In Defense of the Urban Freeway

Bill Fulton | @BillFultonvta | April 11, 2016

Image via flickr/Gregg Sloan.

Image via flickr/Gregg Sloan.

This item originally appeared in the April issue of Governing magazine.

I live in Midtown Houston just off the end of the “527 Spur,” a freeway stub that feeds traffic in and out of downtown. My neighborhood, once known as Little Saigon, is booming with new apartment buildings, bars and restaurants. It’s a quick car or transit ride to either of the city’s two biggest job centers: downtown or the Texas Medical Center. It’s also just a 10-minute commute via freeway to a third giant job center, the Galleria area.

I lived in a similar neighborhood in San Diego. Little Italy, located downtown, was within walking distance of my job at city hall. But most people in my neighborhood commuted to work by driving north on Interstate 5, out of downtown, toward the job centers in La Jolla and Mira Mesa. Every morning when I looked out my window at I-5, I saw the evidence. Traffic was backed up going out of the city.

We’re getting used to the idea that people want to live at the center of American cities, where they don’t have to rely as much on their cars and have ready access to culture, sports, food, entertainment and, yes, jobs. But one trend that’s been overlooked is the reverse commute. Many of the people who choose to live downtown actually work in the suburbs. And, ironically, it’s the much-maligned urban freeway system that makes this lifestyle possible.

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