Rochester Shows Possible Future for Former Highways

A former freeway is undergoing a massive redevelopment that goes beyond highway removal to reconnect and revitalize surrounding areas.

2 minute read

April 18, 2024, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Aerial view of downtown Rochester, New York with river and bridge in foreground.

Jacob / Adobe Stock

What happens to a former freeway? In Rochester, New York the answer is: a lot. As Mark Byrnes explains in Bloomberg CityLab, “Turn off Union Street — the street-level boulevard that replaced the below-grade Inner Loop — onto the newly established thoroughfare dubbed Adventure Place and you’ll see a hotel and gaming cafe leading to four-story apartment buildings and a strikingly modern museum. It’s all part of a branded development called the Neighborhood of Play, anchored by the Strong National Museum of Play, a 375,000-square-foot interactive attraction that opened in 1982 and recently completed a $75 million expansion.”

Built in the 1960s heyday of massive freeway projects, the Inner Loop declined in usefulness in the following decades and was first closed down in 2014. “Today, the footprint of the highway removal project known as Inner Loop East looks like a checklist of 2010s US urban design priorities: Bulb-outs, protected bike lanes, apartment buildings with varied brick facades, first-floor retail and landscaped sidewalks hug the downtown side of Union Street.”

The project, which is still ongoing, serves as a useful model for other cities seeking to use Reconnecting Communities grants to remove underutilized freeway segments and stitch together neighborhoods divided by highways. Byrnes describes the challenges faced by the projects and the ways that the city worked to understand how to best redevelop the areas where the highway used to be.

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