As Democrats in Washington plot billions in federal transportation aid and work projects, ex-Milwaukee mayor and "New Urbanism" city-revival advocate John O. Norquist has a proposal for Philadelphia's I-95 Delaware Expressway: Knock it down.
"New York's West Side Highway is gone. San Francisco's Embarcadero Freeway - gone. I-95 should never have been built through the city," Norquist told me on a swing through Philly to pick up a city planners' award from the Ed Bacon Foundation (http://www.edbacon.org/).
Sounds crazy. How would commuters, produce trailers and airport shuttles, and Phillies, Eagles and concert fans pass crowded South Philly, Society Hill and Port Richmond without the elevated freeway? Trucks and buses can use I-295 in Jersey, or a better Blue Route, Norquist said. Meanwhile, "local traffic vanishes into the [street] grid." Of course, you'll want to widen some of those streets.
He's not the only highway-buster. "Obama's going to be dumping a lot of money for infrastructure improvement. Why not use some of it to unlock your waterfront?" said Center City-based developer Samuel Sherman Jr., head of the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia. Sherman figures it'd be better to use that money to improve city streets and SEPTA lines, and "reclaim" the waterfront cut off by construction 30 years ago.
It's more likely, for now, that cash-strapped officials like Mayor Nutter are going to jump at almost any giant project that comes their way, like a double-decker Schuylkill Expressway, or Hill International Inc.'s tenant-challenged 1,500-foot American Commerce Center tower. But Norquist's and Sherman's walker-friendly vision is seductive. Just make sure there's enough alternate routes, and river bridges.