Replacing Freeways With Boulevards Is Pedestrian-Unfriendly

A recent commentary argues that surface-level boulevards may be bigger barriers to waterfront pedestrian access than the elevated freeways the replace.

"The city of Toronto has made major efforts the past couple of decades to revive the waterfront on Lake Ontario and to link it better to the central business district. The revival is generally a success...[but] one thing that doesn't work is the pedestrian connection between the financial districtâ€"the closest part of the central business districtâ€"and the waterfront area. "

"For years it has been conventional wisdom that the problem was the Gardiner Expressway, a 6-lane 1960s elevated that runs east-west between the two, and which looks very like the now-demolished John Fitzgerald Expressway (I-93) in Boston."

Yet, what is increasingly being seen as the barrier to a pedestrian link to the waterfront is not the 1960s elevated expressway but the 1990s Lake Shore Boulevard.

Thanks to ArchNewsNow

Full Story: Expressways to Boulevards—A Bad Idea



Nonsense from the "Reason" Foundation

I have not seen this freeway and boulevard in Toronto, and what they say may have some validity in that city. But it is obvious to anyone who has walked across many boulevards and many elevated freeways that the attempt to use this example to discredit the idea of converting freeways to boulevards generally is total nonsense.

Boulevards are generally easy to cross and pedestrian-friendly, despite all the traffic. In fact, they are often popular places for people to sit and walk. I have never seen people sitting under an elevated freeway, but I have seen many people sitting on the benches of urban boulevards. It is because they are pedestrian-friendly that neighborhoods in San Francisco, Milwaukee, and elsewhere have been revitalized by replacing freeways with boulevards.

They say that boulevards require more lanes to carry the same amount of traffic as freeways. They are obviously unclear on the concept that one goal of converting freeways to boulevards it to reduce automobile use. In fact, it is not just freeway spurs with little traffic that have been removed, as they claim. Major through-freeways have been removed in Manhattan and in Seoul, and overall traffic was reduced in both cases. Their unstated goal is obviously to avoid reducing automobile use.

A couple of points in this article are totally irrelevant:

They talk about Gardiner Expressway being less of a visual barrier now that it is surrounded by tall buildings, but the question is whether they are barriers to pedestrian movement, not whether they are visual barriers. The tall buildings mean there are more pedestrians who should be accommodated.

They talk about "pipedreams of burying the Gardiner." Yes, putting freeways underground is so expensive that it is usually a pipedream, which is exactly why we should convert them to boulevards instead of undergrounding them. (In Seattle they are debating whether to underground the Alaska Viaduct or convert it to a boulevard.)

The Reason Foundation should get an award as the most badly misnamed foundation in the country. No one could be more dogmatic and less reasonable than the Reason Foundation.

Charles Siegel

Reason purveys an advocacy message

The Reason Foundation should get an award as the most badly misnamed foundation in the country. No one could be more dogmatic and less reasonable than the Reason Foundation.


They have a message to convey, and are being perfectly reasonable within the parameters of delivering their advocacy message when they twist the context to form their message.

(and the irrelevant points are to dissemble, not convey relevant or germane information)

Best, sir,


Boulevards vs. Elevated Highways

While I'm not familiar with boulevards and elevated highways of Toronto, I am familiar with the boulevards and elevated highways of New York City -- and I think it's important to point out that there are boulevards and then there are . . . "Boulevards" -- and God, or the Devil, is truly in the "details."

For instance, for about two decades after the old elevated Westside Highway was torn down, West St. was an informal de facto waterfront "boulevard" and was, so it seemed to me, relatively easy to cross. Then shortly before 9/11/2001 it was "improved" with bike lanes (good), landscaping (good) AND impenetrable median strips (bad), less frequent cross walks (bad), and automobile turning "chutes" (very bad). Now it is, in my opinion, very disorienting and a real chore to cross -- a real (but "pretty") barrier.

Similarly, Houston St., which has for decades been an easily crossed de facto "funky" boulevard with six traffic lanes, two parking lanes, and a permeable "planted" median strip (a flat, grassy/dirt strip with occasional trees that can be used as a rest stop and which also allows one to "jaywalk" when the street is deserted -- which is surprisingly often) is now undergoing formal, heavy-duty "boulevardization" with a purposely impenetrable median strip, fewer, smaller, and less convenient rest stops on the corners and turning chutes for automobiles. So, in a year or two, this "boulevard" will be a boulevard that is a barrier and a chore to cross also.

That being said, I also think that elevated highways can, on occasion, be in fact happy additions to the urban landscape. I think the old West Side Highway was, for much of its length, actually a nice Art Deco gateway to the waterfront, rather than a barrier. And the current elevated East Side highway that is just south of the Brooklyn Bridge is a terrific addition to the Lower Manhattan streetscape, being both a "gateway" to the waterfront (including the South Street Seaport) and a de facto, sheltered bus drop off and bus terminal for all the tour buses that the area attracts.

Some other examples of elevated roadways that are pleasant additions to the NYC streetscape and are more permeable seams than barriers -- yes, people actually hang out beneath them -- are the elevated roadways around Grand Central Terminal and the elevated roadways leading off the Queensborough Bridge (which form the "roof" for the Bridgemarket "green market" complex).

Re: Boulevards vs. Elevated Highways

I prefer Frederick Law Olmstead's Ocean Parkway to Robert Moses' old West Side Highway. The Art Deco style shouldn't make us forget how gloomy it was to have an elevated highway hulking over the waterfront - though you are right that the devil is in the details and that the "boulevard" that replaced the West Side Highway is badly designed.

On the other hand, the boulevards that replaced San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway and Central Freeway are well designed, and both those places are very pleasant and attractive to pedestrians now that the elevated freeways have been removed. I hear that the same is true in Milwaukee.

I haven't seen the changes in Houston St, and I will check them out next time I am in NY. I believe the earlier widening of Houston St. was also a Robert Moses project, and the urban fabric still hasn't recovered from it. You can see where buildings demolished and there are still no buildings fronting on Houston St.

Charles Siegel

Re: Boulevards vs. Elevated Highways

Everyone is entitled to their own preferences, of course, but I've never been all that fond of NYC's Olmstead-inspired parkways -- they seem way over-hyped to me -- although Ocean Parkway seems to me to be, at least in certain parts, somewhat more successful than some others of that type. It seems to me that because the Olmstead-inspired parkways tend to shun commerce, such roadways are not really all that successful as urban boulevards and, because of their size, layout and location, not all that successful as parkland, either. Actually it seems to me that, in a way, they are almost (but not quite!) as anti-urban as expressways.

But, in any case, it seems to me that Ocean Parkway and the old West Side Highway are two very different kinds of roadways, and comparisons between the two are not particularly useful. Ocean Parkway is an inland street that runs through relatively quiet, largely residential, areas, while the old West Side Highway was a highway that was built along and above a street that serviced a very active waterfront to the west and a very busy industrial/warehousing area to the east. The West Side Highway allowed for a more intensive and urban use of the land -- West Street, below, was used as a holding area for trucks gaining access to the piers, for instance -- and therefore served a genuinely useful purpose when it was built (unlike, perhaps, some other elevated highways). Plus, the West Side Highway ran along a public right of way (so buildings weren't demolished to build it), and its unusual off and on ramps did not extend beyond this public right of way (so it really didn't intrude upon the surrounding city).

And while Olmstead-inspired parkways seem to me to be generally over-hyped, it seems to me that elevated highways, like the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive south of the Brooklyn Bridge, tend to be unfairly underappreciated for their aesthetic contribution -- both actual and potential -- to the cityscape. They needn't be -- and aren't always -- gloomy barriers.

Regarding Houston St.: As far as I've been able to find out, and contrary to the Houston St. listing on Wikipedia, Houston Street (at least West Houston Street) was widened in either the early 1950s, during the 1940s or in the late 1930s. My guess -- which I haven't been able to verify -- is that it was widened as part of the construction of the Independent Subway line which runs beneath it (the "F" line). (This would seem to make sense as it seems much of the east side of Sixth Ave., just north of Houston St., also seems to have been leveled for the construction of the IND. And other streets in Lower Manhattan have also been created or widened as part of the construction of subway lines -- e.g., Seventh Ave. South, Sixth Ave. below Houston St. and Lafayette St.)

In any case, due to the recent real estate boom, a number of the empty lots along the southern side of West Houston St. have now been rebuilt and "rewoven" into the urban fabric.

But getting back to the main point:

It seems to me that Peter Samuels may be overlooking important differences among various boulevards (i.e., the bad design of SOME of them) in his criticism of them in "Expressways to Boulevards -- A Bad Idea." But I think that some of what he says in favor of elevated expressways has -- or, in certain conditions, might have -- some truth to them, also.

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