FREEWAY REMOVAL: See that double-decker freeway in San Francisco? It's gone now. And the city is better off.
Here's another comment from a public official on the Highway Department's plan to widen Interstate 30 through the heart of Little Rock in the interest of speeding freeway traffic.
County Judge Barry Hyde
, responding to my question for his opinion:
I think using 2nd st as a state hwy and cutting off streetcar access from east LR are big problems.
I wish Hyde had gone farther, but that's at least a start on some of the objections I think the 2nd Street link between the freeway and LaHarpe/Cantrell is soon to be ditched. The River Rail streetcar link east of I-30 might be saved. But vigilance is necessary. This doesn't begin to deal with the much larger issues of placing interstate speeds a few hours a week (at rush hour) ahead of the interests of the cities that will have a growing decay corridor and new roadblocks to travel between the east and west sides of this Berlin Wall of a freeway.
Highway Director Scott Bennett will speak to the City Board next week. Will the speed-at-any-cost argument prevail with city directors? Indeed, does the Highway Department have any real plan to accommodate local concerns? Merely reducing the expansion from 10 to eight lanes (suddenly being thrown out as a possible alternative) is NOT a fix.
Bennett reacted sarcastically with a "Really?" when I suggested on Twitter Sunday night that tearing up the freeway is also an alternative. Realistically, I know this won't happen. But it's not a crazy scheme. Don't believe me, read here about cities that HAVE torn up, or are planning to tear up, freeways
— San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Dallas, Seattle and Milwaukee among them. But this is Arkansas, right? Priority No. 1 is getting people to and from Bennett's hometown of Bryant as expeditiously as possible, because, as Bennett so trenchantly noted on Twitter, there are lots of reasons people want to get out of Little Rock. Check this out from Gizmodo:
It seems counterintuitive, right? Rip out eight lanes of freeway through the middle of your metropolis and you'll be rewarded with not only less traffic, but safer, more efficient cities? But it's true, and it's happening in places all over the world.
Many freeway systems were overbuilt in an auto-obsessed era, only to realize later that cities are actually healthier, greener, and safer without them. Like freeway cap parks, which hope to bridge the chasms through severed neighborhoods—Boston's Big Dig is a great example—freeway removal projects try to eradicate and undo the damage wrought from highways, while creating new, multifunctional shared streets that can be utilized by transit, bikes, walkers and yes, even cars.
Okay, you're thinking, but where do all the cars go? It turns out that when you take out a high-occupancy freeway it doesn't turn the surface streets into the equivalent of the Autobahn. A theory called "induced demand" proves that if you make streets bigger, more people will use them. When you make them smaller, drivers discover and use other routes, and traffic turns out to be about the same. Don't believe it? Check out these freeway removals in cities all over the world and see for yourself.
... The latest city to jump on the freeway removal bandwagon is Dallas, where a hunk of Interstate 345 separates downtown from the popular Deep Ellum neighborhood. It's still early in the game, but the Texas Department of Transportation has agreed to a study of the project, even though it's already planning a $100 million renovation of the freeway.
Brainy urban development types are at work now in Little Rock talking about better ideas than the Highway Department's conventional thinking. They were dismissed on the Broadway Bridge. Will it happen again.
Maybe this time somebody will step in with pressure through the environmental impact statement process to slow the train down. Such statements are typically inadequate unless challenged. They must consider air and water impact and all manner of "social" impacts, including traffic volume and patterns, noise, aesthetics (awful in this case), population growth and, significantly, effects on land use in the area. A new issue is climate change and the encouragement of more traffic and more greenhouse gases. We are already an area with an air quality problem.
The first big question is whether the Little Rock City Board will buck up and do right or again acquiesce to the decay of the city through taxpayer-subsidized projects that push people through and out of town as fast as possible, worrying not for the divided, decayed city left behind.