CNU advocates for replacing urban freeways with surface streets, boulevards and avenues as the most cost-effective, sustainable option for cities grappling with aging grade separated roads. This has the added benefit of providing significant opportunities to heal local street networks and improve regional traffic dispersion. As federal and state DOTs confront shrinking budgets, and cities look for ways to increase their tax base and revenues, community and political support is building for connected street grids and improved transit options that are less expensive to maintain and offer better alternatives to the rebuilding of urban freeways.
Excerpt: Understand Who Should Benefit—and Follow Through
The removal of a highway will increase the attractiveness of nearby neighborhoods, and that means property values will also rise. Several projects in the nation, including the 11th Street Bridge project in Washington, DC, put programs in place years ahead of construction that encouraged and supported home ownership by current residents, as well as created protections for renters.
The gentrification that comes with rapid redevelopment is hard to avoid but is not inevitable; with planning, attention, outreach, and strong fiscal tools, long-standing members of a community need not be displaced when a freeway comes down and the market responds. From the beginning, cities need to develop active strategies to combat potential displacement. Fortunately, much of the land currently occupied by freeways will revert to the control of cities upon their removal.
Some of this land should be dedicated to the creation of housing options at many price points from below market rate to market rate, to ensure choices for the most vulnerable renters and prospective homeowners in the community. In the case of current and future homeowners, programs that mitigate the cost of ownership—such as abatements on property taxes—can make it easier for legacy residents to stay in their homes through periods of significantly rising real estate values. This pair of strategies is by no means exhaustive, but a starting point.
Many of the same community members who opposed the initial construction of freeways through their neighborhoods and their descendants still live in the neighborhoods that will benefit from highway removal. To see this reparation in their lifetime can be gratifying and even deeply moving— provided they will take part in the renaissance that results. Removal of an in-city freeway represents an opportunity to right a past injustice, while at the same time creating strong and resilient mixed-income, mixed-use urbanism for the future. The ten projects examined in this report—and the approximately twenty worldwide that have preceded them—offer hope for a different path that does not have to end in an exit ramp.