Transportation 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.

As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone.  In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.

One such debate recently ended.  The Inner Loop is a freeway constructed between 1950 and 1965 as a continuous loop that surrounds downtown Rochester, New York’s Central Business District.  Since its completion traffic on the Inner Loop overall has declined.  After over two decades of debate, the fate of Inner Loop East has been decided.  With the award of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant from the Federal Government in August, the Inner Loop East Reconstruction Project now has the construction funds it needs to move forward.  This is the third time the City of Rochester has applied for the grant, and the $17.7 million is secured at last.

The Inner Loop East, which is two-thirds of a mile of the Inner Loop from Monroe Avenue to Charlotte Street, will be filled in to create a “complete” boulevard.  The city’s goals are to foster sustainable economic growth in the area, and create a more livable downtown.  The plan will strengthen walkability and bikeability infrastructure, to encourage healthier, more active lifestyles.  Plans call for two-way cycle tracks in locations, and include roundabouts at some intersections – something many believe to be a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional traffic light intersections.

The city says support for the project has grown substantially over time.  Proponents say it will reconnect the city grid, bring the business district out of isolations, and strengthen the urban fabric by reconnecting once divided neighborhoods.  They believe it will improve traffic congestion, mobility and local access throughout the area.  It will bridge the gap between the city and one of its major attractions, the Strong Museum of Play, which lies just on the other side of the divide.  Advocates trust that the approximate nine acres of land that will be freed up will benefit the city economically, spurring mixed-use development and drawing residents to the more urban way of life and more livable downtown.

Additionally, Reconnect Rochester, a transportation advocacy group and major proponent, says the project will essentially pay for itself.  Lifecycle costs to maintain a state of good repair of the existing 1960s-era infrastructure are estimated between $19.1 and $26 million – approximately the same cost as the project itself.  Reconnect Rochester also sees real potential in the development of the reclaimed land to provide true connectivity for the city.

While we at Let’s Save Michigan are excited to see how this turns out, there are some Rochesterians out there who are not.  Inner Loop East opponents believe it is an expensive project the city doesn’t need and can’t afford, and that the money should be spent in wiser ways.  Some also believe that the economic development potential has been exaggerated.  Concerns have also surfaced that the project is a recipe for blight in a city with too many vacancies already.

The cost of the project is estimated to be $23.6 million, with the city responsible for $5.9 million. Work is expected to begin in the fall of 2014 and take two to three years to complete. As this project moves ahead, we hope it stays on the right track towards more sustainable and livable communities for all of Rochester.

 

Photo from the City of Rochester Preliminary Design Alignment document.

Under the I-40

Under the I-40

Transportation 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.

As our inspiration post notes, Michigan is currently in the midst of a major highway debate, and we are not alone.  In other towns and cities across the country and world, similar conversations are taking place about the future of our road systems and our neighborhoods.

The debate surrounding the I-40 Crosstown Expressway in Oklahoma City has been playing out for years.  In 1998, Oklahoma City announced intentions to tear down the I-40 Crosstown Expressway.  The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) devised plans for the expressway’s demolition and replacement with a boulevard, and in 2012 – with demolition underway – the future plans were revealed for the first time to the city.  ODOT had devised a partially elevated six-lane road – what many see as essentially replacing the elevated highway with the same: another (partially) elevated highway.  Since the plan’s release, many residents and the city council have come together to prevent the plan from moving forward as designed.

I-40 runs between Oklahoma’s downtown and the Oklahoma River, through what is now the Core to Shore neighborhood.  In 2006 the city began a planning process to revitalize the area, which had been economically depressed for decades; some point to the previous blighted status as due to the construction of I-40 decades before.  Opponents of the partially elevated boulevard say the structure preserves the visual and physical disconnects of area.  Businesses that have moved into the area have also voiced opposition, feeling that their livelihood could benefit greatly if the highway becomes an attractive boulevard.

The issue led to a group of people forming Friends of a Better Boulevard (FBB) to proactively stand against the elevated road.  FBB proposes an at-grade boulevard and the reinstatement of the original street grid.  They believe an at-grade boulevard benefits alternative transit options, creating easier pedestrian and bicycle accessibility.  They have enlisted the help of professionals – urban planners and road engineers – and composed alternate proposal materials.  While FBB acknowledges that highway engineers’ main focus is moving people quickly and efficiently through a space, they advocate for a road that serves both automobiles and the surrounding communities.  As an ally to the city, they have made some progress.

First, they challenged the environmental analysis done by ODOT, which included all 3 components of plan – the I-40 teardown, partially elevated boulevard, and replacement highway nearby – and ODOT was required to do another study of only the proposed elevated boulevard option.  The aim is that the second study would be more comprehensive.

Then, in June 2013, due to efforts of FBB, the Federal Highway Administration ordered ODOT to add the street grid reconstruction alternative to the mix of solutions being considered to be analyzed.

Most recently, Oklahoma City told ODOT to go back to the drawing board.  The city and ODOT have agreed to hire a private consultant to draw up alternatives that will make the road more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

Naturally, not everyone opposes the raised option. Supporters of the raised option believe that the at-grade boulevard option would create an excess of intersections and stoplights, causing delays.  In response, Friends of a Better Boulevard proposed roundabouts, which can keep traffic moving faster.  (You can read more about the benefits of roundabouts in one of our earlier posts about the roundabout capital of the U.S. )

One criticism of ODOT’s process is that their planning process was devoid of any public input.  Some believe that if they had engaged the affected communities, thereby understanding their hopes for the area, they would have avoided this issue completely.

 

Photo from Andy Callahan at ferret111 on flickr.com

Photo of the depressed I-70 between downtown and the Gateway Arch.

Photo of the depressed I-70 between downtown and the Gateway Arch.

Transportation 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.

St. Louis has received notoriety for its urban renewal projects over the past few decades.  One such project – the Park Over the Highway – broke ground just last week.  On Friday August 2nd, the park construction over Interstate 70 began, on schedule, in an effort to overcome half a century of poor planning in the downtown area.

St. Louis reached its peak population in 1950, and suburbanization over the following forty years decreased the population by more than 50%.  Coupled with construction of I-70 along the riverfront, the downtown became a fragmented and disconnected urban core.  For years, city officials, planners, and residents have been debating the future of I-70 in the midst of plans to invigorate the area through reconnecting the downtown to the riverfront and the Gateway Arch.  Today, approaching the river and Arch – the tallest man-made landmark in the country, a global icon and symbol for St. Louis – from downtown requires crossing over multiple lanes of noisy freeway.

The Park Over the Highway Project, which should be completed in 2015, consists of a bridge over I-70 and a beautifully landscaped public park with walkways on top.  The park will connect the Arch and the Mississippi to the city center and substantially improve the connective fabric of the city center, which is dotted with cultural institutions, attractions and landmarks like the Old Courthouse grounds.  The project is intended to improve pedestrian traffic flow between the downtown and the riverfront.

While the project has received widespread support for its beautification and connectivity enhancements, there are some who believe the park is not the right solution.  These people want I-70 removed completely, and this fight has been growing for years.  Though direct access to the arch and river is an end goal, removal advocates believe that simply capping the Interstate does not address the underlying issue: the needs of urban highway infrastructure have changed and the highway no longer belongs.

Instead, advocates believe a boulevard option would serve alternative transportation options more fully.  Boulevard proponents say that a boulevard would give drivers more options, dispersing and easing traffic, thereby creating new links and access points between destinations.  They also think a boulevard would fit better into the framework of the area, opening up views, and drawing investment and new development for the waterfront area.  Versus a highway cap – which only affects three blocks – a twenty block boulevard would enhance and connect a much larger area, and could potentially become a destination it itself.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) is aware of the efforts to remove the highway but believes it is the wrong choice for today.  They say the boulevard option would not solve the purpose of ease of pedestrian flow to the river, as crossing a “four to six lane boulevard would restrict pedestrian and bike access, not make it better.”  MoDOT also notes traffic patterns as problematic: that 60,000 cars per day would still need a road to travel on, and trucks on the boulevard would not be ideal for pedestrian crossing.  MoDOT does understand that times change, however, and states that building the park does not mean the highway cannot be removed sometime in the future.

 

Photo from tracktwentynine on flickr.com

 

JanesWalkImage“[Cities] differ from towns and suburbs in basic ways, and one of these is that cities are, by definition, full of strangers.” -Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Do you ever wonder what you and your neighbor have in common besides the city you live in?  Did you choose to live there for the same resources? Have the same concerns about your community?  Jane’s Walk can help!

Jane’s Walk is an international event that gathers neighbors together to walk, talk, and generate ideas to get local residents involved in the future of their cities.  They are free and open, each walk uniquely created by community members.  Through exploring your neighborhood on foot with others you enhance your understanding of it, your relationship with it, and your ability to improve upon it.

Because Let’s Save Michigan is interested in forging healthy, sustainable urban environments, we have worked to support bringing more Jane’s Walk to Michigan this May 4th and 5th.   We’ve gathered the Michigan walks here so you can find the one nearest you:

1. “The Roots of Mack Avenue” Lower Eastside Detroit

Walk along Mack Ave while learning about the Mack Ave commercial corridor, its past life as a lively street, its current nearly abandoned status and the plans for its rejuvenated future as a productive street.  Details here.

Date & Time: Saturday May 4, 9-11AM

2. “Hubbard Farms” Southwest Detroit

Beginning at Cafe Con Leche, tourists will traverse the Hubbard Farms old neighborhood, understanding its history since 1937.  Details here.

Date & Time: Saturday May 4, Noon-1:30PM

3. “St. Henry’s Neighborhood” Lincoln Park

Starting at the Lincoln Park Historical Museum, the Lincoln Park Preservation Alliance will examine the history, distinctive historic housing styles and the commercial downtown of St. Henry’s.  Details here.

Date & Time: Saturday May 4, Noon-?

4. “Muskegon Jane’s Walk” Downtown Muskegon

The tour will focus on the downtown of the city and the possibilities for its future,  beginning with The Kindness of Strangers Art Show to benefit Kid’s Food Basket.  Details here.

Date & Time: Saturday May 4, 1-3PM

5.  “Walk the Cass Corridor” Midtown Detroit

The tour, appropriately beginning and ending at the Cass Corridor Museum, will share the rich history of Detroit from the late 19th Century to the present.   Join the group for a guided lecture, or opt to use the self-guided tour materials to lead yourself.  Details here.

Date & Time: Sunday May 5, Noon-2PM

6. “Uptown Detroit”

Explore the world of 8 Mile, beginning at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge at 8 Mile and Livernois, meet a resident for local perspective, and finish with music, snacks and conversation.  Details here.

Date & Time: Sunday May 5, 2-4PM

There is still time to be a Jane’s Walk leader!  Check out our recent conversation with Jane’s Walk Director Denise Pinto for helpful tips on how to be a great Jane’s Walk guide, then register your walk at Jane’s Walk Lead A Walk.

Let’s Save Michigan is hosting a conference call on Monday, April 29, at noon for leaders to discuss details and exchange ideas.  Please email us: sarah[at]letssavemichigan.com to RSVP and receive call-in details.

For information on how to participate visit Jane’s Walk, or email us!

Looking forward to seeing you May 4th and 5th!

 

Photo from BriYYZ via flickr.com