Nola tearing down the elevated I-10 over Claiborne?

Tearing down a major interstate highway through the heart of a major metropolitan area sounds crazy right? Wrong. Past case studies have shown that this has been done in places like San Francisco, Milwaukee and Portland, and has resulted in higher qualities of life and with little to no harm caused to driving times.

This topic is always a popular one with those in the Urban Planning/Design profession, and with a new planning interest in New Orleans post-Katrina the recipe might be just right for the demolition of Interstate 10 through the Treme neighborhood. Like many urban neighborhoods of the early to mid 20th Century, Treme was a once vibrant, unique and local that centered around its grand North Claiborne Avenue. What happened was the injection of the interstate system that plowed through Treme like many other neighborhoods including Cincinnati’s West End and downtown area.

The transition in Claiborne was even more intense as a grand boulevard was replaced by an elevated highway which facilitated the downward spiral of the neighborhood. Many older Nola residents remember North Claiborne Avenue as being the “black people’s Canal Street.” This is important as French Quarter activists were able to block a highway from tearing through their neighborhood which left the Treme neighborhood vulnerable to the interstate system’s wrath…and with that North Claiborne Avenue was gone.

North Claiborne Avenue in 1966 (left) and 2009 (right) – Source and Source

As with many urban neighborhoods across America, Treme is redeveloping and becoming attractive to residents once again. One problem though is that I-10 has caused lower property values and interest for those properties within its immediate vicinity (the exact opposite effect of transit service).

As Nola moves forward with its potential plans to tear down I-10 through Treme (area map), what can be learned? In addition to past examples (listed above) cities like Chattanooga, Buffalo, Seattle and Trenton are all considering the option of tearing out highways through their cities.

Cincinnati narrowed and buried its Fort Washington Way that connects I-71 with I-75 through the heart of downtown and its riverfront property, but could this have instead been removed with traffic instead utilizing the underused Central Parkway and Liberty Street, or even connecting via I-275? What about the Norwood Lateral that ate up the right-of-way that had been preserved for Cincinnati’s planned subway system?

These are important questions as Cincinnati examines how it is going to handle the $1 billion reconstruction of the Brent Spence Bridge, $1 billion reconstruction of I-75 through the Mill Creek Valley and considers the options of upgrading US 50 West to highway status via the 6th Street Expressway through Queensgate, and even possibly extending I-74 east through the city and its eastern suburbs so that it could eventually connect to Washington D.C. per the original Interstate Highway Plan – both of which present untold hundreds of millions (potentially billions) of dollars of public expense.

Are we going to continue to move forward with an antiquated view of transportation planning straight out of the Robert Moses playbook, or will Cincinnati too start to re-examine how it goes about planning for its city and its residents that make it special?

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.