Thursday, December 4, 2008

Knock Down I-95

John Norquist apparently made the most of his visit to Philadelphia to receive the award from the Ed Bacon Foundation. He met with a number of people while here, and even got some comments into the Inquirer today and on PlanPhilly.

In today's paper, he calls for tearing down I-95. Many people are not aware that we are planning to rebuild I-95 entirely in the coming decades. Why not save a ton of money and tear it down instead?

In Norquist's keynote talk on Tuesday night, he made the point that expressways are not a valuable form of urban highway. Surface boulevards can carry high volumes at traffic, but at slower speeds, and allowing pedestrians to cross — restoring physical connectivity. Because so many cities built highways along their rivers in the 1950s-70s, when we replace expressways with boulevards today it often clears many a barrier between cities and their waterfront assets.

Of course, Norquist was not the first to suggest the idea of removing I-95. The idea of removing or burying the expressway came up throughout the Penn Praxis waterfront planning process. However, burying the expressway acknowledges its need (and costs mega bucks). Norquist raises a more important issue: Do we really need high-speed expressways cutting through our cities, at all? In cities across the U.S., the answer has proven to be "No." A boulevard works just fine, and is much more urban.

The Inquirer quoted Norquist: "'New York's West Side Highway is gone,' he said. 'San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway — gone.' Milwaukee, Seoul — Interstate kablooie.' ... I-95 should never have been built through the city..."

Considering the fact that Norquist was in town receiving the Ed Bacon Foundation award, it would seem odd if I did not point out the fact that Ed Bacon was planning director when I-95 began construction (though the road was planned 15 years before he became planning director — but that's another topic for another time).

However, more important than placing blame is the fact that we have learned a lot since the 1960s. Cities across the country have shown the failings of urban expressways. The bottom line is, we are in the process, right now, of planning a major rebuilding of I-95. It would be a monumental error for our city to repeat this historical mistake.

Jane Jacobs showed us all how to kill a highway in New York. The late Philadelphia attorney Robert J. Sugarman led a coalition to stop the Crosstown Expressway from being built at South Street. Maybe it's time for a new highway-stopping movement in Philadelphia.

Read Norquist's Inquirer comments here (scroll down to the second section, titled "Knock down I-95"), and PlanPhilly here.

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