Subtle Signs of Progress in the Urban Highway Debate

Posted by Shane Phillips on Thursday, July 24th, 2014
A rendering of Denver’s planned I-70 widening, bury, and cap. Photo from


Last Friday, Streetsblog highlighted a project moving forward in Denver to widen, bury, and partially cap an elevated freeway that runs through the city, leaving neighborhoods divided and disinvested in a city that’s otherwise booming economically. It’s a sad story, especially given Denver’s tendency toward smart transportation and development policy, and because bigger freeways don’t do much of anything to improve traffic in the long term. It’s also somewhat surprising, as other cities across the country (and the world) have seen aging urban freeways as an opportunity to heal the wounds of the past rather than doubling down on destructive development from a bygone era.

All that said, I’d like to note that even in this backwards proposal there’s hope to be gleaned. First, take a look up above at the rendering for the planned highway. Now, imagine that this same highway widening had been proposed 20 or 30 years ago. Back then, would the officials proposing this expansion have bothered with extra “treats” like a freeway cap park? (They’re also “promising a network of parks, open space, and transit” according to Streetsblog.) Would they be burying it in order to lessen the impact on the surrounding communities?

I think it would be a lot less likely, and small consolation though it may be, we should take heart that we’re moving the needle toward transportation and development policy that acknowledges the needs of more than just drivers. It’s a lot more consideration than was offered to pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and local residents in decades past, even if that consideration is still woefully insufficient.

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About Shane Phillips
“I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, got my driver’s license the day I turned 16, and rarely visited the city because driving in it was so unpleasant. Seven years later I moved to Seattle and realized the problem wasn’t the city, but how I chose to get around in it. I’m currently pursuing my Masters in Public Administration and Urban Planning at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and working on behalf of more sustainable, safe, healthy, economically productive cities.”

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