Sunday, February 04, 2007

Review of 1998 panel "Freeways in Washington"

Newsgroups: dc.general, dc.driving, misc.transport.road, alt.planning.urban, misc.transport.urban-transit


Date: 1998/11/01

Subject: Re: Freeways in Washington panel/Historical Society of Washington, D.C. conference

On Sun, 18 Oct 1998 17:39:45 -0400, Douglas Andrew Willinger wrote:

>October 29-31, 1998

A quick report on the above. Interesting, but mostly depressing. Jeremy Korr, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, did an outstanding job laying out the history of the now dead I-70 and I-95 segments in NE Washington. Should be required reading for DC area commuters, as he spelled out, in even-handed yet entertaining terms, the dates, players, and order of battle of these roads. His slides included a number of flyers that I've never seen before; my favorite was the ECTC (Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis) "We don't want your commuters!" tag line -- not as catchy as "White Men's Roads through Black Men's Neighborhoods," (as we all know, there are no minorities in PG county) but pretty much sums up not only the opinion of the time, but was an uncannily accurate prediction -- the jobs (and the commuters) went elsewhere. Of course, DC still has a traffic problem as the commuters cut through the city en route from their homes in Md to jobs in VA (or vice versa).

Mr. Korr was followed by our own Douglas Willinger, who, in rather agonizing detail, laid out some of the literally dozens of alignments that were at one time or another planned for DC. The most horrifying was of course the Rock Creek Park alignment. By 1971, as we know, the alignment was almost entirely along mostly abandoned industrial corridors, and had gone from taking 4,500 homes to a whopping 69. But of course those 69 homes were worth saving, as they are today worth 1,017,391,304 each (225,000 commuters at $10/hr for 30 years spending an extra half hour on the beltway). The bargain of the century, in fact, in that you can buy one today (well, one that's remaining, several have been torn down anyway) for about $75,000. Not a bad return!

Doug ran short on time and thus was unable to spend much time showing us slides of the "neighborhood" of abandoned warehouses and empty rail yards that were preserved.

Doug was followed by Angela Rooney, a lady from the Brooklands area who was an activist during the era. She spent most of her time plugging her friend Helen Leavett's long out-of-print book, "Superhighway, Superhoax," which is an excellent work if you believe that we'll run out of gas in 1975. Ooops. She also entertained us with stories about how the FBI was out to get her and her ECTC cronies, and how the newspapers and media in general were interested only in silencing these fine citizens. She mentioned that they never did anything illegal, two minutes before telling us how a few of them got arrested during protests -- ahem -- but had little mention of Marion Barry's formula for burning down suburban houses in retaliation for those lost to wrecking ball in DC. Another interesting story was about a fantasy road that has never existed on any master plan for DC, with a highway being tunneled under the Lincoln Memorial. She mentioned that cars and Metro were not the answer to our transportation problems, but rather some unnamed "multimodal" system consisting of, one presumes, Star-Trek type transporters. No doubt the FBI is suppressing that technology as well. Strangely, she was silent about the homes that have already been lost in Springfield VA for the I95 widening, as well as the hundreds of apartments that will be razed in Alexandria, all due to the Beltway's being overburdened due to the cancellation of a through-DC I95. I suppose White Men's roads through Hispanics' Apartments is okay.

The "moderator" was Washington historian Keith Melder, who did precious little moderating, but who could be heard on WAMU last week presenting an extraordinarily one-sided interview about the history of the roads -- a nice touch was shouting over the traffic near 395 for the first segment, as he and the interviewer surveyed southwest DC, lamenting the lost neighborhoods -- strangely enough leaving out the fact that most of SW was razed as part of a comprehensive urban renewal project, and only a small section for the soutwest freeway. He and his biased interviewer then traveled to Brooklands, and failed to note that the Metro Red line splits the neighborhoods as effectively as the SW Freeway, followed by WAMU engineers punching in bird chirping soundtracks to counter the traffic noise in the first segment.

I'm glad I went. First, I got to look into the face of the devil herself. Second, I got to see some of the old-timers from that era applauding the presentations, proud of how they destroyed DC. No doubt the 40% drop in population, couple with a 50% drop in employment in the last 30 years is quite an achievement, especially coupled with the unprecedented growth in the surrounding regions. Third, I came to realize that my lofty goals in discussing on these very forums ways to revitalize and save DC are futile -- the residents of Hades would rather sweat than listen to the hammering of workers as the air conditioning vents come in.

"We don't want your commuters!" Who am I to argue with that?

> B E N T L E Y < st="on">Mt. Vernon bike trail

A Sampling of Attitudes Towards D.C. I-95

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