Friday, September 19, 2008

Mr. Miller, Tear Down this Freeway

This post is the fifth in a series of posts I am writing about lessons planners could learn from Canada. My recent trip showed me North American cities that have done a better job of managing their urban fabric than is typical south of the 49th Parallel. Due to my other obligations, this post has been a long time coming. I apologize.

I spent 4 days in Toronto, and I was impressed with the waterfront renaissance. All along lake Ontario, parks and condos seemed to be springing up. The developments seem likely to continue to bring life to the shore of the lake.

The Gardiner crosses York St.

Unfortunately, separating the waterfront area from Downtown is a postwar era urban freeway. The Gardiner is an elevated roadway owned by the City of Toronto which runs parallel to the lakefront. It was built in the 1950s and 1960s, and like expressways across North America built for the age of the automobile it was built mainly with regard to moving cars into the city even at the expense of the urban fabric.

A ramp encircles a park at York St.

And like many cities plagued by waterfront expressways, Toronto is considering tearing it down. On the very day I walked down to the lake and under the Gardiner, the Globe and Mail ran a story on the Mayor Miller's announcement of plans to study the freeway's removal.

A look down upon the area from the CN Tower

If the freeway comes down, it will be a good step to knitting the city back together. It will give Torontonians better access to their lake. The Gardiner could easily join the list of waterfront freeways that have come down over the past couple of years: the Embarcadero, the Central Artery, and Harbor Drive have all come down and San Francisco, Boston, and Portland are all better places for it.

The Whitehurst from the Key Bridge

Closer to home, however, we still have our own example of a waterfront freeway. The Whitehurst runs for several blocks from M Street just west of 35th in Georgetown to K & 27th Streets.

The Whitehurst, as seen from
Wisconsin at the Canal

The elevated structure obscures views of the Potomac from historic Georgetown, but many residents support it, nonetheless. It serves a role in removing through traffic from congested M Street.

Looking west from Water & Wisconsin

The freeway actually runs above Water Street for most of its entire length, with businesses fronting the underbelly of this relic of DC's freeway past. Like most of the freeways in the urban core, it is a remnant of an ambitious (Robert) Moses-like plan to disembowel DC with interstates, a-la-Los Angeles.

The Whitehurst towers over
Georgetown's waterfront park

Hopefully, Washington can soon join Toronto in seeking to remove barriers to its waterfront.

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