, Turkey and the Andean Region, that work together with local transport authorities to reduce pollution, improve public health, and create safe, accessible and attractive urban public spaces. The network employs more than 100 experts in fields ranging from architecture to air quality management; geography to journalism; and sociology to civil and transport engineering.

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Thanks to EMBARQ for pulling together these stories within a single set of covers. This will make valuable resource for sustainable development and sustainable transport courses and training programs world-wide. And the fact that it is available freely is one more reason for us to congratulate them.

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