CNU Names Top 10 "Freeways Without Futures": Revived Neighborhoods and Waterfronts Ahead

Seattle, Buffalo, Washington DC may be next to stimulate billions in urban reinvestment by tearing down unneeded elevated highways slicing through their hearts

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The Congress for the New Urbanism (www.cnu.org), a leading national organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl, today announced its list of the top-10 cities where the opportunity is greatest for removing highways to make way for convenient boulevards and revitalized neighborhoods. The “Freeways Without Futures” list recognizes places where highways-to-boulevards transformations can help revitalize cities and save taxpayers billions of dollars in highway construction costs.

Through its Highways to Boulevards Initiative with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, CNU has confirmed that successful highways-to-boulevards conversions reconnect neighborhoods, improve access to key resources such as waterfronts, and put underperforming land to use. Cities flourish when neighborhoods and streets are connected and when parks and shops – not highways – connect cities to their waterfronts.

San Francisco, Portland, New York City and Milwaukee have all seen how the removal of freeways allows the rebirth of great city neighborhoods – with improved surface streets, better parks, renewed attention to pedestrian and transit amenities, plus an infusion of new private investment bringing housing, shops, restaurants and exciting cultural offerings. Traffic has redistributed efficiently in all cases. Now CNU is identifying 10 cities that have the greatest opportunity to repeat this success.

CNU President and CEO John Norquist says that compared to the prospect of completely rebuilding aging freeways -– something that’s inevitable after 40 or 50 years -- highways-to-boulevards projects are real money savers. “There’s a whole generation of elevated highways in cities that are at the end of their design life. Instead of rebuilding them at enormous expense, cities have an opportunity to undo what proved to be major urban planning blunders,” said Norquist, Mayor of Milwaukee when it replaced the Park East Freeway with McKinley Boulevard in 2002. “The Federal Highway Fund just received a short-term bailout. The money that does exist can be invested much more efficiently in surface streets and transit. The development that results is walkable and close to jobs and city life. It helps residents keep a lot of money in their wallets that they’d otherwise spend driving.”

“Fifty years ago, when there was flight from cities, industrialized waterfronts seemed like a convenient place to run freeways,” Norquist said. “The result for the neighborhoods has been blight. Cities like San Francisco that have removed freeways and reclaimed waterfronts have turned them into magnets for people and investment.”

The CNU top 10 prospects for highway teardowns are:
1. Seattle, WA. – The Alaskan Way Viaduct
2. Bronx, NY – Sheridan Expressway
3. Buffalo, NY – The Skyway and Route 5
4. New Haven, CT – Route 34
5. New Orleans, LA – Claiborne Expressway
6. Syracuse, NY – Interstate 81
7. Louisville, KY – Interstate 64
8. Trenton, NJ– Route 29
9. Toronto, Ontario – Gardiner Expressway
10. Washington D.C. – 11th Street Bridges and the Southeast Freeway

Learn more about the prospects for removing freeways in these 10 cities.

The CNU received nominations from more than 40 cities. They were evaluated on criteria that included:
• Age of freeway. Most of the freeways on the ‘teardown list’ are at the end of their lifespans and will need to be rebuilt at great cost, if the highways are to be maintained. Reconstruction of these aging highways would cost significantly more than replacing the road with a boulevard. "Freeways" aren't free. In Seattle, tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and replacing with a boulevard could save $2 billion, according to engineering estimates.
• Cost versus short-term mobility improvement. Often the freeway rebuild option, while costing millions, or billions of dollars, more than a surface street alternative, will only lead to a few minutes off driving times or simply move the point of congestion a couple years out.
• Development potential, often including a waterfront location. Seven of the 10 selected highways are on a waterfront. All of the freeways have blighted surrounding neighborhoods and driven down property values. When the freeways are removed, the revival can start. Often a new boulevard acts as a key improvement that helps improve access to the area.
• Improved access. Limited-access freeways often disrupt the city street grid, reducing access to waterfront lands and overall mobility, including transit, traffic, bike, and pedestrian flow.
• Timeliness. Most of the nominees are under study now by state Departments of Transportation, often for new ramps or rebuilding. In a few cases, like Seattle, removal is also being studied seriously.
• Local support. The best candidates for teardowns have strong local supporters, including civic activists or key elected officials, who see the potential of the lands underneath the freeways to be transformed into community-wide assets.

Highways to Boulevards Initiative

Through a joint venture funded by the SURDNA Foundation, The CNU and the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) support freeway teardowns as an attractive option for cities struggling with aging highway infrastructure. In addition to providing technical and strategic support for freeways-to-boulevards efforts in candidate cities, CNU and CNT have developed case studies showing removal strategies proving themselves in adding value and restoring urban neighborhoods decimated by highway construction. To see case studies from cities that have replaced aging highways with boulevards such as San Francisco, Portland and Milwaukee, visit the Highways to Boulevards Initiative Page.

For more details on the specific cities, visit the Freeways Without Futures page.

About the Congress for the New Urbanism
The Congress for the New Urbanism is a leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring our communities. Members are the life of the organization – they are the planners, developers, architects, engineers, public officials, investors, and community activists who create and influence our built environment, transforming growth patterns from the inside out. Whether it's bringing restorative plans to hurricane-battered communities in the Gulf Coast, turning dying malls into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, or reconnecting isolated public housing projects to the surrounding fabric, new urbanists are providing leadership in community building and creating tools that make it easier to put New Urbanism into practice around the world.