Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Two views of I-45

Today, two different ghosts of Houston's automotive past, both sent to me some time ago by Jean:

The first, a planned expansion in 1946 (pulled from a newspaper article) that shows how freeways (or "urban expressways") used to get planned... a gradual slowing of traffic through an intensification of on andofframps (incidentally beautiful from above), until it spreads out into a downtown "delta", which reconnects at the other end of the city into tributaries. Note the striking similarity in image and concept to the human circulatory system, albeit one that does not circulate. An oscillatory system, I guess. Nevertheless, it does show that as they were originally conceived and constructed, freeways did not strangle or bypass cities any more than a half-dozen railway stations strangle or bypass Paris. Here is symbiosis, not separation.

A mere fifteen years later, demolition had already begun to run an elevated expressway directly south of downtown, directly through a busy and successful commercial street (Pierce). The property values on this right-of-way were so high they could only purchase one-half the requested width, and Pierce elevated remains narrow today. This diagram was lifted from a detailed (if not terribly critical) history of Houston's transportation systems, commissioned by TXDOT . Look at the 45/59 interchange in the lower right--did you know that it took up more than six city blocks? According to the last census, 43% of land in downtown Houston is taken up by right-of-ways. 2.4% of this same area is public open space. Perhaps some of this transportation space could serve a second use...

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