HIGHWAYS TO BOULEVARDS BLOG: Interview with Ian Lockwood

This post is a part of CNU’s new Highways to Boulevards Blog series, which features interview summaries and insights from some of the best minds at the frontline of our Highways to Boulevards Initiative.

In our third blog in this series, CNU had a wide-ranging conversation with Ian Lockwood about his work on the Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga, the impact of freeways on cities, how the freeways got there, and what the city ought to be like. Read our previous Highways to Boulevards post with on San Francisco’s Central Freeway here.

When the Riverfront Parkway in Chattanooga was converted into a boulevard, Lockwood was involved in reconnecting the street grid and helping provide pedestrian access to the riverfront. The end result? A more walkable city and a rejuvenated riverfront.

“[Chattanooga] lacked access to their key resource which was the water front. Once the street network was restored, the City was much more walkable, lots of stores opened up, investment flowed in, and people loved it. All the conventional traffic engineers’ predictions of the sky falling didn’t happen, and the city became much more vibrant.” 

According to Lockwood, the rise of the freeway caused a historical shift in American planning, wherein longer trips in and out of the city were prioritized over shorter, intra-city trips. This shift is linked to a shifting attitude of cities and their purpose.

Limited access riverfront highway Newly constructed boulevard

Traditionally, cities were places for people to come together for social and economic exchange, exchanges that benefited from proximity and access. Streets were the places for the activity of the city; they were where people lived, shopped, and interacted.

As freeways encroached into cities, the social elements of the city and many street functions were disregarded, in keeping with the modernists’ theories of simplification. Instead of multifaceted places of economic and social exchange, cities became viewed as central business districts and transportation conduits for suburbanites.  Long automobile trips and high design speeds were given priority in transportation, disadvantaging local trips, access, and traditional social and economic functions.  

The construction of freeways in the city export value from the city to places outside of the city, benefiting those living farther away and harming those closer in.

Lockwood explained the challenge of moving away from an automobile centric view:

“We need to replace those obsolete and damaging value sets with values that are pro-city…I hesitate to use the word balance because I don’t really think there is a balance in cities when motor vehicles are part of the equation. I think it’s more an issue of priorities. If walkability and cycling and transit are priorities they need high-level design and policy support. The automobile and the incomparable individual benefit of automobiles is so compelling on an individual level that we can’t allow rather twisted supply and demand-type forces to take place because you end up with the Houstons and Phoenixes of the world.  That is automobile congestion has been mistakenly interpreted as a “demand” for more automobile use and a supply of wider roads.

A more enlightened view would conclude that there is a demand for better choices and more options for transportation modes, housing choices, etc. We don’t live in a fair system; the highway, oil, highway-building, tract home developers, and big box interests tilt the playing field against cities. If cities really want to be great cities they need to really prioritize non-automobile ideas if they want to be increasingly competitive economically and socially while being environmentally responsible.“

Specifically on fixing the damage caused by freeways in cities, Lockwood emphasized that it’s also important to stop currently ill-conceived freeway projects (and not just focus on removal). When pursuing these projects, his advice is  “to keep your eyes on the prize” as these projects can take a long time.  He also asks leaders to keep in mind the basic purpose of the city, which is to foster social and economic exchange. From here flows the proper role of the transportation system in cities: to reward short trips and transit trips.

This inteview and summary were conducted by CNU intern Tim Huff, Master's candidate in the UIC MUPP Program.

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