At this point many could point to Route 123 and question, if we are already seeing a division in economic investment and income levels between South 123 and North 123 what can we do to correct it and what will correcting it really accomplish? This may appear to be pseudo-planning to some but previous projects that have done exactly what is being discussed have proven that bigger is not always better and removal of these forms of obstructions create a focused interest in development. Since you have read through some very dense material to get to this point its time to reward you with pictures and less of our data driven analysis. Part 1 Part 2
Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco
Most planners are familiar with this project, but on the road focused east coast, the birthplace of the American Highway, many have no idea of this successful road removal project. Embarcadero District was created out of the disaster of an earthquake. The sale of the land to local development spurred public amenities, had no effect on traffic when provided with alternate transportation modes, and became a boondoggle for the people of San Francisco by improving the economics of a city facing stagnation. Beyond the functional improvements of the modification, no one can deny the striking beauty of the landscape that someone long ago decided was not suitable for development. This project shows that some of the same areas that are under valued by jurisdictions could be better utilized as a tax base and public spaces through private cooperation.
Cheonggye Freeway, Seoul, South Korea
Some might point to South Korea and imply that because it is a foreign country that it must be a left-wing, granola, inspired by Europe land of illogical hippies. Anyone who might said that is bringing their ideology into a discussion which should be viewed with much more discipline. South Korea was as focused, if not more focused than the U.S. on creating a car-central infrastructure through out the 20th Century. In a country which consistently faces the specter of North Korea to the north and China to the south, conservative capitalism has been the motto for decades. Got your attention Fox News viewers? The Cheonggye Freeway was created in the 1970s through the heart of Seoul and was considered a landmark to capitalism soon became the source of socioeconomic hardship for businesses within the vicinity and saw an influx of cheap industrial construction in the region. Beyond the effects on the aesthetics, environment, and other “hippie” stuff it created blight directly in the center of what should have been the economic symbol of a thriving South Korea. The removal design of the Freeway in 2000 came with serious criticism from economic leaders of the time who believed it would cause a traffic nightmare, instead by removing the freeway more efficient modes of mass transportation became sustainably utilized by the population and no traffic impact was felt to other entry roads to the city. Now in 2012 the area has been marveled by architects and economists alike as one of the most successful business districts in the world.
Times Square, NYC
If you still think that removal of vehicular zones is a crazy liberal conspiracy to turn cities into parks consider the case of Times Square. Once a traffic congested pedestrian death zone which inhibited local retail innovation outside of the likes of ESPN Sportszone and Ruby Tuesday, now a thriving economic engine for the city. The area has seen a renaissance in its arts district which has spurred new development and in the adjacent region. Most notably New Yorkers and of course tourists now have a place where they are the priority without causing any impact on traffic in the region. No longer does bus exhaust prohibit the capability for a restaurant to have outdoor seating and the monthly stories about pedestrian deaths have ceased. Who was the liberal nut-job who initiated the project? Fiscal conservative and economic hero Michael Bloomberg whose message to ideological Republicans at the time went unheard, forcing him to become an independent. Since becoming the mayor he has lead New York City through an era of change from a 20th century post industrial financial leader to an innovative and vibrant commercial leader in the 21st century. All of which is being done without crippling the infrastructure of the city.
Park East Freeway, Milwaukee
Milwaukee through the 20th century acted a bell weather and indicator to the health of industrial America. The city, much like many former factory powers in the U.S., faced stagnation, declining job availability, and a lack of vibrancy and entrepreneurship. The city had sprawled out from its heart, an developers had no desire to construct state of the art commercial and residential space next to an eyesore freeway.
With the approval of the freeways removal an onslaught of new development has begun in Milwaukee and corporate interest has returned towards the center of town, attracting 21st century commerce and residents. While the project is still in the midst of determining its success, based on other projects listed above the citizens and businesses of Milwaukee are likely going to see benefits in spades from this decision.
I-70, St. Louis
St. Louis has long focused on improving its road infrastructure to help alleviate traffic and attract businesses and developers to the heart of the city. This was a process that occurred for 40 years, and with each cycle the roads became wider but the businesses and projects became less profitable. At the center of this envisioned road utopia was the I-70, a project so important to St. Louis it saw its creation aligned with the construction of the Gateway Arch in the 1970s. Unfortunately the I-70 became the death strike to a city which once symbolized out of the box economic thinking and the pioneer spirit of Americans. For 40 years the city has seen continued urban decay with a decreased population, low economic growth rates, higher crime rates, and higher disillusionment of its citizens.
Is something poisoning and killing entrepreneurs in St. Louis, has investment in new industries become infeasible? Cities like Portland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, etc. have all escaped their industrial past and yet St. Louis a city which once held the Olympics in 1904, and at its peak was the 4th largest city in the United States continues to commit urban suicide. At its core, St. Louis sold its identity of being the city on the river for the dream of a vehicular paradise. The current proposed project would remove the focus from the car and return the riverfront to the public and to economic development which could help the city return from the brink.
These are just a few of the many examples of how road design has been misguided through improper modeling techniques by Departments of Transportation leading to the “need” for central arterial highways through vibrant commercial districts. While these roads did provide a route for commuters, they also became choked with suburban overuse, strangled the very economic engines they were intended to assist, and under utilized public funds which could have provided a better backbone for the system as a whole. Does this apply to Tysons Corner however?
Tysons Corner is not at all a city at this point, at best it is a redirection of suburban sprawl to create a secondary commercial option to the neighboring Arlington and Washington DC. This doesn’t mean it has to continue to be shackled by this criteria. The benefit of Tysons Corner is it has yet to make the really costly mistakes which have crippled other jurisdictions including parts of Washington DC. At this point the changes can be made to the user priority of the system far cheaper than the equivalent cost of projects such as Milwaukee, St. Louis, etc. By stopping the cycle of poor design at its implementation we can begin the creation of our city with the new 21st century model instead of returning to the 20th century system which destroyed these former powers. Instead of losses of a billion dollars to revitalize the district we could be facing millions of dollars in revenue which could help fund the new infrastructure that has real importance and the added benefit is a homogenous growth of all areas of Tysons which will no longer be divided in its investment interest.
Tell us if you believe VDOT and the Richmond design model should allow Tysons to develop with more progressive design criteria by supporting and signing our petition to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. We need to stop the status quo of design in the infrastructure of our region and to help finally alleviate the traffic nightmare, that regardless of road expansion expenditures, continues to be the highest in the country. If you support this idea please sign our petition and help spread the word. Information provided will only be used as an attachment to our letter to Fairfax County requesting a reconsideration of their decision and in no way used for economic or marketing benefit. Also in no way will your name be made public on this website and will only be provided to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
Navid Roshan-Afshar, P.E. / Petition signer #1