Removing Highways from Cities: Correcting America’s Failed Experiment

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Learning Outcomes

  • Learn how the automobile-first transportation paradigm was created, the resulting destructive patterns, and the antidotes — with highway removals preferred.
  • Understand how pro-community, pro-city metrics used by the world's best cities outperform pro-highway, anti-city metrics that DOTs use, in terms of fiscal, social, and sustainable outcomes.
  • Learn the vocabulary of highway removals, arguments to counter the DOTs' pro-highway rhetoric, and ways to favorably shape the politics of highway removals in cities.

More Course Details

Cities were invented to foster an exchange of labor, ideas, goods, education, services, and security and constructed to reduce trip lengths and reward land use proximity. As cities grew, urban design principles from street networks to land use mix and density were refined. In 1920, American and European cities were equally transit-friendly, urban, and walkable. However, the automobile's advent prompted new and untested metrics and ideas for travel, including highways.

Following World War II, America enthusiastically embraced the automobile and, in a just few decades, conducted the world's largest transportation-infrastructure experiment by blasting highways into and through cities. Highways between cities were fine, but highways in cities exported value and people to the suburbs; disadvantaged transit; devalued property; disproportionately harmed Black, brown, and low-income communities; and created health and environmental problems. State and federal governments and environmental agencies can make removing highways intimidating.

Understanding the history, metrics, policy positions, and vocabulary of highways will empower you and make your highway removal efforts more effective. Learn from past campaigns to use those agencies as they were intended, prevent widened and new highways, reconnect your community, create value, and reverse or stop damage to your community or city.