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Open Access Publications from the University of California

When Finance Leads to Planning: Urban Planning, Highway Planning, and Metropolitan Freeways in California

  • Author(s): Taylor, Brian D.
  • et al.

Freeways have profoundly influenced the form and function of U.S. cities, yet urban planners generally played only a peripheral role in their development. This article traces the history of freeway development in California to show how political negotiations between local and state governments over street and highway finance resulted in urban freeways financed, designed, and built by the state highway department. To fund their ambitious transportation plans, local officials and planners in cities like Los Angeles turned over control of the planning and development of urban freeways in the 1940s and 1950s to state departments of transportation. This shift in control led to, among other things, the construction of freeways too large to fit easily into cities and freeway networks too sparse to adequately disperse urban traffic. While federal surface transportation legislation returned significant control over metropolitan freeways to regions and planners in the 1990s, the influence of modern freeways on urban life endures.

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