Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What to Put in Place of a Highway

Oklahoma City is moving the stretch of I-40 that runs downtown, dubbed the Crosstown Expressway, five blocks south of its current location. The new highway will be sunk below the roadway to allow for pedestrian bridges and roadways and the development of a large urban park. A boulevard will take the place of the current highway, one that Mayor Cornett hopes will be the gem of the City. The plan has garnered lots of national press, but as city planner Jeff Speck points out in his recently completed walkability report on Oklahoma City (skip to "Mistakes About To Be Made" starting on page 38), the boulevard as it's currently envisioned will accomodate far more car traffic than it needs to and will therefore inhibit pedestrian activity precisely in the area where the City wants to encourage it the most. Speck recommends that OKC use Commonwealth Avenue Mall in Boston's Back Bay as a model for how to build a boulevard. Will the City take Speck's advice? Or will they insist that it's disanalogous since Commonwealth Avenue wasn't originally a highway? (It was originally a marsh. Literally.)

Thank goodness for The Infrastructurist. Check out the post from Monday, July 6th, entitled "Huh?! 4 Cases of How Tearing Down A Highway Can Relieve Traffic Jams (And Save Your City)." The title kinda says it all. Kudos to Seoul, Portland, and San Francisco for replacing highways with structures that actually encourage people to experience their cities in some other way than from the dashboard of their cars.

Oklahoma City leaders, are you reading The Infrastructurist? Are you getting this?

Oh, and so we're true to our name here at Oklachusetts, I would be remiss not to mention the Rose Kennedy Greenway that replaced Boston's Central Artery after it became the Big Dig.

So, if Oklahoma City's goal is to move the cars someplace else and to encourage mixed-use development where pedestrians, cyclists, cars, buses, streetcars, and businesses can all coexist and commingle and connect (and any other co- word you can think of), then please don't replace a highway with a boulevard that is a highway in every way but its name.

UPDATE: Architects, urban planners, civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative people everywhere: if you are wondering what we can do with the bones (the steel beams and concrete slabs) of I-40 once it's relocated, perhaps you should check out these worthy projects: the High Line Park in NYC and the Big Dig House in Lexington, MA.

No comments: