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?

 

April Flamingo-grams

Not that we’re halfway through May or anything like that. Here are April adventures, mostly in and around Vermont, with some excursion to CT and NY. (Hover over each photo for the caption.)

March Flamingo-grams February Flamingo-grams January Flamingo-grams Thanksgiving Flamingo-gramsNovember Flamingo-gramsOctober Flamingo-grams

A Winter Drive

“Let’s go for a drive.”

Do you ever just drive to drive? Did you and your families take Sunday drives through the countryside for some family entertainment? In the days before automobiles, city dwellers took trolley rides out to the parks for picnics or carnivals or other entertainment. Sometimes they visited cemeteries, as many were designed as parks. When the automobile arrived on the scene, trolleys fell out of favor. (Read more about trolleys here.) With automobiles on the scene, people had greater freedom of mobility for work, travel and everyday things.

Surely as teenagers, we all drove around because we could. Nothing said freedom like driving around with your friends, whether it was to the beach, the diner or nowhere in particular. If you’re a professional now with a 9-5 job (or some form of 9-5) and “adult” responsibilities, do you still have the urge to drive? Maybe you don’t have the time for a road trip, but what about for an afternoon? Do you drive for any other reason than you have to?

This past weekend, Mother Nature graced Vermont with sunshine and blue skies (before she throws a March snowstorm at us this week). I could think of no better way to spend a late sunny Sunday afternoon than cruising the Vermont highways for a while.

US Route 2

US Route 2

US Route 2

US Route 2 (I-89 to the left)

A truss bridge in Richmond, VT

A truss bridge in Richmond, VT

VT Route 100, near the 100B junction.

VT Route 100, near the 100B junction.

Blue skies make up for the bare winter trees.

Blue skies make up for the bare winter trees.

Since a summer road trip seems so far off, these afternoon and day drives will have to suit me for now. What about you?  Stay warm and drive carefully in this upcoming storm.

Road Trip Reflections

Before Vinny and I left on our road trip, we decided to establish a few tenets for our trip. Number one, we would stick to a budget of $100 per day. Number two, no chain hotels or restaurants.  We chose these tenets to keep the trip affordable, to prove that interstates and chains are avoidable in most cases, to prove that road trips that support local businesses can fit the budget of the everyday American, and also just to add a challenge to our planning. Number three, we would travel state highways and US highways, not interstates, except for sections of getting in, around, and out of big cities.

How did we do? Well, as for the $100 per day budget, sometimes we were over, sometimes we were under. We hadn’t exactly thought of this from the get-go, but because each day is different, the budget needs to be moved around on some days. For example, a day of staying at a campground and just hanging around often didn’t require much money, except for some food, firewood, and the camping fee. A day of all driving, buying groceries for the next few days, and then staying at a campground often reached just at the budget because everything adds up quickly. Mackinac Island was our most expensive day, and we knew it would be. That day added to around $150 (ferry tickets, bike rentals, fudge, lunch, campground – really the ferry tickets ate the budget that day). But other days, like camping in Ohio or Indiana fell more around $75 or $80.  Thus, our budget was not completely accurate, but we did our best to stick to it and never felt like we were blatantly ignoring it. It was always a consideration and if we were rich travelers, then we probably would have spent more.  So we spent what we figured. It’s a good rule of thumb to always (in the back of your head) plan on spending more than originally planned when traveling.

Our answer: yes, it is possible to spend $100 per day for a road trip for two people. Our biggest parts of that were camping the entire way, shopping in grocery stores and stocking up for two days (don’t forget the ice!), and eating only one meal out per day if we wanted to eat out somewhere.

As far as no chain hotels or restaurants, we did our absolute best. The majority of the time, we did a great job. However, there were a few slip-ups. The first one was staying at the Indian Creek RV Resort in Geneva-on-the-lake, Ohio. Originally we planned to stay at Geneva State Park, but that required a two night stay, so I had to quickly find somewhere else. After I booked it, I found out that it is actually owned by a much larger company.  We didn’t make that mistake again. Then, while looking for breakfast in downtown South Bend, Indiana, we saw a restaurant called La Peep. The menu looked good and it was downtown near the old theater, so we figured it would be worth a shot. As we were sitting inside, looking around, and reading the menu, I had a feeling that it was a chain. When I looked at the back of the menu, I realized it was – a Midwestern and western chain. We obviously had never heard of it. For the record, the breakfast was not as good as many of the local places where we ate. And then one night, we stayed in a hotel in Beloit, Wisconsin. This came out of necessity, after arriving at our planned campground to find a domestic disturbance dispute and many arguments at the campsite right next to us. For a variety of reasons, we decided to leave. So we started driving around rural southern Wisconsin in hopes of finding somewhere to stay. It was late and we knew that we should take what we find. We knew the hotels would be near the interstate, so we headed that way in the dark past many farm fields. We ended up at a Holiday Inn Express and just accepted that it was obviously against the no-chain rule. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. That day was another one over budget.

For the most part, we did avoid all chains except for grocery stores and gas stations. We found great restaurants and campgrounds and enjoyed all of them.

Interstates or state & US highways? This has the most complications, since we did choose to travel the interstate in some instances. They included: getting out of New York and New Jersey, getting out of Detroit, Michigan (until we could jump on a highway), getting into and out of Minneapolis, MN, going to Milwaukee, and heading home from Columbus, Ohio.  So we’re not perfect and often had we planned better, we could have spent the extra time on the interstate. One thing that this trip taught us was that sometimes the interstates are much better for getting from place to place. The smaller highways aren’t built for interstate traffic and sometimes they were slow, as if we were on Long Island. Sometimes the interstates were the same roads as US highways, making it so we were on both at once. We confirmed our belief that interstates are boring. When we did choose the interstate, we were always more tired and restless without scenery along our way. We always hoped that the journey would end sooner, because then it was just miles, it wasn’t really a trip. So, when we have the option and the time, we will always choose the scenic roads and the byways. It can be done easily, it just needs to be planned.

We enjoyed the trip very much, though we probably wouldn’t repeat the same route as it was not our favorite trip ever planned. However, we wanted to see that part of the country and we are glad we did. (I’m still dying for the Rocky Mountain west road trip – someday.)  A few friends asked us what our least favorite thing was that we saw. I thought about it for a while and then I realized that in many places, I felt as though I couldn’t tell you where we were because everything looked the same, like Anywhere, USA. Sometimes I felt like I was on Long Island. Chains started because people appreciated and wanted the same thing – cleanliness, operations, food, lodging – to make home away from home. However, when I travel, I don’t want to be home. I want to be somewhere new and see something new, as many of us do. Seeing the same restaurants, stores, and hotels everywhere sometimes made me ask why I had left home. That is another reason Vinny and I chose to go the non-chain route – to appreciate the different parts of America.

Maybe the tides are changing, and Americans will want unique food, lodging, and shopping everywhere. Maybe someday the chains will not be what takes over the country and corporate America will be totally different. I have to believe that because it would be such a shame to have no need to travel anywhere, knowing that every place was the same as the one before and the one after it.

Luckily, that feeling of sameness didn’t happen everywhere and we really did enjoy our Great Lakes Road Trip 2009. We tend to travel many places at once, because we like to take an overview of a region to see where we would like to return and spend more time. Not everyone prefers to travel this way, but it’s what Vinny and I do. And while we traveled these 3,641 miles, we came across places we would have never found otherwise. Wrong turns and happenstance directions sometimes lead you the best way.

Thanks for reading along with the Road Trip Reports.