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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Freeway Deconstruction and Urban Regeneration in the United States

  • Author(s): Cervero, Robert
  • et al.

A new relationship between elevated freeways and central-city neighborhoods seems to be forming. Despite worsening traffic congestion, a number of American cities have or are in the midst of demolishing elevated structures in favor of at-grade boulevards and arterials with far less traffic carrying capacities. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the city of San Francisco, thanks in part to the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. The damage cause by Loma Prieta forced city officials to address whether to sink funds into building new facilities and seismically retrofitting existing ones, or replacing structures with slower moving at-grade facilities while at the same time opening up access to waterfronts, removing physical obstructions, and redeveloping economically stagnant neighborhoods. In San Francisco’s case, demolition of the elevated Embarcadero Freeway, along with assorted streetscape enhancements, the introduction of surface tramways, and urban re-designs, has radically transformed the city’s downtown waterfront, creating an open, nicely landscaped, pedestrian-friendly corridor. Just west of downtown San Francisco, several miles of the Central Freeway spur were also torn down, replaced by an attractively landscaped more “human scale” boulevard, improved transit, pedestrian and bikeway facilities and new public spaces. Several other spurs and ramps of the Central Freeway are also currently being taken down.

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