Search This Blog

Monday, December 29, 2008

More Freeways = Worse Urbanism

An ironic fact about freeways is that while they are designed to connect towns, they effectively partition them as well. A look at the south suburbs of Baltimore tell the story. The area between I-95, MD-100, and the Chesapeake Bay is criss-crossed with eight interstate-standard freeways. Interstates 95, 195, 695, 895, and 97, along with Maryland routes 10, 100, and 295.

View Larger Map

The area is served by MARC and the MTA Light Rail, however the stations in this area are predominantly park-and-ride. Home prices in these neighborhoods are significantly lower than in other parts of Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. And crime is not uncommon in these suburbs.

Further south, 95 and 295 cut through DC suburbs in Prince George's, but are currently only crossed by the Capital Beltway. Though this area is of similar size and similar geography, the population is much higher than northern Anne Arundel and eastern Howard counties. House prices are comparable, but they have been rising lately, particularly around the Metro stations.

I blame much of this on street connectivity. When the landscape is drawn and quartered like it has been in Baltimore's southern suburbs, it naturally has a negative effect on street connectivity. Lack of street connectivity can lead to higher incidence of traffic accidents, longer response times for emergency vehicles, and greater traffic jams.

Of course, this is a very unscientific and opinion based overview of how lots of highways can ruin an area. I'm sure there are lots of people who think Glen Burnie is a much better town than Hyattsville, so I encourage comments here.


Douglas A. Willinger said...

How do you reconcile the greater regional connectivity of freeways with private property that is not open to the public?

Dave Murphy said...

The street grid is public property. More densely populated areas cannot have their street grids partitioned partitioned by freeways. Not to say that freeways shouldn't be there, but they shouldn't pose as a physical barrier like the ones in Baltimore. I-66 in Arlington is a good example of a freeway offering a lot of street grid connectivity over the freeway. Baltimore is the exact opposite of that, as connectivity over/under the freeways gets more difficult and expensive the larger the footprint and greater concentration of the freeways.

Cavan said...

Well said, Dave. The interstate system was envisioned as connecting human settlements, not dividing them. The people who pushed for the funding for the highways did not think that anyone would cut up their own cities. They didn't really think about it. They lived in a walkable town/city environment and didn't really know that there was any way to destroy that reality.

If you look at other places in the industrialized world, you'll notice that the highways curve around the cities. They never go through.

Baltimore is interesting in that the quadrant opposite of its Favored Quarter seems to have more highways than its Favored Quarter.

Scenic Wheaton said...

I wish we had someone like you on The Hill

Douglas A. Willinger said...

"The people who pushed for the funding for the highways did not think that anyone would cut up their own cities. "

I think there was often insufficient thought to this by many highway planners, hence the later move towards things such as the not yet built I-66 K Street Tunnel.

Another factor is that of railroad interests who may have used their influence to prevent railroad corridor multi-modelization, hence leading to the practice of carving all new corridors through residential areas (which to me is weird when there is a parallel railroad industrial corridor).

Note that the doctrinaire anti DC highway movement got significant support from that railroad industry law firm of Covington & Burling.