All over the world, cities and regions are confronted with the ambiguous heritage of extensive networks of highways and their fragmented urban landscapes. Limited-access expressways still play an important role in moving people and goods within metropolitan areas, but they may not be the most efficient and sustainable way to do the job.
Highways with segregated interchanges create physical barriers and take-up great chunks of precious urban and suburban land that could have other uses; they tend to limit pedestrian and bike movement, and sever access to waterfronts and nature. The high volumes of traffic these highways support generate noise, dust and air pollution, raising health and social justice issues for local communities. By providing seemingly easy access for cars and heavy-goods vehicles, extensive highways networks encourage car-centric lifestyles, urban sprawl, mono-functional uses of space which in the end leads to more traffic and congestion.
Social and economic patterns are changing with growing aspirations for the vibrancy of city life and car-free living in denser, mix-use neighbourhoods served by multi-use and greener public spaces, in close contact with nature. Cities and metropolitan regions respond to these trends by redeveloping former industrial and car-oriented city fringes for more intensive land-uses, with the support of new metro, tramway or express bus lines. These projects are increasingly becoming catalysts for green development strategies, sustainable urban mobility programmes and climate-neutral policies.
The Covid crisis shows a rapid change in mobility, housing, working and leisure patterns, opening a window of opportunity to reset our urban development and transport models. Converting urban highways’ into green and active city boulevards could be a powerful way of making cities-regions both climate-neutral environments and desirable places to live.