Friday, August 28, 2015

The Case FOR Below Ground Level Urban Freeways

by Sandy Smith, for a cut and cover Roosevelt Boulevard Expressway

A Case For An Urban Expressway

October 19, 2012 |  by  |  Soapbox  |  , , , , , ,

Seoul before and after the removal of a central highway and the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon River | Image: Seoul Metropolitan Government
[DW note- this was a wasted opportunity: 
it should have included a box tunnel freeway tunnel beneath]

The movement to eliminate urban freeways has been gathering steam and a number of high-profile supporters, and understandably so. It’s been demonstrated on numerous occasions that freeways and cities don’t play well together, or at least not as well as either freeway advocates or the municipal officials who welcomed their arrival in the 1950s anticipated. Next American City has showcased several examples where removing urban freeways has stimulated the revitalization of urban areas in places like San Francisco and Portland, and earlier this year it sponsored a forum, “Reimagining Urban Highways,” at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in which a host of urban officials discussed the positive forces unleashed when urban freeways were removed.

There’s a powerful case to be made for this argument. Urban freeways disfigure large swaths of land, and high-speed car access to urban centers undercuts the ability of mass transit–a more density-friendly form of transportation–to serve them effectively. Society Hill residents fought furiously to have Interstate 95 buried through Center City in the 1960s, correctly seeing the proposed elevated highway as cutting the city off from its waterfront. More recently, Diana Lind, the editor of Next American City, spearheaded a dialogue about the complete removal of I-95 through forums like the one in February.

But just as enthusiasm for urban freeways was overdone, so may be enthusiasm for their removal. Unless we eliminate cars entirely–an unlikely proposition–there will need to be provisions to handle them, sometimes in large numbers, in our cities.

While I agree with Jane Jacobs that we should pursue “the attrition of cars by cities,” “attrition” falls well short of elimination. And furthermore, there are places where adding rather than removing a freeway makes an urban environment more pedestrian-friendly. To understand why, let’s go back to the future and up to the part of town I now call home.

Vine Street, looking east from 15th Street, 1951. From the Philadelphia City Archives via

The photo above shows Vine Street after it was widened to 10 lanes east of 15th Street in 1951. While the road is relatively free of traffic in this picture, it would not remain so for long: by the 1970s, it hummed with traffic most of the day, and crossing it on foot was at best an unpleasant experience.
Fast-forward to today, after Vine Street’s center lanes were buried in a trench that extended the Vine Street Expressway across Center City. Those buried lanes took most of the traffic with them, and now, pedestrians can cross Vine Street with relative ease and safety at all but the worst congested periods.

As with Vine Street, so with Roosevelt Boulevard, the central artery of Northeast Philadelphia. A 1950s reconstruction project reconfigured that street as well, turning it into a 12-lane, double-divided boulevard much like Vine Street downtown. The improvements also turned it into a near-expressway, and drivers have treated it as such ever since, to the detriment of anyone who tries to cross it.
The recent installation of pedestrian crosswalk signals at several points along the street indicates that the city understands the hazards of crossing the Boulevard. But the real path to eliminating the hazard lies in doing to the Boulevard what the state did with Vine Street in the 1990s.

Roosevelt Boulevard at Oxford Circle: Six fewer lanes for pedestrians to cross means improved pedestrian safety and friendliness. Photo: Sandy Smith.

Pedestrians can cross Oxford Circle without fear, for instance, because the inner lanes dip beneath it. Putting those lanes in a trench that runs the length of the street would not only make the existing pedestrian crossings safer, it would open up the possibility of even more places to cross, especially if the submerged inner lanes are covered with a cap. That cap, in turn, could either be landscaped, restoring the Boulevard to something like its original appearance, or–thanks again to the street’s width–it could support mid-rise, mixed-use development that could truly transform the Boulevard into a real Main Street for Northeast Philadelphia.

And as a bonus, that trench could also accommodate the one mass transit project just about everyone agrees needs to be built, a subway for the Northeast. Forget light rail: there is enough demand for transit in the Northeast to justify true rapid transit instead of a half-measure, and a recent cell phone poll conducted by the Philadelphia City Planning Commission demonstrated that if we built it, people would ride.

A Northeast Philadelphia extension of the Broad Street Line remains a key component of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s Long-Range Vision for Transit, and the City Planning Commission’s poll helped shape the final form of the recently adopted Lower Northeast District Plan, where the poll results can be found. (Some argue that rapid transit lines in freeway medians still give the car pride of place and an advantage over transit. I suspect a driver stuck in rush-hour traffic on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway while Chicago Transit Authority ‘L’ trains zip by would beg to differ.)

Of course, all this would cost serious money, and cost is what derailed the city’s last serious effort to make this vision a reality in 2003. But the benefits would be well worth the expenditure. All we need to do is put our reflexive antipathy to urban freeways aside. Vine Street showed that such roads can improve the urban environment for all if built right. In the Northeast, we have another chance to do that.

Sandy Smith has been engaging in journalism and its hired-gun cousin, public relations, in Philadelphia for nearly 30 years. He started award-winning newspapers at the University of Pennsylvania as part of a team and at Widener University all by himself. He has a passionate interest in cities and urban development, which he gets to indulge as editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Real Estate Blog, and in trains and mass transit, which he indulges wherever and whenever he gets the chance. (You may know him as "MarketStEl" if you lurk on Philadelphia Speaks.)

Friday, July 31, 2015

Donald Trump Bridge Disconnect

China's bridges: "China, you go there now, roads, bridges, schools, you never saw anything like it. They have bridges that make the George Washington Bridge look like small potatoes." -

Yet what has Donald Trump ever said about bridges, in say the metropolitan area of his native New York?   Surely would not such a candidate complain or comment about NY not getting a single new crossing since the completion of the Verrazano Narrow Bridge?

In a radio interview, Trump said he’s convinced the cost of the massive bridge will balloon to $10 billion, a cost he said the state can’t afford. The current projected cost for the new bridge is as much as $4.8 billion, which includes both construction and financing costs.
The state Thruway Authority, which owns the bridge, closed on a $1.6 billion loan from the federal government for the bridge replacement project last week. The better option, Trump said, is reinforcing the current span, which stretches across the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties.

“The bridge is a totally fine structure, but it needs renewal,” Trump told host Fred Dicker on Albany’s WGDJ-AM. “And the renewal can be done for a tiny fraction of the — in my opinion — $10 billion bridge that they’re going to build.”

Trump offered no basis for his $10 billion estimate, aside from detailing his expertise in real-estate development.

The Thruway Authority’s contract for the new bridge pushes much of the cost of potential overruns on the team of contractors building the span, though taxpayers are still on the hook in certain instances, such as if builders encounter hazardous materials or the state decides to add features to the bridge.

Why no mention from Trump about where have all of those toll monies gone?  Such as the toll collected on the Tappan Zee Bridge since it first opened in 1955 or so?

LOL, the bridge can’t handle the traffic it was not designed for 125 to 150,000 cars a day. The bridge was designed for 50,000 cars a day and is of a design that requires a lot of maintenance, which has not been done. However the bridge was made during a steel shortage and is not constructed of a gauge of other NYC bridges, it was designed with a life span of 50 years. It is made of small box steel girder and truss transfer beams. Take a look at in contract to the steel on other NY area bridges. It needs to go and soon. Trump has likely only flown over it recently, no sweat off his back.

Conscience of a Conservative on
Trump is very wrong here, but I suspect he doesn’t care and just wants his daily publicity. The Tappan Zee bridge is in dire need of upgrade as it’s the life-blood for those crossing the Hudson. The State did err, but on the side of not including a light rail option.

In judging the fiscal soundness of the project the State should be thinking about the increased productivity of residents on both sides of the Hudson, along with increased tax revenue by making Rockland more desirable

Actually the State did more than err in not including the light rail, or rather the provisions for such, but more broadly the provisions for rail in general.  After all the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement was long projected to include a heavy rail component of a new Metro North passenger rail line from Suffern to Rye/Port Chester, later truncated to White Plains and than to Tarrytown.

Such was projected to be carried by a lower deck- a feature included in the George Washington and Verrazano Narrows Bridges.  Yet one in-explicitly dropped, even as the EIS left that option out of its cost benefits analysts a logical basis for a law suit that was never brought about.

What happened to all of the liberal-left "progressive" support for expanding rail transit?

Come to think why do we hear so much about Trump, yet so comparatively little about other NY area developers that HAVE proposed new crossings, such as that who proposed the Cross Sound Tunnel?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Out Of Manhattan; Disproportionately Through The Bronx

Bob Dylan's recently found apparently un-sung song against construction of the Lower Manhattan Expressway at a time of planning by Robert Moses, who opposed the necessity of such highways as tunnels to shield the adjacent-nearby neighborhoods

Listen Robert Moses by Bob Dylan

Listen Robert Moses, listen if you can.

It's all about our neighborhoods that you are trying to condemn.

We aren't going to sit back and see our homes torn down

So take your superhighway and keep it out of town.


We won't be moved, buddy, we won't be moved.

We're fighting for our rights and we won't be moved.

We're fighting for our rights from our heads to our shoes.

We're fighting for our homes and we aren't going to lose.

For twenty years there's been a shadow hanging round

That any day the bulldozers will throw our houses down.

We're going to lift the shadow once and for all good

We don't want a superhighway, we want a neighborhood.

Some of use are young and none of us are old.

But none of us like to be thrown out in the cold.

Are we squatters in the city that we are living in?

Will we stand up for our rights or be scattered in the wind?

Up and down Mulberry, Delancy Street, you hear our voices sing.

From Elizabeth to Thompson, to Varick Street and Broome. 

We're trying to have our streets from that superhighway down.

Too many other people have been driven from their doors

To make room for some highway or else some fancy stores.

They've been forced to leave their homes and all their roots

And dwell in housing projects, the reservation kind.

Its time to make a stand, it's time to try and give

This here neighborhood of ours before it lands down in the grave.

So hold up your banners and raise them to the wind

We'll stand here and fight, and fight until we win.

Joint Committee To Stop The Lower Manhattan Expressway
378 Broome Street

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Westway Opponents were even more wrong than we thought

The Village Voice was wrong about Westway- totally wrong

The Saw Mill, the Bronx River, and parts of the FDR were closed due to flooding this morning thanks to the monsoon that kicked in before dawn. But the West Side Highway, a.k.a. the Joe DiMaggio? Traffic is flowing fine there, thanks in large part because we never built Westway, the crazed multi-billion-dollar-city-in-the-river landfill project that Presidents, governors, and mayors desperately fought to build back in the 1980s. You don't remember this? Count your lucky stars. It was one of the last great attempted public arm-twistings by the Permanent Government -- a bid to give the ever-campaign-generous real estate industry its most coveted desire: More Manhattan land on which to build. ....

Marcy Benstock, the upper West Sider whose anger at the thick soot that piled up on her window sill every day turned her into one of the city's earliest and most able environmental activists, says that the decision to dump Westway looks smarter all the time. "With climate change and more severe storms hitting the Westway area of the Hudson River," says Benstock, the director of the Clean Air Campaign, "the decision not to build a development site at that damage-prone location now looks wiser than ever."Marcy Benstock, the upper West Sider whose anger at the thick soot that piled up on her window sill every day turned her into one of the city's earliest and most able environmental activists, says that the decision to dump Westway looks smarter all the time. "With climate change and more severe storms hitting the Westway area of the Hudson River," says Benstock, the director of the Clean Air Campaign, "the decision not to build a development site at that damage-prone location now looks wiser than ever."

Such was the Village Voice congratulating itself for its mindless opposition to the Westway highway project.

Now, flash forward to 2014.

At a recent holiday gathering, one of the things that came up over cocktails was Superstorm Sandy and two of the proposals to protect us from the next such storm. Both call for adding landfill in the East River near the South Street Seaport. One plan—called “Seaport City”—proposes building housing and new parks. The other—known as “The Big U”—involves digging a tunnel beneath the landfill and sending a portion of the FDR Drive underground.

The proposals come from serious planners and post-Sandy studies. Seaport City emerged from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s post-hurricane revision of his PlaNYC long-term sustainability plan. The Big U was a winner of a design competition—sponsored by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development called Rebuild by Design—seeking proposals to protect the region. Both studies noted that one of the areas least affected by Hurricane Sandy was Battery Park City, largely because it is built on landfill that helped keep back the surging waters. ...

So did the Big U, one of the winning design solutions in the HUD competition. The Big U would create a barrier system that would be combined with new buildings, bike paths and parkland that would hold or hold back water.  It would wrap around Manhattan from West 57th Street down to the Battery and up to East 42nd Street, and include a series of berms, seawalls and barriers. A key element of the design is to landfill some of the East River along the lower part of Manhattan, build parks on top of it, and tunnel a new FDR Drive beneath.

And that just may bring the Westway debate full-circle. Landfill—the very thing Westway critics warned would destroy Manhattan—now appears to be vital to the island’s survival.