When an earthquake shook San Francisco in 1989, it made the mile-long Embarcadero Freeway unsafe to drive on. The battle over rebuilding the link between downtown and the Bay Bridge was fierce.
Suburban governments and the San Francisco business community denounced a proposal to replace the elevated highway with a street-level boulevard.
But in 1991, citing safety concerns, the city decided to demolish the highway, and now former opponents have embraced the change to an area that once housed desolate warehouses and now hosts a bustling farmers market, serves as a hub for public transportation and opens views to the bay.
But the jury is still out on similar proposals to replace highways with street-level boulevards and reclaim the land occupied by highways for housing, commerce or recreation.
Arguments around the United States echo those over the Sheridan Expressway.
In Buffalo, the New York State Department of Transportation declined to tear down the city’s “Skyway,” rebuffing advocates who said it restricts access to the Lake Erie waterfront.
Syracuse is in the midst of a study about what to do with an aging highway that cuts through the center of the city, creating a right side and wrong side of the tracks. Business leaders there support tearing down I-81, saying land values will rise and nearby hospitals and Syracuse University will occupy the space created.
But I-81 is like San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a highway so deteriorated that, unlike the Sheridan, traffic engineers agree it has to come down.
In Seattle and Baltimore, the cost of replacing highways is a major consideration. Seattle wants to build a tunnel to replace its elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct, but doesn’t have the $2.8 billion it would cost. Baltimore’s mayor worries that the city would have to repay the federal government if it tore down part of an interstate.
Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway, like the Sheridan, was a highway that was originally planned as part of a loop that was never completed. But drivers who used it called the idea of tearing it down “wacko.” Nevertheless, the city demolished it.
Last year, Syracuse’s Citizens League cited Milwaukee as a success story, calling the area where the freeway once stood “a thriving, mixed-use area of residential, restaurants and shops,” and saying it has generated $300 million in economic activity.
In Seattle, and Baltimore, where the city is considering tearing down the elevated mile-long Jones Falls Expressway, opponents argue that commute times would lengthen and traffic would be dumped on city streets, while advocates say removing the highways would reconnect parts of the city, open water views and increase land values.
A version of this article appeared in the August edition of the Hunts Point Express.