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Can 10 American Cities Remove Highways? CNU Says Yes

Cities could see less traffic and greater economic development

Part of Congress for the New Urbanism’s charge is keeping up to date with cities that could benefit from highway removals. Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) has, in the past, pointed to Buffalo as a city that could stand to remove a few of its urban highways, which have managed to tear the city apart since they were initially laid down.

CNU has now released a new report that lists the Kensington Expressway and Scajaquada Expressway in Buffalo as among the nation’s worst highways in need of removal. While this seems crystal clear to many people who have been advocating for these expressways to be removed/downgraded to boulevards, there are factions out there, namely the Department of Transportation (DOT) that still can’t wrap their heads around the importance of the urbanist issues at hand.

Across the US, 17 cities have committed to replace or mitigate major freeways since the late 1980s, including cities like San Francisco, Milwaukee, and New York, which fully removed highways successfully, with no adverse impact on traffic.

“Inclusion of the Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways in CNU’s Freeways Without Futures confirms that this is the right time to consider alternative designs for these roadways,” said Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. “The construction of these expressways divided communities and destroyed acres of parkland in the jewel of Olmsted’s first park system. We look forward to continuing this conversation with New York State officials, the City of Buffalo, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and other local nonprofits and activists to ensure that these roads reconnect and rebuild the communities and greenspaces that all Buffalo residents hold dear.”

Altogether, CNU’s 2019 edition of the biennial Freeways Without Futures report lists ten highways recommended for teardown, which are as follows:

  • I-10 (Claiborne Expressway), New Orleans, Louisiana
  • I-275, Tampa, Florida
  • I-35, Austin, Texas
  • I-345, Dallas, Texas
  • I-5, Portland, Oregon
  • I-64, Louisville, Kentucky
  • I-70, Denver, Colorado
  • I-81, Syracuse, New York
  • I-980, Oakland, California
  • Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways, Buffalo, New York

“Local, state, and federal resources are declining,” says Lynn Richards, President and CEO of CNU. “We need to use investments that meet multiple community goals: enhancing all kinds of mobility, promoting economic development, creating jobs, and reimagining the possibilities for waterfronts, parks, and neighborhoods.”

“For nearly 60 years, the Scajaquada Expressway has severed connections between neighborhoods, polluted Scajaquada Creek, and destroyed Fredrick Law Olmsted’s masterpiece vision for Delaware Park,” said Justin Booth, vice chair of the SCC. “Our coalition is working tirelessly to create a community-driven approach for highway removal that supports Buffalo’s ongoing economic resurgence, while addressing environmental and economic justice concerns. CNU’s recognition of the Scajaquada Expressway as a ‘Freeway Without A Future’ underscores not only the negative impact that this roadway has had on the City of Buffalo, but also shines a light on the massive opportunities that exist to protect our urban legacy and invest in our city’s future.”

In total, 29 in-city freeways were initially nominated – a jury of nationally recognized transportation experts whittled that number down to 10. The conclusion was that these outdated roadways are not beneficial to their host cities. Many of the roadways cut off cities from their waterfronts, divide parks and people, and have been deemed an inefficient use of public funds.

“We are grateful that CNU has recognized our movement to Restore Humboldt Parkway to a re-creation of the beautiful and inspiring vision of Frederick Law Olmsted,” said Karen Stanley, executive director, ROCC. “It is unconscionable that the Kensington Expressway not only destroys that internationally acclaimed design, but also caused untold health hazards of lung disease and cancer to the residents and taxpayers of the neighborhood that was cut into two very unequal pieces. It is our hope that placing our plight on a scale of national visibility will bring the attention of federal funders and even international philanthropists, so that we can ‘Put the PARK back in Humboldt Parkway!’”

“Ever since the announcements that the Kensington Expressway was to be built, dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, our community has sounded the alarm that this highway was destroying our neighborhoods, ruining our health and slashing our property values,” said Stephanie Geter, Chair of ROCC and president of Hamlin Park Community Taxpayers Association. “Sometimes people listened; most of the time they didn’t. But we keep raising our voices to insist that the federal and state departments of transportation do the right thing to correct this travesty.”

“Local, state, and federal resources are declining,” says Lynn Richards, president and CEO of CNU. “We need to use investments that meet multiple community goals: Enhancing all kinds of mobility, promoting economic development, creating jobs, and reimagining the possibilities for waterfronts, parks, and neighborhoods.”

The report also monitors the progress and challenges for three completed or underway highway removals or mitigations:

  • Rochester’s Inner Loop in New York, where a range of new development is underway, including supportive and affordable housing;
  • The Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, whose closure to traffic in January 2019 did not result in the “carmaggedon” of nightmarish traffic predicted, and whose replacement with a tunnel is likely to have been (as local groups predicted) unnecessary; and
  • I-375 through downtown Detroit, a removal scheduled to begin by 2022. The two current design alternatives for its replacement, however, still cater excessively to automobiles and very much resemble the freeway they will replace.

Local elected officials provided the following statements in response to the release of this report: 

“The super-highway transportation projects of yesterday divided neighborhoods, created barriers, and removed parks and parkways where memories were made, and communities connected,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

“The Congress for New Urbanism’s latest report is adding to the chorus of advocates recognizing the damage caused by replacing parkways with highways in the City of Buffalo,” said New York Senate Transportation Committee Chair Senator Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. “Thank you to the ROCC, SCC, and Olmsted Parks Conservancy for leading this effort to restore our parks and reunite our communities.”

“I applaud and thank the Congress for the New Urbanism for recognizing the years of hard work undertaken by ROCC and SCC, who determined long ago that it’s time to replace or redesign the Rt. 198 Scajaquada and Rt. 33 Kensington Expressways. These expressways have long severed and disrupted our communities and recreational spaces, particularly Humboldt Parkway, which connected MLK Jr. Park with Delaware Park, which is the nexus and crown jewel of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks system. We are reaching a tipping point, where eliminating these barriers would be a major step towards reunifying important parts of our city and healing decades- old wounds,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo.

“Across our country, highways built in the name of urban renewal have caused countless impacts on communities,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “It’s well past time for us to rethink these roadways and develop alternatives that will better serve everyone in our community.  I’m proud to support that effort here in Western New York, and look forward to working with everyone involved to find creative solutions that will help continue Buffalo’s growth.”

Freeways Without Futures portrays the subtle but growing transformation of attitudes away from car-centric thinking and urban highways: Now, in more places from coast to coast, the question is no longer whether to replace, but when and how to remove and transform. Copies of Freeways Without Futures can be downloaded from

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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