The humble beginnings of what was once called the Buick Freeway. With no more Buick, does Flint still need the freeway? (Photo courtesy of Thomas Wirt)
I hear a lot of valid complaints about I-475 whenever I return to Flint. It chopped up neighborhoods; demarcated downtown from the cultural center area; and all but eliminated some traditionally black sections of town. (Disclosure: The construction site did provide a fantastically dangerous place to play as a kid.) Today, the worst blight in the city is found along the I-475 corridor.
I couldn't help wondering if all the stimulus money currently being used to repair the highway wouldn't be better spent eliminating parts of it instead. This is purely anecdotal, but it didn't seem like it was getting a lot of use. I-475 felt like a ghost highway within the Flint city limits.
The idea is not unprecedented. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Portland have all removed major urban highways.
The Sheridan Expressway in the South Bronx might be next. Sam Dolnick of The New York Times reports:
The Sheridan carries roughly 50,000 vehicles a day, according to state officials. It provides a route for truckers to reach the major food distribution center in Hunts Point but also acts as a physical barrier between local residents and the Bronx River.
Removing the Sheridan would open up 13 acres of open space along the river, land that advocates want to connect with some 15 other acres of service roads and riverfront property to create 1,200 affordable housing units, commercial and industrial space, and amenities like playgrounds, swimming pools and soccer fields.
“This proposal is really rooted in the environmental justice battles that low-income communities have been fighting for decades,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, a member of the campaign to remove the Sheridan. “If you look at globally competitive cities, they’re all looking at the spaces they gave over to highways decades ago, and they’re rethinking those decisions.”I'd love to hear from some Flint residents about the role the highway plays in the city in 2010. How often do you use it? What would happen if it were gone? Traffic patterns matter, of course, but there are also the psychological implications; would this be viewed as another sign that Flint is disappearing from the map?