Highway Removals: Paths to a Better Future

By Dom Nozzi

“Road diets” are instances where a decision is made to shrink the size (or width) of a road that is considered excessively wide. For nearly a century, the United States has spent trillions of public dollars to build and widen roads throughout the nation. In the early years, these new or widened roads were often highly beneficial and cost-effective, as they resulted in significant increases in access to many destinations that were previously difficult or impossible to reach by car – even relatively slow, well-behaved cars. However, over the past few decades, new or widened roads have seen rapidly diminishing returns on investment.

Today, nearly all (if not all) road widenings cost way more than the benefits they produce. Those costs include worsened congestion (due to “induced demand”), a significant increase in noise pollution, exponentially growing costs of materials/construction/ROW acquisition, loss of travel choice (wider roads are much more difficult for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users to use), decline of smaller and locally-owned businesses (wider roads promote predatory “Big Box” retailers such as Wal-Mart), loss of civic pride, decline of the town center (wider roads drain the economic and residential lifeblood out of town centers in a downwardly spiraling death sprawl), an increase in traffic injuries and deaths, an increase in air pollution and fuel consumption, increased travel time (due to the sprawl induced by wider roads), and a substantial degradation of community attractiveness and quality of life.

Examples of road diets include the removal of travel lanes from roads with an excessive number of lanes (a common and increasingly popular tactic is to shrink a road from 4 or 5 lanes to 3 lanes), removal of a turn lane (usually a right-turn lane), a narrowing of travel lanes (from 12 to 14 feet in width to 9 to 11 feet in width), installation of landscaped sidewalk “bulbouts,” or installation of permanent on-street parking.

Another highly beneficial tactic that is related to road dieting is highway removal. Removal is becoming increasingly popular around the world due to the rapidly increasing cost of maintaining big highways, in addition to the growing recognition of the enormous benefits of removing ruinous highways (increasingly, nearly ALL urban highways are ruinous).

What are the benefits of road diets or highway removal? A very large number of studies around the nation and world show that such actions tend to very quickly result in dramatic improvements in retail and residential health, town center health, level of civic pride, reduction in injuries and deaths, a substantial increase in travel choice (more can walk, bicycle or use transit), a reduction in travel distances, a reduction in noise pollution, a dramatic improvement in quality of life, and a much more healthy financial state of affairs for government, businesses and households.

For these reasons, road diets and highway removal are becoming quite frequent around the world.

Here is a list of recent highway removals. Because they are so numerous, I am not able to provide a list of road diets.

• Park East Freeway, Milwaukee

• Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco

• West Side Highway, New York City

• Central Freeway, San Francisco

• For Washington Way, Cincinnati

• Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

• Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle

• Harbor Drive Freeway, Portland OR

• Riverfront Parkway, Chattanooga TN

• Route 29, Trenton NJ

• Big Dig (elevated Central Artery) in Boston

Here’s the top 12 urban highways in North America with the best opportunity for transformations such as removal or road dieting, based on an analysis by the Congress for the New Urbanism (http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/cities/top-12-urban-highway-removal-projects/1953):

1. I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans, La.

2. I-895/Sheridan Expressway, New York City (Bronx)

3. Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven, Conn.

4. Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, N.Y.

5. I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami, Fla.

6. I-70, St. Louis, Mo.

7. West Shoreway, Cleveland, Ohio

8. I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester, N.Y.

9. I-81, Syracuse, N.Y.

10. Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

11. Aetna Viaduct, Hartford, Conn.

12. Route 99/Alaskan Way Viaduct, Seattle, Wash.

Highway removal and road diets are perhaps the most effective, fastest, and most cost-effective way to significantly improve community and neighborhood quality of life. Does your community have the wisdom and leadership necessary to improve itself in such a rapid, substantial way?


Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

One response to “Highway Removals: Paths to a Better Future

  1. Thanks for the great article.

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