From Expressways to Boulevards

Converting Highways, Rethinking Cities

12 October 2022ContactPaul Lecroart

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.

Helsinki. Vision of a City Boulevard © City of Helsinki/WSP 

Oslo. View of a future Østre Aker Boulevard © City of Oslo/De Gayardon Bureau

Transforming Highways in Europe

Three European networks are currently collaborating in a joint-learning platform to understand how transforming highways can help cities and regions reach their climate-friendly, sustainable urban development and mobility goals, while working to become more livable, socially inclusive and economically attractive: 

  • METREX, the Network of European Metropolitan Regions & Areas, From Roads to Streets Expert Group (lead Institut Paris Region)
  • EUROCITIES, Urban Regeneration in the City Fringe Working Group (lead City of Oslo)
  • URBACT RiConnect Action Planning Programme (lead Barcelona Metropolitan Area)

In 2020-2021, research has focused on four experiences, providing interesting insights and takeaways:

  • Helsinki’s City Boulevard Strategy and Projects (download below)
  • Oslo’s City Fringe Regeneration/Hovinbyen and Østre Aker Vei Projects (download below)
  • Lyon’s M6/M7 Highway Corridor Transformation (download below)
  • Brussels’ Delta-Herrmann-Debroux Boulevard Project (published in March 2022, downloadables below)

North American and Asian cases can be downloaded below either in French or in English (New York and Montreal only). Other European highway-to-boulevard experiences are currently being documented within the help of participating cities or regions, including Barcelona (ES), Birmingham (UK), Gothenburg (SE), Prague (CZ), Porto (PO), and Warsaw (PL). 

Over twenty European cities and regions are now taking part in the From Roads to Streets or expressway-to-boulevard learning platform, with the support of international experts, through online workshops (including a Helsinki-Barcelona workshop and four joint events), digital seminars (including The Future Design of Streets seminar) and physical meetings. 

An international workshop about the future of the Rhône river banks highway in Lyon was held in August 2021 with a joint UrbaLyon-METREX-EUROCITIES-URBACT event with elected officials in October (downloadables below). An exciting joint workshop on highway-to-boulevard transformation in Brussels took place at the end of March 2022 (material below). The next events are to take place in Vilnius, Barcelona and Amsterdam. 

Work is also being initiated by with the three-networks platform to understand how EU could help cities and regions to deliver combined urban regeneration and mobility infrastructure transformation strategies.

August 2021 International Workshop Studio in Urbalyon: fresh ideas to redesign the Rhône river banks and bridges in Lyon.

The METREX-EUROCITIES-URBACT From Roads to Streets learning platform aims at rethinking the future of highways and cities together.

The METREX "From Roads to Streets" joint learning platform

In March 2020, METREX, the Network of European Metropolitan Regions and Areas, launched “From Roads to Streets”, an expert group to serve as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience on the conversion of urban highways into city streets or boulevards (places to move, to stay, to live, and to work in), as a key measure to transform metropolitan cities and regions. L’Institut Paris Region is the lead partner.

This METREX group works in close cooperation and support of the EUROCITIES “Urban Regeneration in the City Fringe” working group created in April 2020 with eight participating cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Lyon, Prag, Vilnius, Göteborg, with Oslo as the lead partner. This group works on the conditions and methods for transforming urban fringes in three directions: overcoming highway barriers, creating quality public spaces, and managing radical land-use mix.

Both METREX and EUROCITIES groups collaborate with the URBACT III "RiConnect" action planning network, which consists of eight metropolitan and transport authorities: Porto Metropolitan Area, Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Region, Krakow Region, Thessaloniki Region, Amsterdam Regional Transport Authority, Grand Paris Métropole, Transport for Greater Manchester, with Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) as the lead partner. RiConnect is about rethinking mobility infrastructure in combination with metropolitan and local planning, in order to reconnect people, neighbourhoods, cities, and natural spaces. 

In 2020, the three networks joined forces to build up knowledge and expertise on these complex issues, with the aim to strengthen strategic and creative planning capacities within each city and region, including the Paris Region. The joint reflection of the networks also aims at raising awareness of EU and national levels on the social and environmental impacts of car-oriented infrastructure policies, with the need to shift funding streams towards converting urban expressways into green boulevards as a pathway towards compact, carbon neutral, resilient, and socially-sustainable city-regions. Some material presented in the course of the 2020 METREX expert group meetings can be found below.

Work will continue in 2022 through online and physical meetings, hands-on workshops, peer-to-peer-reviews, seminars and (hopefully) site visits, bringing together experts and practitioners from different horizons.
Other experiences will be added to the joint learning platform, including potentially Barcelona, Birmingham, Göteborg, Paris, Porto, Prague and Warsaw. A final summary report, supported by a wide range of situations, strategies and projects, will focus on the takeaways and learnings for the future of city-regions. A common final conference should take place in 2023.

Meeting slideshows

#1 March 30, 2020

Reinventing Urban Highways. Learning From Experience

#2 July 1st, 2020

Metrex Lisbon e-conference. From Roads To Streets, Metrex Expert Group

#3 October 1st, 2020

Metrex Lyon Conference. Expanding the Public Realm, From Roads To Streets And Beyond

Metrex Lyon Conference. Requalification M6 M7, Eurocities Metrex Project

Metrex Lyon Conference. Helsinki City Boulevard Strategy

Metrex Lyon Conference. Perspective Brussels

Metrex Lyon Conference. Breaking the Concrete Collar, Transport for West Midlands

Metrex Lyon Conference. Expanding the Public Realm, RiConnect network

Metrex Lyon Conference. Urban Regeneration In the City Fringe, Eurocities project network

Metrex Lyon Conference. How Could Highway-to-Boulevard Strategies Fit in EU Strategies

#4 January 19, 2021

Helsinki and Barcelona. Stiching Highways and Cities Together

#5 August 25-26-27, 2021

Restitution of Metrex Workshop. From Roads to Streets, Lyon Right Bank of the River Rhone

#6 October 7-8, 2021

1 October 7 Future Lyon Seminar Lecroart 

2 October 7 Projects and Experience Lyon Rolland Lecroart

3 October 7 Project Oslo Rosvik

4 October 7 Project Brussels Deneubourg

5 October 7 Project Prague Benedict

6 October 7 Project Amsterdam Sliepenbeek

7 October 7 Barcelona RiConnect Berra

8 October 7 Milano Parravicini

9 October 8 Brussels For People Smet


#7 March-April 2022: Roads to Metropolitan Avenues, Brussels's Event

Day One: - Eurocities - Metrex

Day Two: - Eurocities - Metrex

March-April 2022: From Roads to Metropolitan Avenues. Case study: Herrmann-Debroux


#8 July 2022: Walk’n’Roll/URBACT RiConnect Final Events, Barcelona

Day 1.1 Walk’n’Roll, Final Event Programme

Day 1.2 Walk’n’Roll, July 6th, General Introduction

Day 1.3 Walk’n’Roll, July 6th, Technical Visits, Introduction

Day 2.1 Walk’n’Roll, July 7th, Challenges with P Lecroart

Day 2.2 Walk’n’Roll, July 7th, The Future Barcelona Metropolitan Master Plan

Day 2.3 Walk’n’Roll, July 7th, Workshop’s results

Day 3.1 RiConnect, July 8th, RiConnect Final Meeting with Roland Krebs

Day 3.2 RiConnect, July 8th, Network Products

Walk&Roll, July 6th-8th, Final Report


Lyon workshop takeaways : interview with Paul Lecroart by Lise Petersen © Urbalyon

Learning from international experience

In the last decades, many cities –including Portland, New York, or Seoul– successfully removed or transformed stretches of urban highways, replacing them with multi-use boulevards lined with mixed-use new developments, or new linear parks. In order to understand the rationale, impacts and conditions for success, L'Institut Paris Region initiated in 2010 a long-term research programme on Metropolitan Avenues. The purpose was to inform ongoing projects and reflections in the Paris Region. As part of the programme, L’Institut examined some twenty highway-to-boulevard experiences on three continents (America, Asia and Europe). Of these, nine cases were studied in depth on-site, with their reports published first in French between 2012 and 2016.

The most significative result from this research is that these strategic metropolitan projects are complex and conflictual, but have long-term positive impacts on traffic and mobility, city regeneration, and the quality of the urban environment, often far beyond the project boundaries (see article: Reinventing Cities: From Urban Highway to Living Space - Urban Design issue 147). 

This research has influenced projects in France, including the Paris Region Masterplan (2013), the Paris Seine Banks pedestrianisation (2016), as well as the ongoing reflections on the future of the Paris Périphérique and the region’s highways –with the International Competition on the Future of Grand Paris’s Highways as a first step in 2018.

Paul Lecroart

Paul Lecroart is a Senior Urbanist for the Paris Metropolitan Region Planning Agency, advising regional & city authorities on strategic planning and transformative projects, both in France and internationally. Paul currently steers the Metropolitan Avenues programme on highway transformation in the Grand Paris and chairs the METREX ‘From Roads to Streets’ Expert Group. He has been a member of the International Advisory Board for the 4th New York Regional Plan as well as a Coordinator for Metropolis, the global network of cities. He teaches strategic and tactical planning at Sciences Po Urban School, Paris, and has contributed to many books, films and research publications, including ‘Cities Change the Word’ published in December 2019.


Special thanks to Henk Bouwman, Stephan Gallagher (METREX), Pernille Grimeland Røsvik (Oslo/EUROCITIES), Odile Pagani, Olivier Roussel, Sébastien Rolland, Claire Boisset, Juan Castro (Urbalyon/Grand Lyon), Joan Caba Roset (Barcelona/URBACT), Daniel Casas Valle (Porto/Urban Dynamics), Frédéric Héran (Paris/Université de Lille), Sonia Lavadinho (Geneva/Bfluid), Niklas Aalto-Setälä (Helsinki), Milene Deneubourg (Brussels), and all network participants for their contribution to this work.

Other Resources

Reinventing Cities: From Urban Highway to Living Space - Urban Design issue 147

Storymap: Ideas competition for Barcelona

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International | Mobility | Urban planning