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Washington’s unbuilt highways

This is a map of the Washington that almost was. If mid-century planners, dedicated as they were to driving and the clearance of historic neighborhoods, had their way. It is a map of the highway network proposed for Washington during initial planning of the Eisenhower Interstate System, in 1958.

Each of these canceled highways, shown in red on the map, has its own story. Some were canceled due to civic activism, others because later proposals in the 70s preempted them, and others due to good ol’ fashioned sanity. Because they were never built, entire neighborhoods that might have been wiped out were saved, downtown was never physically cut off from its surroundings (except to the south), and millions of dollars were reallocated to construction of the Metro. Because these highways were canceled, Washington is the beautiful, walkable, vital city that we know and love today.

Most other American cities weren’t so lucky. Their highways were built, their neighborhoods demolished, and their downtowns converted to parking lots.

click to enlarge
Map based on 1958 Basic Freeway Plan.
Click to enlarge.

June 30th, 2010 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: featured post, history, roads/cars, transportation

  • John

    Thank goodness

  • Chris Allen

    I’ve heard many people cite this unbuilt highway plan as the reason DC is so notorious for traffic congestion. Sure, if those highways were superimposed onto DC as it is right now, you would be able to drive easier through the ciy. However, DC as it is now, with it network of walkable and transit accessible neighborhoods that we know and love, would not exist if these highways were built. nnThis is not to say a highway can’t be placed properly and provide needed long distance connecitivty, but in most cases they cutoff and destroy the human connectivity of neighorhoods. Take that highway placed right over what looks like the Columbia Heights area. Columbia Heights as we know it would not exist if a highway cut through it.

  • Rob

    These people were mad. There would probably be less traffic congestion, because there would be a third fewer people living in the district.

  • Dcrower

    While I am certainly happy the city was not carved up in the 60s with hastily built freeways, our congestion issues are far from trivial as this article and commentary suggest. The situation will only get worse as the city and region grows and our mass transit (not rapid transit) system continues to lag growth trends. If you live on anywhere near one of the major thoroughfares (e.g., RI Ave, N Cap, NY Ave), you instantly realize the severity of the problem. These roads, along with others in the city, have become de facto freeways. These areas are not walkable and the neighborhoods surrounding these roadways are anything but connected. Our broken up grid, particularly in geographic center of the city, has exacerbated the situation. Case in point, 395 dumps onto NY Ave, which is an over-capacity surface street that effectively divides the city North and South. N Cap has become a de facto freeway (with stoplights) that is treacherous to cross and carries big rigs right through neighborhoods. Bottomline, we have to improve our overall transit network to include roadways and stop patting ou

    • Vernon6

      Ideally there would be tolls to enter the district or congestion pricing.

  • douglasawillinger

    The history is quite revealing:nnhttp://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2014/09/getting-over.html

  • douglasawillinger

    Could you please post a scan of the original 1958 document showing these routings?nnI have yet to see this exact plan in any of my research.nnHowever I do have a 1960 or 1961 letter alluding to that hybrid NCF alignment that runs along the B&O in Silver Spring, only to leave it t run roughly along Georgia avenue in DC.nnClearly they were trying to keep it from Catholic University of America.



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