Freeways to Boulevards and Parks: A Brief Introduction

Transportation tells the story of our culture: how we travel, in what style, what mode and to where. Depending on the design and form of our routes, it tells our priorities and the purpose of the roads.

Consider parkways of the 1920s-1940s: scenic, winding, stone bridges and underpasses, grassy medians, low speed limits. These roads were constructed for an enjoyable ride, making the journey part of the destination. Now consider interstates of the 1950s – 1970s or later: wide lane with wide shoulders, limited access, high speeds, blasting through the landscape. These corridors were built for efficiency and speed, getting the traveling public from one place to another.

Why is there such a difference in road construction? Just as our tastes in fashion, design, food, and culture change, so do our theories and methods of planning, construction, and transportation. Theories and methods change to fit our needs and wants, as evident by the evolution of our roadways.

Take note of where major highways are located, and you’ll see that many hug the waterfront of cities. These roads divide the waterfront from the city dwellers, which seem to ignore the potential high-value real estate. Don’t the best cities embrace their waterfront? Why would we ignore that by constructing roads instead of boardwalks, beaches, and parks? There are a few important factors to understand (note these are not all-inclusive).

(1) Until the modern era, the waterfront often represented the industry of a city. Shipping ports were major transportation centers, where goods would come in or leave the city. Waterfronts were for business, not play. Even little Burlington, Vermont had  waterfront filled with railroad lines, oil tanks, the lumber industry, etc. It was much different than today.

(2) Since the waterfront was not a cherished place in cities, especially as industry changed in the United States, building a road along the shorelines seemed to make sense. Transportation was replacing industry, particularly the shipping and rail industry.

(3) Before the interstate were the low speed (relatively speaking) parkways were constructed (think early Robert Moses era), driving was recreation and leisure. A Sunday drive was leisure time to Americans, and driving on a scenic highway adjacent to the the water made for beautiful views and a lovely afternoon.

(4) Interstates often replaced parkways. And interstates caused devastation through cities across the nation. However, building the interstate along the waterfront often was a path of least resistance, as they would transport vehicles around the city at high speeds, avoiding the congestion of inner city loops. .

(5) Recreation and city planning changed. Whether a parkway or an interstate, this pattern of development left the waterfront divided from city dwellers. At the time when these roads were constructed, people were moving out of cities, not living in them. The effects to a city were less noticeable than they might today. When people began living in cities as opposed to living in the suburbs, city dwellers wanted to reclaim the empty waterfronts.

Half a century later and development patterns and planning theories have indeed changed. Today cities across the country are working to remove (yes, remove!) freeways and reclaim the waterfront by turning the roads into boulevards or parks. An article 6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever (Gizmodo) is an amazing collection of examples around the world. On the east coast, you might know the Big Dig in Boston. On the west coast, Harbor Drive in Portland, OR is a well-know case study.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive in Portland, Oregon BEFORE freeway removal. Click for source & article.

6 Freeway Removals That Changed Their Cities Forever

Harbor Drive AFTER freeway removal. Click for source & article.

And there are many cities with proposals in mind such as Syracuse, New York and Niagara Falls, New York. PreserveNet keeps a website by the Preservation Institute detailing freeway removal projects. These are not minor undertakings. They are an incredible feats, requiring major design shifts. Improving quality of life within cities by giving pleasant open space to all speaks volumes to how we view and use cities today. Gone are the days when people are fleeing cities to the suburbs and need the roads to get in and out of the cities as quickly as possible. Instead, we see the value in these dense, urban environments. Quite the bold revitalization, and an example of what good a dramatic change can accomplish.

What do you think? Anything to add?

 

The Movers & the Shakers

Following up with Where Are the Running Preservationists?: It’s nice to know you fellow running-preservationists are out there! Thanks for speaking up, including those of you on Twitter. Check out the fun responses below.

Bottom line, you’re out there. And we’ll have to meet up at conferences to go running and exploring. However, not everyone is a runner. (Or some of you are, but are hesitant to admit it, see comments). This leads me to ask:

What is your favorite mode of transportation for exploring? Foot? Bicycle? Horse & carriage? Trolley? Car? I’d love to know. John Stilgoe, author of Outside Lies Magic, encourages everyone to walk or bike, because it enables to observe elements of the built and cultural landscape that we’d never see otherwise. Of course, certain modes are more fitting than other, depending on where you are and what you aim to do. When would you bike or drive?

I’d take a bike around a city so I can stop where I please, but still carry water, my bag, camera, and other essentials. Biking was the best way to see Minneapolis. I’d drive in rural areas because I don’t like to bike on roads with narrow shoulders. And there is the appeal of the open road. I’d take a trolley in a big city for the experience. In New York City, one of my favorite modes is the elevated train because you see cornices and rooftops and life from an entirely new perspective. What else. Where are you going next and how will you explore?

Abandoned Vermont: Randolph Coal & Ice Shed

In the center of Randolph, Vermont, just down the tracks from the Randolph Depot sits the former Randolph Coal and Ice Shed, ca. 1920. The railroad is no longer delivering coal to Randolph, but the structures sit relatively intact and intriguing.

The building sitting trackside.

The building sitting trackside.

Looking to the Randolph Depot.

Looking to the Randolph Depot (on left). It sits in a cluster of buildings.

Randolph Coal & Ice is still visible on the shed.

Randolph Coal & Ice is still visible on the shed.

View on the other side of the building.

View on the other side of the building.

Two large wooden silos held the coal.

Two large wooden silos held the coal.

Coal chutes.

Coal chutes.

Conveyor systems of buckets carried the coal.

Conveyor systems of buckets carried the coal, which is still visible throughout this building.

A door allowed access above the silos.

A door allowed access above the silos.

The coal shed is adjacent to the side rail.

The coal shed is adjacent to the side rail.

The rail industry has changed in the past 100 years, but these buildings allow us to understand how important this transportation network was to our country. Whether carrying passengers, agricultural products, timber, coal, quarry products, it was the best mode of transportation at the time. For this reason, towns were often built around the railroad and associated buildings were located prominently in the centers of our cities and towns. Do these rail buildings have a use? It’s hard, as they remain in railroad right-of-way, and often must be relocated. What could a former coal be used for in a new life? Any ideas?

News: Vote for the Best Bridge

Voting for the 2013 Othmar H. Ammann Awards has been extended to January 11, 2014. (You can thank these polar vortex/arctic blasts/ice storms).

Lime Creek Bridge north of Fulda, Minnesota. Photo taken in December 2010. Courtesy of Jason Smith, The Bridgehunter's Chronicles. Click for source.

Lime Creek Bridge north of Fulda, Minnesota. Photo taken in December 2010. Courtesy of Jason Smith, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. Click for source.

The Othmar H. Ammann Awards honors the Swiss-American, internationally known bridge engineer. Read more about the awards on The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles.

Why vote? To raise awareness for the world’s significant bridges. As Jason Smith, writer of The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog, this is like the Bridge Bowl.

The categories include (among others):

  • Bridge of the Year
  • Mystery Bridge
  • Best Photo
  • Best Preservation Example
  • Spectacular Disaster

Check it out and show bridges some love. Get your ballot here. Vote by Saturday January 11, Winners announced January 13, 2014.

Preservation Photos #209

Classic railroad station brackets underneath large overhanging, flared eaves. Chester Depot, VT.

Classic railroad station brackets underneath large overhanging, flared eaves. Chester Depot, VT.

I’d love to be traveling home by train this Thanksgiving, but the Vermont to New York trains only run south in the morning. While I love to drive, the train is a great way to travel, too. How are you traveling home, if you are?

Preservation Photos #192

The Taftsville Covered Bridge undergoing rehabilitation.

The Taftsville Covered Bridge undergoing rehabilitation.

Yes, there is actually a bridge under all of that falsework. Remember what it looked like un-covered? Take note of the new roof. You can see the arch on the right, in between the blue scaffolding.

Nice Ride Minnesota

Many cities have a bike share program; Minneapolis and St. Paul have Nice Ride Minnesota. What’s the purpose?

Nice Ride bikes are designed for one job, short trips in the city by people wearing regular clothes and carrying ordinary stuff. All Nice Ride bikes are the same size, the only thing you may have to adjust is the seat, and it’s easy!

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Mr. Stilts came along for the ride, obviously.

Commuting to work? A quick trip to the store? In need of a ride across the city? Grab a bicycle at one of the many, many stations throughout the Twin Cities. You can rent a bike for $6 for 24 hours or $65 for a year. What a bargain! The bikes are available November – April, 24/7.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library.

Station across from the Minneapolis Public Library. See, they are quite popular.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

At each station you get a code, which you then type into the bike stand to unlock the bike. Every time you get a new bike, you get a new code.

And, Nice Ride also works well for tourists. Touring Minneapolis by bike was the perfect way to see great parts of the city.  The catch? You have 30 minutes to get between stations, otherwise you pay fees on top of your 24 hour or year subscription. With all of the stations, it’s easy. And then you can immediately take out another bicycle to continue on your journey.

All you have to do is (1) find a station, (2) insert a credit card, (3) select your subscription, (4) get a code, (5) punch in the code in the bike stand, (6) remove the bike, (7) ride and repeat within 30 minutes. You do have to enter your card at each station, but if you haven’t gone over 30 minutes, you will not be charged extra. And you can rent more than one bike at once and get more than one code.

These bikes have adjustable seats for all heights and were very easy to ride around the city. The green makes them easy to spot, and they’re fun looking bikes for cruising!

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Each station has a map showing other stations so you can plan your trip.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.

Hello transportation nerd, checking out the funding and yes, there is FHWA funding.Warms my heart.

Now, there were a couple of times when I didn’t think I’d made it to a bike rack. The $1.50 wouldn’t have ruined my day, but, hello, the challenge! That’s when the iphone app called Spotcycle (it’s free!) was incredibly helpful. Spotcycle identifies your location and shows you closest bicycle docks, how many bikes are at that station, gives you routes, timers, and more. It has cities all over the world. Check it out on your phone or on the website. Using the Spotcycle app as a tourist and doing my best to reach each station before the 30 minute limit made exploring quite the fun urban bicycle adventure.

Biking around a city was a great alternative to walking because you could cover more ground, and was definitely better than driving because it removes the need for parking and is slow enough to feel like you’re exploring. And with a bicycle I rode along the river. If you’re in a city with a bike share program, I’d highly recommend it, even just for cruising along a bike path.

What are the disadvantages of a bike share program? Safety, considering not everyone knows how to cycle in a city or knows the rules of the road; bike maintenance and security on the municipality; and usage. All of these are obstacles that can be overcome, by education and outreach. For cold weather climates, it’s a great way to get people to see their city in a new way. And for warm weather climates, it’s good all year long. And for everyone, it’s environmentally friendly and takes up less space than parking lots, garages or spaces.

Have you tried a bike share? What do you think?

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Riding around Minneapolis on a Nice Ride bike. Mr. Stilts is there, too. The bikes have brackets and a bungee cord (as opposed to a basket) so you can secure whatever you need to. In my case, it was a flamingo, a pocketbook, and a water bottle.

Photos of Minneapolis by bike coming soon! 

SIA 2013: Mighty Mississippi

Tales from SIA 2013 continue with Friday’s tour named, “Mighty Mississippi: A Twin Cities Riverboat Cruise with the Experts.” (There are typically four tours from which to choose on the Friday.)

Mighty Mississippi!

Mighty Mississippi!

The tour began via bus, which would bring the group from St. Paul into Minneapolis. The tour began with the 7th Street Improvement Arches, which are 1884 masonry arch bridges constructed in the helicoidal (spiral) method. These bridges were on a former rail line, but are now the corridor is an active bike path in St. Paul.

Helicoidal construction in the Seventh Street Improvement Arches.

Helicoidal construction in the Seventh Street Improvement Arches.

Seventh Street Improvement Arches, with the bike path.

Seventh Street Improvement Arches, with the bike path.

Continuing into Minneapolis we saw the city skyline and many mills lining the Mississippi River. After seeing the (newest) Hennepin Avenue Bridge and Nicollet Island, we strolled across the Stone Arch Bridge with a NPS ranger who gave a history of the river corridor. The Mississippi River is a National River & Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service.

Pillsbury "A" Mill in Minneapolis.

Pillsbury “A” Mill in Minneapolis.

The SIA group walking across the bridge.

The SIA group walking across the bridge.

What a lovely skyline: historic buildings and new buildings all in one.

What a lovely skyline: historic buildings and new buildings all in one.

Everyone boarded a riverboat in the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. To those of us (like me) who had never been in a dam & lock before, this was very exciting!

Learning how a dam & lock operates, as we travel down.

Learning how a dam & lock operates, as we travel down.

And then once through the lock & dam, the views of the city were spectacular, especially the Stone Arch bridge.

The Stone Arch Bridge from the river.

The Stone Arch Bridge from the river.

The Gold Medal Flour sign can be seen on the grain elevators on the left.

The Gold Medal Flour sign can be seen on the grain elevators on the left.

The tour on the riverboat included many, many bridges, historic and new. While touring these bridges, our guides included bridge experts, historians and the boat operator, who offered history and significance of the bridges and surrounding resources. Here are just a few images from the day:

The new I-35W bridge in te background and 10th Ave (Cedar Ave) bridge in the foreground.

The new I-35W bridge in te background and 10th Ave (Cedar Ave) bridge in the foreground.

Up close and personal with all of the bridges.

Up close and personal with all of the bridges.

Minnesota is lucky to have many open spandrel concrete arch bridges.

Minnesota is lucky to have many open spandrel concrete arch bridges.

This is the Omaha Railway Swing Bridge, which the operator opened for us to see!

This is the Omaha Railway Swing Bridge, which the operator opened for us to see! Here it is shown completely open as we floated down the river.

A miniature stone arch bridge.

A miniature stone arch bridge. The Mendota Road Bridge.

A new bridge: The Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

A new bridge: The Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

Back in St. Paul: the Chicago Great Western Railway Vertical Lift Bridge and the Robert Street Bridge.

Back in St. Paul: the Chicago Great Western Railway Vertical Lift Bridge and the Robert Street Bridge.

Among many bridges,there were other interesting sites to see along the river including the abandoned Island Station Power Plant.

Abandoned Minnesota? The Island Power Plant.

Abandoned Minnesota. The Island Station Power Plant.

Part of the St. Paul skyline.

Part of the St. Paul skyline.

And that is only some of the scenes from the tour. It was a beautiful day (the clouds only threatened us for a short while in the afternoon). The tour included lunch as well. It was a perfect day on the river. Hats off to the organizers and sponsors: the SIA, Mead & Hunt, and the Historic Bridge Foundation. If you love bridges, history and water, this was the perfect tour on the SIA. Come join us next time!

To read additional details about the tour, read a post by Amy Squitieri of Mead & Hunt on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog. And if you can name some of the bridges pictures, please do. There were way too many to commit to memory in one afternoon! Here are more of Minnesota’s historic bridges.

*Note: Click on any image for a larger, clearer version.