Highways for Habitats #11: I-670 Cap, Columbus

I-670 capTransportation planning is tough.  Roads have to serve a number of (sometimes competing) purposes.  Roads whose primary purpose is moving people and goods quickly through a community often have a detrimental effect on the communities they bisect (see: the history of freeways in Detroit).  Take state trunk lines for example, which you can recognize because they’re usually twice as wide to cross as the other roads in a neighborhood, and, of course, highways and interstates.  We’re currently running a series of posts featuring creative solutions from around the globe to make these roads – roads that must run through communities – also work to serve those communities.  Check out more about our inspiration here.

Built in the 1970s, I-670 divides neighborhoods as it runs through downtown Columbus, Ohio.  The Short North arts and entertainment district is accessible to downtown by car via High Street, but for pedestrians and bicyclists, reaching the district used to mean crossing over the 8-lane freeway on a windy, desolate overpass enclosed by a chain link fence.  Fortunately, a “cap,” completed in 2004, has brought new meaning to the words “freeway overpass.”  The transformation today is unrecognizable – many people on the cap don’t even know they’re above a freeway.

The I-670 cap essentially widened the High Street Bridge across I-670, which is below grade at that location.  The cap is wide enough to support 25,000 square feet of retail infrastructure, and the businesses and restaurants on top have reconnected downtown and Short North.  While this is not the first time a freeway has had usable space built on top – it is one of the first that consists of retail opportunities.  This brings in increased tax revenue for the city, and the continuous flow of movement between retail strips keeps people moving among the neighborhoods.  Pedestrians can now travel from Goodale Park to the Public Market and on to the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion for a show with safety and ease.

The project has since been studied for its innovation in planning by other major cities like Chicago.  The conversion of once underused space – simply a thoroughfare – into part of an uninterrupted retail and entertainment corridor demonstrates urban streetscape design at its best.


Photo from BeyondDC on flickr.com