Think about if any individual proposed changing Guadalupe Road, from Airport Boulevard via UT and downtown, with a freeway, which might carry interstate visitors from Mexico to Minnesota. The thought is absurd. One might hardly consider a worse place for an interstate. Coming shut, maybe, is the portion of Interstate-35 that runs via central Austin.
The explanations that we’ve got an interstate freeway chopping via the center of our metropolis are ugly. In 1962, I-35 changed tree-lined East Avenue — a location chosen for the specific goal of solidifying the racial segregation line that was put in place in 1928. Whereas racism explains why I-35 landed the place it did, there’s extra to the story of city highways than that. The political energy of the automobile trade, together with different social phenomena within the mid-twentieth century, resulted in American infrastructure being constructed nearly solely round automobiles, sending our nation right into a spiral of automobile dependency through which city highways performed an important position.
However the story isn’t over. Astonishingly, at this very second, TxDOT is engaged on a proposal to increase I-35 via Austin to as much as 22 lanes. Such a plan would entrench us even deeper into automobile dependency as a result of if you increase a freeway you encourage extra driving, whereas concurrently making it harder to journey in different modes. The widened freeway additionally incentivizes car-reliant growth and sprawl. The extra automobiles on the street then want a spot to park. Extra parking tons make issues additional other than each other, making it harder to stroll or bike, incentivizing extra driving … and we’re off to the races. Mockingly then, freeway expansions by no means resolve congestion and sometimes make it worse by feeding into the cycle of automobile dependency. After increasing the Katy Freeway in Houston, for instance, commute occasions throughout evenings elevated by 55%.
Automotive dependency in cities isn’t simply disagreeable — it’s dangerous. It’s unhealthy for the surroundings, kills over one million folks a 12 months, and severely restricts who will get to maneuver round. Kids, individuals who can’t afford automobiles and the aged are caught at residence or reliant on others. And our car-centric infrastructure additionally isolates us from each other. The roads we’ve constructed don’t supply areas that permit for natural social connections to emerge, which has been proven to affect folks’s sense of belonging.
There are a lot better methods for us to reside and transfer collectively, however they may require a paradigm shift. Rethink35 is asking for a complete examine right into a proposal which, as a substitute of increasing the freeway, would reroute it round city onto current roads like SH-130. We might then reimagine the street that runs via our metropolis as a boulevard with devoted bus lanes, broad sidewalks, bike lanes, inexperienced house, and — sure — some automobile lanes. Such a street couldn’t solely carry extra folks than a freeway however might additionally present housing, enterprise, and all method of delights. It may very well be a spot to go to, not only a place to undergo.
Freeway-to-boulevard tasks are gaining steam throughout the nation and have been success tales time and time once more. College students at UT would definitely profit extra from a boulevard with housing than from an infinite freeway working via their campus. However much more importantly, the crucial selections we make about transportation at this juncture are going to form the sort of surroundings, and society, through which right now’s youth will probably be residing their complete lives.
Schoenfield is a philosophy affiliate professor at UT and board member for Rethink35, a freeway enlargement opposition group.