Thursday, January 30, 2014

Suburban Freeways

Eisenhower himself didn't realize the Interstate Highway System would cut through American cities until a few years after construction began. Ike had wanted a national road network like the one he'd seen in Germany during World War II. But he'd also wanted these roads to stop at the doorsteps of cities, not push right past.
Source: The Atlantic.
This story about the history of freeways in America is an old one. The notion that "the Interstate Highway System should have been two distinct systems: one running between cities, and another running within them" is almost conventional wisdom now. There's even a grassroots movement, "A New Dallas," that seeks to tear up one of that city's downtown freeways, IH345.

I'm sold on the vision. After the jump, does this apply to Richardson?

In the past, I've blogged about my own quixotic dream of tearing down Central Expressway through Richardson. That's even less likely than the vision of "A New Dallas" to tear down even one of the freeways strangling downtown Dallas.

Central Expressway was built as an inter-urban freeway, designed to get commuters from the suburbs to downtown. Maybe fifty years ago it would have been prescient to have its Dallas end terminate at, say, Northwest Highway, where it could have blended into the network of surface streets heading into downtown. That would have prevented the strangulation and death of neighborhoods cut off by downtown freeways.

The problem for Richardson is that Central Expressway is no longer an inter-urban freeway. Central was so successful opening up the vast cotton fields of north Texas to residential development that cities like Richardson, Plano and Allen have blossomed into expansive cities themselves. With a freeway cutting through them. That once inter-urban freeway has become a very long intra-urban freeway.

The inevitable demand to move more traffic through Richardson on that freeway is colliding with the desire to redevelop Richardson's old downtown. On Monday, the Richardson City Council reviewed TxDOT's US 75 frontage road improvements. Each of the "improvements" is a further widening of the roadway. Richardson is slowly recapitulating the experience of downtowns like Dallas. At least in Dallas, some people, at long last, are beginning to recognize the problem. Richardson is still in that stage of development where it thinks that if pouring concrete was good for Richardson fifty years ago, pouring more concrete will be good for Richardson forever. That's the curse of suburban freeways.