Tuesday, March 1, 2016

In Cleveland, no opposition emerged. And it tore the city apart.

What are we talking about? The disastrous number of superhighways that have carved up Cleveland, Ohio. Fresh Water Cleveland, the innovation, development, and growth blog, has brought to its readers attention a series of analyses of Tim Kovach, a local researcher. His comparison of 1951 aerial reconnaissance maps, compared with Google Earth maps today, show just how bad the effect of these roads has been on Cleveland.

And in comparison, I offer up the District of Columbia.

In 1946, the federal government proposed slicing the District of Columbia up with two "inner loop" beltways, as well as three new radial interstates. The idea was that suburban consumers needed to have quick, easy ways to get downtown to shop. The "Inner Inner Loop" would have been an ellipse, centered on the National Mall -- an uncovered trench running along K Street NW/NE, around the Kennedy Center, along Independence Avenue SE/SE, and behind Capitol Hill.

Local residents, outraged at what this would do to their neighborhoods, rose up with new organizations, lawsuits, and protests. Rep. William Natcher, beholden to highway construction companies, ripped out the D.C. streetcar system and then withheld funds for a bus and subway system. The standoff lasted until 1971. It ended with a defeat for Natcher, and construction of the Metro subway system.

Portions of the "inner loop" were constructed, however. To this day, the elevated Southeast-Southwest Freeway runs like a scar across the southern tier of the city, cutting off big portions of the Southwest and Navy Yard neighborhoods, and limiting the growth of the National Mall, Smithsonian, and federal buildings. The elevated Whitehurst Freeway cuts off Georgetown from its waterfront, and has made impossible the replacement of the elevated 100-year-old Key Bridge. The I-395 tunnel goes nowhere, dead-ending at Massachusetts Avenue NW -- but cutting a massive trench across the eastern end of the Mall. The Anacostia Freeway cuts all of Anacostia (a third of the city) off from the waterfront. The Barney Circle Freeway put eight lanes of traffic onto a two-lane city street, causing five-mile traffic jams every afternoon.

Only slowly has D.C. recovered. The city spent $500 million in 2005 to replace the 11th Street Bridges and build a new interchange to take care of the Southeast-Southwest traffic problem. (This merely dumped the traffic onto the Anacostia Freeway.) Another $100 million was spent tearing out the Barney Circle Freeway and reconnecting city streets. Although almost every mayor, city council, and highway expert says the Whitehurst Freeway must come down, it can't because it is the only way to connect Key Bridge to the ground and streets below. And now a major push is underway to remove the Southeast-Southwest Freeway and turn it back into an urban street. In the meantime, the city and federal government will spend $1 billion replacing South Capitol Street and the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge to overcome the problems created by the Southeast-Southwest Freeway.

Sadly, Cleveland is going to be struggling with the problem of its highways for decades to come.

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