If I Ruled the Metro — The Return of Boulevards

Outer Drive street sign, a residential boulevard in Detroit.  A sign from my childhood.

Doing a little dreaming on a Saturday.

In my experience, the state roadway networks of major metropolitan areas are completely underwhelming.  While the interstate highway system was developed at the federal level and given over to state departments of transportation for maintenance, state route systems rarely received the same infusion of money from their respective states and usually fell behind as a result.  Consequently, most state route systems in metro areas, particularly those in the Northeast and Midwest, are simply arterial roads designed to carry high numbers of passenger or truck traffic to connecting interstates.  That’s usually insufficient.

But there’s something on a far grander scale that could facilitate our nation’s transition from a singularly auto-dependent society to a multi-modal one: metro-wide multi-way and multi-modal boulevard systems.  If I ruled a metro area, I’d make this happen.

There’s a precedent and a model for this.  More than a hundred years ago, cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Kansas City developed extensive boulevard networks that linked parks to each other and provided leisure and recreational opportunities for residents.  Often established as “emerald necklaces”, the boulevard or parkway systems created value in city neighborhoods.  Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia stand out as prime examples.

The best often included the following features:

  • A wide, landscaped median
  • Wide sidewalks for pedestrian use
  • Local lanes, separated by a smaller landscaped parkway for slower local traffic and parking
  • Squares and circles, often including monuments.
Here’s Roosevelt Boulevard in Philly:

Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn:

And Logan Boulevard in Chicago:

The examples that I show here are primarily residential in land use, but the same system works in commercial environments as well.

Meanwhile, suburban arterial roadways with state route designations lack the aesthetic quality and adaptability of boulevards.  Boulevards, for example, are excellent at accommodating bike lanes, providing safe on-street parking along protected thru-lanes, and can attract pedestrian activity with their landscaped areas.  Many street/expressway hybrids — stressways — lack such adaptability.

One day, a state DOT will recognize the virtues of creating a metro-wide boulevard system that can connect to interstates, provide multi-modal travel opportunities, and add value to conventional suburban environments.  I hope it happens soon.

One thought on “If I Ruled the Metro — The Return of Boulevards

  1. If I was the emperor of Allegheny County, I'd start by modernizing I-376 between Pittsburgh International Airport and Monroeville, including capacity expansion to six lanes. As it is right now, it's 32 miles of overcapacity, dangerously short on-ramps, and functional obsolescence.

    After that, though, yeah, I'd do some beautifying to Bigelow Boulevard, Saw Mill Run Boulevard, Ohio River Boulevard, and the Boulevard of the Allies. I'd also expand Allegheny River Boulevard from the city up to Oakmont, because it's not really built like a “boulevard,” but a two-lane back road.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s