Sunday, July 5, 2009

Is Removing I-95 a Possibility?

By Greg

I know I said the next few posts would be about planners and implementation, but I want to note that the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an editorial today suggesting that Philadelphia should consider either covering over some of I-95 or removing it and rebuilding the highway as a surface urban boulevard. This editorial followed up on an article last week by Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron on the same issue.

For those of you who are not from Philadelphia, I-95 is an expressway that runs along the eastern side of the city, and that many have blamed for cutting the city off from its Delaware River waterfront. As part of the Central Delaware Riverfront Planning Process, endorsed by the City and led by Penn Praxis, rethinking I-95 was a major issue in the visioning workshops.

Last December I blogged about this issue of rethinking I-95. The reason for that post was a speech by John Norquist, the president of the Congress for the New Urbanism and Milwaukee's former mayor, in Philadelphia, in which Norquist called on Philadelphians to remove I-95, replacing it with an urban boulevard, and reconnecting Philadelphia to its waterfront.

A number of cities (New York, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Portland, etc.) have done exactly this: removing highways (some with higher traffic volumes than I-95) and replacing them with boulevards. Nobody knows whether this is a possibility in Philadelphia because nobody has seriously studied alternatives to rebuilding I-95. Yet, PennDOT will have to rebuild the highway over the next 15-20 years giving Philadelphia a once-in-a-generation opportunity to study and rethink its future.

It is good to see the Inquirer pushing the envelope. However, in order to get any serious support for rethinking Philadelphia's connection to its waterfront, it will take some serious action from citizens and decision makers. Let's see how this issue unfolds.

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