Every time an urban highway shuts down, a columnist gets her wings
Happy dance over here, as one more ugly waterfront freeway bites the dust, this one in Seattle.
I never understood why we ended up with so many highways near the most beautiful parts of many cities (Gardiner in Toronto, Ville-Marie in Montreal, Lakeshore Drive in Chicago, etc., etc., etc.) but I like to blame Robert Moses. He had so many terrible ideas that all seemed to include lots of concrete and freeways the better to make life unpleasant for human beings he might as well have built that particular elevated monster.
It’s like people deliberately sought out the best parts of every city and decided, “you know what to do with this guys is stick cars all over it.” To quote Mr. Incredible, it’s psychotic.
But the highways are here now, and of course people are used to them. Commuters think they depend on them, even. I know this because every time I say we ought to demolish the Queensway in Ottawa I get a barrage of emails telling me how unrealistic that is don’t you know people with jobs use that thoroughfare to get to work stop dreaming you hippie.
People get used to anything. And the funny thing is they think that whatever they’re currently used to has to stay the same forever, having conveniently forgotten how flexible their minds can be when new situations occur. For instance, early indications show that shutting down the Seattle freeway so far has failed to cause the earth to stop spinning and no, people haven’t been parked on smaller streets for three straight days. Apparently people react to incentives. Amazing.
Imagine not having an ugly highway blocking the waterfront. What could possibly happen to that land? Yes! It would be used by human beings who enjoy being near the water because unlike cars, humans like nature. Imagine not going to work by car, driving alone for 45 minutes each way in your massive SUV. What could possibly happen? Going to work via public transit and interacting with fellow bipeds, or shortening your commute - either by moving close to work or working close to home.
To hear opponents of highway demolition ideas, nobody ever switched jobs before. Or habits. Yet we don’t smoke like we used to and people had no trouble going from butter to margarine and back to butter (I think; are we back to butter now? ). We need to remember we’re nimble and flexible, and tear down those ugly urban highways.