Dismantling Downtown Freeways

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at40man
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Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby at40man » July 12th, 2013, 7:36 am

Interesting article at MinnPost: http://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2013/ ... n-freeways

The article makes some valid points... but at the end of the day, dismantling freeways is both impractical and foolish. I think they can definitely operate more efficiently, but as someone who rarely needs to actually go IN TO Minneapolis for something, I would be frustrated by the proposed boulevards, etc. Generally Minneapolis is a place that I pass through because I am trying to get somewhere else, as do thousands of others.

That said, we should be more prudent when looking at integrating freeways. While I think the interchange through downtown St Paul is a helluva lot better engineered than the mess of interchange around downtown Minneapolis, but the capitol is still cut off from the rest of downtown. And the practice freeway south of downtown St Paul is a joke, 45 MPH limit on a roadway engineered for safe travel at 70 MPH just creates a dangerous situation for motorists.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby mattaudio » July 12th, 2013, 7:45 am

Re "Minneapolis is generally a place to pass through"

While I'm not certain we can completely dismantle at this point, I do think it should be an option on the table especially as we will not be able to afford billion dollar projects in the future. Why not explore a European model where freeways are truly roads, that is serving point to point mobility between cities and only connecting beltways within cities, and then cities are served by a grid of streets, boulevards, and transit? The problem is that our freeway investments, intended to enhance regional and national mobility when the first phase was built in the 50s-70s, created a subsidized land use pattern that was codified as "normal" in the 80s-00s.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby Andrew_F » July 12th, 2013, 8:06 am

We're very lucky that here in the Twin Cities most of our urban freeways were built in trenches rather than as viaducts. I do think we have some viaducts that need to go-- most particularly the huge 94 ramps in the North Loop, but we can work with our entrenched freeways without having to get rid of them. Slowly, over the next 40 years we can deck over some significant sections of freeway, one block at a time, without having to get rid of the freeways at all.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby Snelbian » July 12th, 2013, 8:09 am

at40man wrote:Generally Minneapolis is a place that I pass through because I am trying to get somewhere else, as do thousands of others.
Isn't that the problem?

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby mullen » July 12th, 2013, 8:11 am

i dont think dismantling freeways is a foolish. i think it's a subject worthy of study, just as it's being done in other cities. sadly this is still very car centric metro area. the 94 viaduct is unfortunate. the only saving grace was a freeway right on the riverfront was canceled. likewise the connector through uptown/chain of lakes to highway 100.

as somone who lives in mpls, "as do thousands of others", i would welcome boulevards and more of a european model.

if you're just passing through minneapolis why not take 62,694 or 494? those roads were built for this reason. we have lots of options for your convenience. we're overbuilt for highways here. why pass through the center of the city if it's such a terrible burden for you?

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby talindsay » July 12th, 2013, 8:20 am

We look back at how stupid those people were in the 1950s when they ripped up perfectly good, functional, paid-for infrastructure because it didn't meet what was currently in vogue and was viewed as outdated and outmoded. Personally I wish they had never cut the freeways through the city, but they did - and it's built infrastructure that we've already paid the prices for, both economically and culturally. As somebody who thinks the streetcar rails never should have been ripped up I believe that we should never rip up built infrastructure en masse, allowing only the occasional exception when a really good, specific case can be made. Dismantling downtown freeways would be even stupider than ripping out the streetcars, given the tremendous social price we paid to put that infrastructure in.

Tearing out things you don't like is shortsighted and foolish.

A much smarter thing is to find ways to mitigate the tremendous problems of the freeways. We can heal the wounds the freeways ripped in our cities without taking the draconian and frankly, ridiculous step of destroying infrastructure. We're fortunate that most of our freeways were cut into the fabric, meaning that we have grade separation. It would be far wiser to cap the freeways at the busiest places; to build wider bridges with construction on either side of the surface street at less busy places; to push development right up to the edge of the freeway with its back turned to it in the rest. With these and other techniques we can allow the urban form to return around the freeways without going on a vitriolic self-spiting exercise of destroying infrastructure.

Don't like freeways? Neither do I. Don't use them. Build the city around them, hide them, push them down below the city's view. But don't destroy them.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby mulad » July 12th, 2013, 8:27 am

Marlys Harris, who wrote the MinnPost article, and John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee and current president & CEO of the Congress for New Urbanism, were both talking about this on MPR's The Daily Circuit yesterday:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/displa ... n-freeways

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby FISHMANPET » July 12th, 2013, 8:28 am

First, as another resident of Minneapolis, I have no desire to make it easier to get through my city. So I have no problem removing freeways if that's the argument.

Second, just because we've made an investment doesn't mean we need to keep it around. The freeways are a sunk cost, but if they're not worth having around why continue to maintain them. Should we have kept around urban horse stables that pulled streetcars when they were electrified, because we've already built them? Kept around masted ships when steam powered vessels were far better because we already had them? Or kept around steam locomotive engines when diesel was much better in all regards? It just sounds like a silly argument.

And of course our highways are sunk in rather than elevated, so our costs are different, but according to to Maryly's article, it was cheaper for John Norquist to tear down the urban freeway than rehab it. Continuing to repair the freeway sounds like a waste of money to me, but you'd argue, talindsay, that we should have kept it around because it was already built?

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby talindsay » July 12th, 2013, 8:36 am

FISHMANPET wrote:Second, just because we've made an investment doesn't mean we need to keep it around. The freeways are a sunk cost, but if they're not worth having around why continue to maintain them. Should we have kept around urban horse stables that pulled streetcars when they were electrified, because we've already built them? Kept around masted ships when steam powered vessels were far better because we already had them? Or kept around steam locomotive engines when diesel was much better in all regards? It just sounds like a silly argument.
That sounds *exactly* like the kind of arguments made for ripping out the streetcar rails. But how can somebody honestly say, without feeling just a bit disingenuous, "if they're not worth having around why continue to maintain them"? Do you *remember* what Minneapolis was like when the 35W bridge was down? The highways certainly have not fallen into disuse, the tide of suburbanites commuting into the city hasn't turned, and city folks haven't started using Central Avenue as their primary way to get from the Quarry to Downtown, or Nicollet to get from Kingfield to Downtown. The city currently relies on its freeways. I hope we can shift some of that, but even if we accept that destroying freeways would be an acceptable long-term outcome, any discussion of removing freeways from Minneapolis at this point is completely premature.

Don't get me wrong, there are *specific* cases where it's worked: Seattle is a prime example. But ripping out freeways won't suddenly make our city into Vancouver - Vancouver never cut itself up to put in freeways, and it has 50 years of unique urban form as a result, which we don't have. Its other transportation options (including the streets for cars) have been built to consider the absence of arteries.

Even if your long-term plan is to pull a GM-style infrastructure destruction on our city, you need to be realistic and realize the time hasn't come. Show me the decline in highway traffic, the mass cultural shift in what is viewed as "fashionable". I'm a new urbanist but sometimes extreme new urbanism shoots itself in the foot.

Mitigate, don't destroy.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby mulad » July 12th, 2013, 8:37 am

To get into the conversation a bit, I agree that our region is different than Boston and other places which had large viaducts. It's much easier to justify tearing down a big above-ground structure and either putting it underground or converting it to a surface street. We do have some viaduct structures that could/should be converted to something else. The I-94 ramps cutting southeast/northwest through the North Loop are especially interesting candidates.

But if there becomes a significant movement to get rid of the trenched freeways as well, I think it'd be a good idea to look at converting them to narrower multi-modal corridors. For instance, I could imagine replacing I-35W with a mixed corridor of a dedicated busway, a set of railroad tracks, and a bikeway -- and there'd still probably be room to narrow the trench and knit the neighborhoods on each side back together somewhat, all while maintaining or expanding the capacity to move people rather than cars.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby seanrichardryan » July 12th, 2013, 8:49 am

FISHMANPET wrote:...It just sounds like a silly argument.
Exactly. Lets talk about removing freeways when they are no longer useful pieces of infrastructure, when steam powered PRTs make our horseless buggies obsolete.
Q. What, what? A. In da butt.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby RailBaronYarr » July 12th, 2013, 9:06 am

I think mulad hits the nail on the head. I'll admit I got sucked in to both the MinnPost and MPR comments sections. I think it unwise to say "rip them out" because it implies a drastic, near-term effort to remove freeways through Minneapolis and St Paul while our entire metro region is still built the way it is. The problem is that Even planning bodies like Met Council and MnDOT looking 27 years in to the future aren't even considering a long, long range plan of possible conversion, and what it might mean to financial outlays, environmental impact, etc if paired with the right investments in other mobility options over the next 50 years. They still look 50 years out and see 35W, 35E, 94, etc as they are today in our cities (potentially even planning for them to get another widening or 2).

Framing the discussion as ripping them out also gets the guttural, visceral reaction from the pro-pro-car crowd, or just your average citizen worried that the result will be hundreds of thousands of commuters forced to drive on tiny streets like Blaisdell to get to work or through Minneapolis for their destination. Because it SOUNDS like we'll be doing what the stupid move in the 50s was - immediate removal of an entire built network.

Met Council needs to take a much stronger approach to the vision of 50 years out and seriously ask - can we continue to afford these freeways, and what they imply for surrounding municipality road requirements, as a metro region? What are the implications on the environment if we assume 35W will continue to have 6 lanes as it approaches downtown Mpls in perpetuity? Etc Etc. The come up with possible plans and back it up with hard numbers, and be willing to make the hard decisions. And implement slowly, in many many phases as transit/biking is improved alongside land-use changes. It took literally 60 years to get to where we are now, it may take 40-50 years to get back to a different built form.

Phase 1 is removal of viaducts and strategic value capture/TIF by decking over 94 or 35W in certain spots. Improve the core neighborhoods first (while helping increase land supply, even if negative nellies say demand isn't there :) )

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby talindsay » July 12th, 2013, 9:14 am

Very thoughtful response, RBY. I think you're exactly right that regional bodies should question whether the current built form could be modified to reduce dependency on freeways, to concentrate growth back into the city, and to shift use towards other modes. The first step is mitigation in the current built form, which could start today, but regional bodies aren't even talking about this. To them mitigation seems to mean big ugly sound barriers.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby MNdible » July 12th, 2013, 9:16 am

Most of the great successes of freeway removal that have been trumpeted are really redundant or otherwise superfluous elements to the freeway system, and as noted have also tended to be the ugliest and most egregious examples of viaducts. So it certainly makes sense to remove unnecessary and ugly pieces of infrastructure.

No doubt there are a few of these in Minneapolis, but it's a big jump that involves saying "induced demand" and "the efficient street grid" and "clap your hands if you believe in fairies" a lot to suggest that you could ever eliminate any of the major trunklines in the metro area.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby RailBaronYarr » July 12th, 2013, 9:23 am

^Not even over the course of 50 years with changing demographics, rising fuel prices, cities/regions strapped for cash WRT infrastructure, and potential increases in costs associated with carbon use?

I hope no one is seriously saying the street grid is an efficient means of moving people by vehicle from Bloomington (or Lakeville) to Minneapolis (or beyond for some). That's outlandish. They can be efficient at moving people within neighborhoods and cities.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby MNdible » July 12th, 2013, 9:45 am

Obviously, projecting 50 years into the future is something of a fool's errand, and I could be completely wrong. But I do see the freeways remaining important elements of our transportation infrastructure, especially as we keep removing auto capacity from surface streets.

As discussed somewhat in the "future cars" thread, I think that advances in car technology are going to mediate many of the issues you've noted. And while I suspect that the modeshare for autos will fall significantly, our current freeway system can't handle its current demand and we're projecting the metro area will grow significantly in population. So, I think that the freeway system will continue to have a place for a long time.

Unless, of course, in 50 years we finally get those flying cars.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby mattaudio » July 12th, 2013, 9:52 am

talindsay wrote:Do you *remember* what Minneapolis was like when the 35W bridge was down?
I think you make a lot of good points and I'm not convinced about removing most of our freeways (soon), but I seem to remember that when the 35W bridge was down, it was really no big deal. People just adjusted their routines and made do.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby twincitizen » July 12th, 2013, 10:11 am

Didn't David Levinson write like a 5-part piece on that on his blog (and possibly on Streets.MN too)?

Honestly, if we hadn't panicked to replace the 35W bridge and taken a just moment, we could have at least studied removing 35W between West Bank and somewhere on the other side of the river in NE. I don't think 35W going through the city is particularly helpful to downtown or the surrounding neighborhoods. Just look at the whole snarl from the 94/35W commons through Cedar-Riverside...just awful. There's always I-94 and 280 to facilitate the same movements. Those are more than sufficient in off-peak hours for moving trucks, goods, etc.

I think the bridge is very nice and was replaced incredibly efficiently, but I'm not convinced that it was absolutely necessary to do so. That was a big opportunity to improve our core neighborhoods and disadvantaged communities, while saving hundreds of millions of dollars, at the sacrifice of some regional mobility.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby David Greene » July 12th, 2013, 10:23 am

DaPerpKazoo wrote:Slowly, over the next 40 years we can deck over some significant sections of freeway, one block at a time, without having to get rid of the freeways at all.
While I like the theory around decking I just don't see how it's practical. The ventilation issues alone would be huge. And really, what can we build on top of them? We aren't going to build big towers, that's for sure.

Either the freeways are going to stay as they are or we're going to remove them and connect beltways as mattaudio suggests. We aren't going to do expansion of our urban freeways. We may even see lane reductions as maintenance becomes even more unsustainable.

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Re: Dismantling Downtown Freeways

Postby David Greene » July 12th, 2013, 10:35 am

talindsay wrote:Do you *remember* what Minneapolis was like when the 35W bridge was down?
Yes I do. I travel I-94 both ways daily. I remember a total non-event from a traffic standpoint. People adapted rather well, as we should expect.


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