The era of urban expressways isn't over yet

Gardiner East
CC BY 2.0 Ashton Paul/ Gardiner expressway at Keating channel

From Seoul to San Francisco, elevated highways have been torn down and the cities are better for it. Kaid Benfield writes in Huffington Post about how urban expressways and elevated highways were a really bad idea when they were built and a worse idea now:

I am coming to the conclusion that, within large cities, freeways -- which have never really been free, by the way -- have proven to be a perhaps well-intended but often decidedly bad idea. They don't convey traffic consistently well and, worse, have generally been terrible for the neighborhoods around them.

Kaid looks at how removing the Embarcadero expressway in San Francisco "increased property values, attracted investment, and restored scenic views previously blocked by freeway infrastructure, all without harmful effects on traffic."

Really, after all these examples of how people adapted to having highways removed by changing modes of transport, moving downtown or finding other routes, one would almost think that it would be accepted planning wisdom. As planners Ken Greenberg and Paul Bedford noted in the Globe and Mail,

From a transportation standpoint, building a new 1960s-style elevated expressway is a losing proposition. It has been long observed that when new roads are built to meet traffic demand, the very existence of the road attracts more traffic and the road quickly becomes congested. Conversely, when existing road access is removed and alternatives are provided many drivers transfer to other modes of travel or change to off-peak hours. This happens permanently as drivers don’t revert. Traffic actually does evaporate to adjust to the new reality.

from cityCity of Toronto/via

But in many cities, the same old reality rules. In Seattle, they are trying to build a $2 billion and counting tunnel under the city; In Toronto, they are probably going to spend close to half a billion dollars to maintain an elevated highway that eats up prime waterfront real estate and serves just 3.2% of the commuters coming into the city, who will have a commute time that is 3 to 5 minutes longer. More people bicycle and walk to work.

One can't entirely blame the elevated highway for cutting Toronto off from its waterfront; the railways did it first in 1918 and the city never recovered from that mistake. But now that the rail yards are gone there has been massive real estate development, huge investments in building a better waterfront, really an entire new city has been built south of the tracks. There is no excuse for spending half a billion dollars to fix a falling-down elevated highway on what could be some of the most valuable land in the city, just to save 5200 car commuters three minutes of time.

There were many who believed that the war on the car mentality of Rob Ford would give way to resonableness, logic and sensibility with new mayor John Tory. We were wrong.

The era of urban expressways isn't over yet
The lessons of Seoul and San Francisco have not been learned in Toronto.

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