by Rezsin Adams
The Interstate and Defense Highway System - - the "divided highways" - - was initiated by President Eisenhower in the early 1950's to connect cities in the U.S. (in the case of enemy bombing, rail lines are more vulnerable than highways). Eisenhower wanted a highway system like the European Autobahns. Divided highways - - super-highways - - have fundamentally changed how we live and work, said Skidmore Professor Tom Lewis at our January dinner. Highways were built, initially, on cheap farmland. Communities, and especially, commercial developments, grew up around exits and interchanges. Highways were supposed to be used for long distances - - it is an "abuse of the system" to use them for short distances. People now live many miles from where they work. The time it takes to travel long distance has been cut dramatically. Highways have made the difference, as well as, the vast improvement in cars.
Highways have enabled us to fulfill our desires. people could move away from cities, which were cramped and full of disease, to new towns, to Levittowns, to suburbs (largely white and middle class), to strip malls and shopping centers and Wolf Roads and Crossgates and thus, killing cities. And leaving behind the "bad" people - - people of color, immigrants, and the poor.
The location of highway exits is of the greatest importance to small communities (and even small cities.) In the old days, trains brought people to Saratoga. Now it's the highways. There are three exits on the Northway for Saratoga (an exit every 3.3 miles). Saratoga is booming. People with enormous amounts of disposable income flock to Saratoga. Other nearby small communities are withering and even Glens Falls has fallen on hard times.
We were infatuated with highways; now we're pretty soured. Highways, along with malls and suburbs and parking lots, have taken a great deal of land. Highways are dividers - - walls. Highways go through cities creating the "good side of the tracks" and the "bad," often separating whites and blacks, rich and poor. Highways cut off rivers - - there may be 8-10-15 lanes of traffic between a city and its waterfront. Buildings are built to be seen from the highways, creating areas that are not pedestrian-friendly. Highways make it difficult to have an integrated transportation system. Forget about getting rid of cars. Work to change zoning laws which segregate land uses. Integrated uses will create demands for different types of transportation. Work toward clustering, re-use and revitalization of our cities and their infrastructures.