Support a National Highways to Boulevards Pilot Program

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The construction of the federal Interstate system did not come without a cost.

Under the framework of ‘urban renewal,’ highways were built through cities across America, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and creating an unhealthy preference for driving fast at the expense of the communities in their paths. Highway construction divided many neighborhoods in two—their main streets demolished and businesses closed, disproportionately in Black and Brown communities. 

These highways are monuments to racist planning practices that value the speed of traffic over the people who live in their path. The noxious effects of their construction are still felt today, as they effectively segregate the neighborhoods they were built through and burden them with the significant health hazards of vehicle exhaust, a loss of local businesses and services, and streets that are hostile to pedestrians.

The Highways to Boulevards movement offers a way forward for communities upset with this status quo. It seeks to replace aging highways, out of context with their urban surroundings, with city streets and boulevards that include cars, but do not make them a priority. These streets become places for the people who live around them, with local businesses and space for the public, as well as better integration into a city’s transit systems. 

To date, American cities have either replaced or committed to replace a freeway with more urban streets eighteen times. But more work needs to be done to complete this restorative effort nationwide.

Now the federal government has an opportunity to help repair this damage.

Congress has several proposed bills that include Highways to Boulevards pilot programs, which provide federal funds to dismantle outdated highways through urban neighborhoods and replace them with more humane city streets. At this moment more than ever, as we confront spatial injustice, it is imperative that the members of Congress see one of them through.

Federal dollars and policies helped create these highways, and this pilot program is a needed step to reknit the urban fabric they damaged and unlock the social, economic, and environmental benefits of highway removal for the communities who currently live around them. As Congress continues to advance new transportation and COVID-19 recovery legislation, it is essential that it incorporates a Highways to Boulevards pilot program into it.

Join the Congress for the New Urbanism’s petition to Congress, as we ask lawmakers to help repair the damage that highway building has caused to communities of color and restore the city streets that can once again serve as a center for community.