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Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways

Joseph F. C. DiMento
Cliff Ellis
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Changing Lanes
    Book Description:

    Urban freeways often cut through the heart of a city, destroying neighborhoods, displacing residents, and reconfiguring street maps. These massive infrastructure projects, costing billions of dollars in transportation funds, have been shaped for the last half century by the ideas of highway engineers, urban planners, landscape architects, and architects -- with highway engineers playing the leading role. In Changing Lanes, Joseph DiMento and Cliff Ellis describe the evolution of the urban freeway in the United States, from its rural parkway precursors through the construction of the interstate highway system to emerging alternatives for more sustainable urban transportation. DiMento and Ellis examine the competing visions of the different professions involved in planning these highways and their varying approaches to improving city life. They describe controversies that arose over urban freeway construction, focusing on three cases: Syracuse, which early on embraced freeways through its center; Los Angeles, which rejected some routes and then built I-105, the most expensive urban road of its time; and Memphis, which blocked the construction of I-40 through its core. Finally, they consider the emerging urban highway removal movement and other innovative efforts by cities to re-envison urban transportation.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31238-7
    Subjects: Transportation Studies, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    Few decisions have affected American cities as much as those involving urban freeways. These massive infrastructure projects have reconfigured urban form, relocated tens of thousands of people, cost billions of dollars of transportation funds, and supplanted neighborhoods. This is a story of those freeways. We recount the original love affair with the newly invented mode of vehicle movement—the freeway, including freeways through cities. That love affair was influenced by actors ranging from the visionary to the very pragmatic. The professionals involved included highway engineers, urban planners, landscape architects, and architects, with the highway engineers taking the lead role. Both...

  6. 1 Urban Freeways and America’s Changing Cities
    (pp. 1-22)

    Decisions to develop a system of interstate highways and to make central cities potential sites for them followed inexorably after the assessment that automobiles could move quickly with cross traffic separated and with limited access and high-speed limits; that those roads could link markets, perhaps almost as swiftly as railroads; and that those roads could open up land being used for agriculture or wetlands or parks or recreation.

    In the 1920s, New York City conceived a system of controlled-access urban parkways featuring separation of cross traffic, the divided highway, and limitation of access to specific locations. In just a decade,...

  7. 2 The 1930s: Forays into the Urban Realm
    (pp. 23-44)

    With the onset of the Depression in 1929 and its deepening during the following years, American cities experienced severe fiscal stress and retrenchment. Funds for highway improvements dwindled. The ambitious urban plans of the 1920s now seemed completely unrealistic, as cities tried to cope with more pressing issues of unemployment and the maintenance of basic services. Ultimately, however, in conjunction with the pump-priming initiatives of the New Deal, the 1930s would offer the first opportunities for significant urban freeway construction. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s programs of federally funded public works enabled Robert Moses, the country’s premier public entrepreneur, to take...

  8. 3 Urban Freeways and National Policy, 1939–1945
    (pp. 45-72)

    Between 1939 and 1945, the nation moved from Depression to war. As production shifted to war goods, non-defense highway construction was curtailed, but the lull was used to forge the freeway plans that would shape the postwar urban world. Diverse strands of urban freeway thought were woven together into coherent doctrine in two key federal documents:Toll Roads and Free Roads(1939) andInterregional Highways(1944).¹ Here, the radial-concentric pattern—penetrating the urban core—was endorsed by prestigious highway engineers and city planners. Inner beltways were envisioned around renewed central business districts. New urban freeways would be used to clear...

  9. 4 Postwar Urban Freeways: Scaling Up for a City on Wheels, 1946–1956
    (pp. 73-102)

    Between 1946 and 1956, the freeway planning concepts worked out during the late 1930s and the war years were elaborated, expanded, and applied to particular cities. As state highway engineers, aided by the Bureau of Public Roads, assumed control of freeway planning and construction in urban areas, design for traffic service and high-speed safety overshadowed earlier proposals to weave expressways into the fabric of the existing city and combine the new highways with mass transit. Parkway ideals receded as engineers sized new urban freeways for growing volumes of motor vehicles.¹ City planners expressed some misgivings about wholesale commitment to large...

  10. 5 Changing Visions and Regulations for Highway Planning
    (pp. 103-142)

    In a 1970 essay reviewing the Eisenhower presidency and its accomplishments, Daniel Moynihan decisively and dramatically declared:

    [T]here was one program of truly transcendent, continental consequence. This was a program which the twenty-first century will almost certainly judge to have had more influence on the shape and development of American cities, the distribution of population within metropolitan area and across the nation as a whole, the location of industry and various kinds of employment opportunities (and, through all these, immense influence on race relations and the welfare of black Americans) than any initiative of the middle third of the twentieth...

  11. 6 Urban Freeway Tales: Three Cities among Dozens
    (pp. 143-208)

    As we have seen, perhaps no set of decisions has had more of an effect on America’s cities than the development of a system of interstate highways using central cities as potential sites for portions of their placement. Massive highway infrastructure projects have reconfigured urban form, moved hundreds of thousands of people, cost billions of dollars of public funds, and supplanted many neighborhoods.

    From the earliest days of federal planning, routes through urban areas were contemplated—“to provide direct connection into and through all of [the] cities” of the system.¹ Yet as we have described, they were not sufficiently funded...

  12. 7 Conclusion and Epilogue: Urban Highways and the American City
    (pp. 209-230)

    In the middle of the twentieth century, the construction of a new generation of high-capacity roads for American cities should have been viewed as a sophisticated synthesis of transportation planning, land-use planning, urban design, and environmental planning, guided by a strong and well-developed understanding of how cities work. If cities are a problem of “organized complexity,” as Jane Jacobs argued, then their evolution must be guided by a “pattern language” commensurate with that complexity.¹ Also, planning for roads and public transit should have been completely integrated into a single process of city design. Unfortunately, this did not happen in the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-282)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-346)
  15. Index
    (pp. 347-362)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-365)