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?

 

For the Love of Parkways

Highways, dirt roads, back roads and even interstates each have their own allure; but parkways might be my greatest love if we are talking about roads. Here are a few of my favorite Long Island Parkways.

Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach State Park, NY.

Ocean Parkway near Jones Beach State Park, NY.

The Meadowbrook Parkway, Nassau County, NY.

The Meadowbrook Parkway, Nassau County, NY.

The Meadowbrook Parkway and the exit to Loop Parkway heading to Point Lookout, NY.

The Meadowbrook Parkway and the exit to Loop Parkway heading to Point Lookout, NY.

The Loop Parkway.

The Loop Parkway.

The Loop Parkway almost at its terminus. To the right you turn to Lido Beach and Long Beach. To the left you turn to Point Lookout.

The Loop Parkway almost at its terminus. To the right you turn to Lido Beach and Long Beach. To the left you turn to Point Lookout.

A good overview of Long Island Parkways: Long Island Exchange and scenic byways.

Roadside Friday Links

Chilliwack, BC, Canada is losing its dinosaur theme park, Dinoland, which was originally affiliated with Hanna Barbara and named Bedrock City (who else loves The Flintstones!?) You can watch a video of its history and catch some Flintstone images here. The park will close forever on September 6, 2010. Why is it closing? The owner decided to sell the property for financial and health related reasons. Dinoland has the claim as “North America’s only cartoon dinosaur town.” Though it was only 35 years, roadside culture and amusement seems like it’s losing a bit of history.

The United States actually has a few Flintstone related parks: Flintstone’s Bedrock City in Custer, South Dakota and Bedrock City in Valle, Arizona. There is also Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota.

These Friday links so often seem to be roadside related. I couldn’t hide my obsession if I tried, so I might as well continue on today’s inadvertent theme.

On that note, abandoned interstates intrigue me and crack me up at the same time, like the I-189 interchange in Burlington that has been sitting there for decades. I’ve heard that the tallest filing cabinet in South Burlington is a monument to the amount of paperwork the interchange and road extension, dubbed the Southern Connector or the Champlain Parkway (another post for another time).  You would expect to find an abandoned old road, but an interstate? Apparently it’s rather common. Check out “Why the Lost Highway” and this page of abandoned freeways. The site itself is quite dated, but still entertaining.

Parkways and carefully designed highways are some of the most enjoyable. What will happen to the Pasadena Freeway and the Merritt Parkway? See this NY Times blog post. The Merritt Parkways is also on the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Places List for 2011. How do we adapt historic roads without destroying their character?

Is anyone attending the Historic Roads 2010 conference in Washington, DC from September 9-12? Please share! One attendee, Heidi Beierle has been cycling from Oregon to DC and chronicling her adventures along the way in the effort to research the impacts of bicycle tourism on rural communities. Talk about dedication!  Check out her blog and see her route.

Need more roadside fun? Of course. Check out the blog Go BIG or Go Home, for a family’s adventures as they travel to everything giant. I LOVE it.

Have I actually run out of new roadside photos to share? How about an old one?

The 2006 Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. Photo by Sarah O'Shea.

Summer corn, yum. Funny story: the restaurant that was supposed to have the best corn ever, located next to the corn palace, actually ran out of corn and we didn’t get to have any. It figures. Anyway, happy weekend! Happy Labor Day!