Many interstate highways across North America are about 50 years old, at the end of their lifespans and in need of repair or replacement. Some communities, such as Montreal, New Orleans and the Bronx are actively considering or in the process of removing an aging highway.
A group of students in the University of Pennsylvania School of Design spent the spring semester researching and offering proposals for highway removal and redesign to government and planning officials in six cities.
In the Highway Tear-down Studio teams, students explored the cities’ needs and created designs to meet those needs and to improve traffic flow. The students also conducted research to determine how their designs would impact public health and how residents would be affected socially, economically and environmentally.
The studio is the brainchild of John Landis, chair of City and Regional Planning in PennDesign, and led by Harris Steinberg, a PennDesign professor and executive director of Penn Praxis, the applied-research arm of the School.
Steinberg says transportation planners expect that the United States will need to spend $2.5 trillion dollars to repair the aging highways in the next 50 years.
“So the students started to question, ‘How do we want to spend this money? Do we need to rebuild our urban highways the same way we need to rebuild our suburban or exurban highways? Are there different models? What impact have highways had on urban life?’”
Students working on the Bronx’s Sheridan Expressway project proposed removing the highway and replacing it with a boulevard to eventually reduce the number of trucks using the road.
Currently, New York City is undergoing a federally funded land-use and transportation study, which is looking specifically at what to do with the Sheridan.
“When we spoke with [city planners], they encouraged us to maybe go a little bit farther, to push our design ideas further because we were students, because we didn’t have the same kinds of practical constraints that they do,” student Chrissy Lee says. “I’m not sure if they’re going to integrate any of our ideas, but it will be interesting to see if we gave them something they hadn’t thought of before.”
In Montreal, the city already has plans to remove the Autoroute Bonaventure, a freeway through downtown. Student Josh Karlin-Resnick’s team proposed creating a bus rapid-transit corridor to increase public transportation and reduce vehicle traffic.
“We hope they can take some of these broader ideas that we included in our proposal and have that inform how they approach this new proposal they’re putting together,” Karlin-Resnick says.
The studio allowed students to work on real-world problems and participate in the dialogue about highways and their impact on cities.
Student teams also researched and made proposals for highways in New Haven, Conn.; Washington, D.C.; New Orleans; and Toronto.
The students presented their proposals to local officials as their final projects at the end of the semester.