A Freeway Runs Through It
June 22, 2011 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of cool, walkable mixed-use urban areas that existed before or grew up around freeway interchanges, and that still work despite being so close to major highways.

I am working on a project (for my job) that involves planning for a future urban area on currently undeveloped land in the suburbs. The goal is to create a "sense of place" here that transcends typical suburban car-based office/retail/commercial/strip development. However, one of the challenges will be the intersection at this location of two future highways, likely with an interstate-style interchange.

I'd like to find examples of vital, interesting neighborhoods that exist in spite of nearby grade-separated interchanges that preclude easy pedestrian, bicycle and traffic circulation. I'd like to learn how these neighborhoods remained connected and pedestrian-scale, rather than developing in the typical big-box retail and office complex style so common to urban highway intersections.

Do such neighborhoods/developments exist? Is there one in your city that I could study? Thanks!
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if I completely understand what you're looking for, but 6th street in Austin Texas is a huge entertainment/arts/residential area despite being bisected by IH-35.
posted by ferngully at 9:54 AM on June 22, 2011

The Atlantic Station mixed-used development in Atlanta was an attempt at this. It's not the greatest, most successful example, but is right next to a major highway that cuts it off from Midtown Atlanta and by Atlanta standards is reasonably walkable.

Perhaps other similar urban brownfield redevelopment projects will be instructive?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 10:08 AM on June 22, 2011

Milwaukee's 3rd Ward sits directly under and adjacent to 794, and is a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood containing lots of trendy shops and restaurants. Historically, it was populated by first by Irish and then by Italian immigrants who built many grocery warehouses. It was all but abandoned in the 1970s, but it was reinvigorated in the 1990s and now it caters to the iPhone-using Anthropologie-wearing set.
posted by desjardins at 10:40 AM on June 22, 2011

This is probably too literal, being under an expressway, but this skate park in Chicago utilizes empty space under an expressway in Chicago and is part of the park district.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2011

two thoughts off the top of my head, in New York City - one is the Brooklyn Promenade built on top of the BQE. The other is Riverbank State Park - access over a freeway, built on top of a sewage processing plant IIRC. They're not exactly what you're looking for, but maybe they'll be helpful pieces.
posted by entropone at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2011

There is a neighborhood in east Los Angeles called "Frogtown." It's a thin strip, no more than a few blocks wide, sandwiched between the LA river and the 5 freeway. It's a mix of homes, industrials, and lofts made in former industrials.
posted by stephennelson at 11:09 AM on June 22, 2011

Rockridge in Oakland is bisected by a busy elevated freeway and rapid transit tracks.
posted by zsazsa at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2011

When the MBTA Red Line was extended from Davis Square to Alewife, the surface above the subway became Alewife Linear Park. (Google Maps)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:32 AM on June 22, 2011

Seconding Rockridge. For an example of what not to do, head one stop down BART to MacArthur.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:19 PM on June 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in a largely residential neighborhood split in half by I-90. While it's not necessarily a good or bad example, one thing I'd say that's important is to make sure there's plenty of trees/greenery around, and that *walking across the street is not scary*. That's the only reason really I tend to walk in one direction much more than walking to the other section. I don't like the intersection that requires waiting for three different walk signs with no greenery around.
posted by ejaned8 at 1:03 PM on June 22, 2011

The Uptown/West Village area of Dallas.
posted by ericthegardener at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2011

Thank you all for the great examples of good and bad -- these will be a great starting point for figuring out how such a neighborhood could conceivably be desirable for the people who live and work there.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:17 PM on June 22, 2011

Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It's honestly kind of astonishing how little impact the BQE has on the neighborhood, given the conventional wisdom about highways destroying walkable urbanity. People walk past it all the time, and there's even plenty of stuff along the street that runs underneath it.

I think the lesson is that while a highway can hasten the decline of an urban neighborhood, it's not necessarily a death knell if the 'hood is well-positioned for success. Williamsburg is close to Manhattan, has good subway access, and large stock of densely-packed buildings. As it became NYC's youth culture ('hipster') mecca in the 90s/2000s, it just became such a hot area that the highway didn't matter at all. I don't know if this is all that replicable outside big, rich, dense cities like New York, but if an area is desirable enough to attract enough wealth, a highway can bisect it and it won't make much difference.
posted by breakin' the law at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2011

You might want to do some research on Newton, MA. It has a bunch of villages, Newton Center, Newton Upper Falls, etc. that have centers that are walkable with shops, restaurants, etc. And the Mass Pike goes right through the city. It's consistently rated one of the best places in the country to live too, which home prices reflect.

Other older suburbs in Boston (within 95/128) such as Belmont and Winchester have a similar feel. Try Googling "Street-Car Suburb", which might help you in your research.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 2:26 PM on June 22, 2011

Anything near the center of Minneapolis is cut off from everything else by an interchange. I can't form an opinion on whether it works. It's not as bad as the MacArthur Maze in Oakland, but comparing Minneapolis to Rockridge would be laughable. (Those being the two places other people have mentioned that I'm familiar with.) Most little segments feel reasonably walkable, but things would be so much better if they joined up without having to cross interstates and interchanges.

Oh... Temescal in Oakland probably counts as well. (Temescal must abut Rockridge. I've definitely started on Telegraph and walked through to the Rockridge BART.)
posted by hoyland at 3:02 PM on June 22, 2011

You were looking for bad, too? Try Macarthur Maze!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:16 PM on June 22, 2011

Back Bay, Boston, which has a highway going smack dab through it and yet remains walkable and safe and human-scaled because of the well-placed pedestrian overpass. Take a look right around the Hynes Convention Center T stop.
posted by ms.codex at 10:12 PM on June 22, 2011

Where I-94 comes into the south side of downtown Minneapolis, the neighborhood remains walkable and welcoming. The freeway itself goes through a short tunnel that allows pedestrian and surface-street traffic to go over it without having to go up any major hills. Many, many driving bridges with wide sidewalks cross 94 to the East of the tunnel, and several pedestrian bridges cross at and to the West of the tunnel. There are trees and plants and bike lanes. There's a park connected via overhead footbridge to an outdoor sculpture garden, and the bridge itself has bike ramps so bikers don't have to dismount. There are lots of local businesses on all sides of the area, encouraging people to walk around.

Interestingly, there are a ton of on-ramps and off-ramps in this area of the interstate, which actually makes the neighborhood more walkable. Letting people get on the same stretch of freeway from 3 different angles within a several-block radius means that each of those intersections is relatively small and unintimidating to a pedestrian. If all the traffic had to go through one on-ramp, it would be very off-putting for a walker. The widest streets, where Lyndale and Hennepin run together with I94 underground underneath them, have wide grassy medians for people to stop on halfway across the intersection, and an overhead footbridge close by for people who want to avoid the traffic altogether.
posted by vytae at 10:24 PM on June 22, 2011

Portland, Oregon has an economic development / urban renewal area called (literally) the "Interstate Corridor." It's on both sides of I5, north of downtown, in mostly a historically black neighborhood. There are some very vibrant neighborhoods pretty close to the highway. I used to live right next to it, on the other side of the big sound wall. I could go away from the highway two blocks and be at awesome restaurants. Or I could walk across the footbridge over the interstate to get to the light rail that I took to work.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:06 AM on June 23, 2011

One thing about rockridge which I remembered while walking home from the station tonight: the train station is in the middle of a freeway, but the freeway onramps and offramps are not near the station. I think that those would interfere with pedestrians a lot.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:20 AM on June 23, 2011

The LoDo / Highlands mixed-use residential / parkland / bikeway / retail sector along the I-25 corridor in Denver is, I think, an excellent example of what you want to do here. It's (tri)sected by a multitrack set of freight and lightrail, the Platte River, and I-25 itself. They installed 2 beautiful pedestrian/bike bridges to handle foot and bike traffic. Honestly the entire Platte / LoDo / Highlands / inner downtown corridor all the way from Six Flags to the Rockies stadium is rather well done. You can barcrawl from Highlands in the north all the way to the far south end of the Financial District without using a car or a bike even - the free 16th St Mall shuttle is an integral part of the flow.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2011

I live in a neighborhood of Bristol that sits right next to the M32 motorway, which is a feeder link to the larger UK motorway system.

I live on the south side of it in Easton, but do a great deal of shopping to the north in St. Werberghs and there is a pretty solid amount of back and forth traffic over and under the motorway. There's a pedestrian bridge that's ramped to allow bikes and prams to use it and the motorway is also elevated a bit further north, so it's not much of a barrier at that point.

The roundabout that marks the end of the M32 is also set up with a bypass system for pedestrians and bicyclists and this also sees near constant use. It's also one of the touch-points for Bristolian graffitists.
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:21 AM on June 24, 2011

I live in Sugarhouse, a neighborhood in Salt Lake City. Bisected by I-80. Residences, stores, two parks, very walkable. The link has a map.
posted by Jandoe at 6:51 AM on June 24, 2011

posted by Jandoe at 6:52 AM on June 24, 2011

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