Sunday, February 04, 2007

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

Being the historian of Washington, D.C.’s un-built highway system I have encountered a broad spectrum of attitudes in my years on the topic.

A good example of this was canvassing to publicize the then upcoming Freeways in Washington panel at the Washington, D.C. Historical Society, held October 30, 1998, 2:00-3:30 PM in the basement of Martin Luther King Library. I appeared on this panel with Jeremy Korr (University of Maryland) and Angela Rooney; it was moderated by Keith Melder, author of City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of the District of Columbia.

As part of its promotion I was given a stack of posters advertising this event; it showed a group of anti freeway protesters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building, cir. 1970. (When I get my scanner working again or locate an existing scan, I will add it to this post.)

I naturally had to take these posters to a variety of places. One of these of course being at the I-95 stubs or “stumps” immediately inside the I-495 Capital Beltway, at a construction trailer in the higher elevation area south of the current parking lot, with two Maryland Department of Transportation employees. The older guy – late 50s -- was uninterested: it will never happen; the other – late 20s -- though seemed inspired when I pointed out the significance of that location: hmm that makes sense. Ah the juxtaposition of embitterment and of logic.

In the places in downtown Brookland I went, I best remember the barber shop and a hardware store. The men in the barber shop cried out could they please tear down some houses to build that much needed highway and others; one guy there even said that they could tear down “half” the homes in the city to serve D.C.’s traffic flow; I assured them that would not be necessary as a full system would require a tiny percentage. The hardware store guy took a look at the poster I was distributing and asked me if it was one of those stupid highly generalized anti-highway events. I replied that it was not – at least my presentation – though others there will try to turn it into one. Wow! I found the strongest support for urban freeways in the urban areas, with the men in that barber shop being African-American. Right in downtown Brookland, D.C., reported hotbed of the doctrinaire anti freeway dogma of “No White Man’s Roads Through Black Man’s Homes.” I think that the opposition was due to the reality that the 1963-64 freeway plans were disproportionately excessive, such as with the proposed destruction of Brooks Mansion, the Turkey Thicket neighborhood and the all new swath through Takoma Park for the I-70S segment, taking 471 dwellings in the one mile or so segment via an all new swath through Takoma Park, Maryland, for a longer route for I-70S then the canceled Northwest Freeway would have done in far upper NW, 74 according to a 1957 study, from the Maryland line to just south of a Tenley Circle Underpass (and continuing via Archibald-Glover Park, alas without there ever being consideration of a tunneled route).

Of course, since D.C. I-95 was not built, I would also come across others at various times, who were quite anti

One was an individual from Maryland in the National Motorists Association who testified with me and others before a committee of the Maryland legislature sometime in the early or mid 1990s about a bill to raise the maximum speed limit in that state from 55 to 60 mph. His response to the idea of building DC I-95 was a hysterical rant about demolishing or destroying Brookland, never mind the open areas along the railroad and the low number of residential displacement (34 under the 1970-71 plan), nor the idea of it there as a cut and cover tunnel. I suspect that he is not very familiar with the route and, given his hysterical response, was under the influence of misinformation.

Others of course were some of the surviving anti freeway activists of the 1960s and 1970s. A pair that I met in February 1998 through a visit to their house was Angela Rooney and her husband Thomas, who worked at CUA. Both who were activists against building any D.C. urban highways in the 1960s and 1970s. These people, or at least Angela, were so anti-road as to even oppose the WMATA Red Line- making me wonder why they ever moved to Brookland which has had the railroad since about 1863.

Another anti was Mark Rabinowitz, who had a web site against the Maryland Inter County Connector, and a small group of his house mates at a Georgia Avenue group house where I first met him in 1996. They were against D.C. I-95 even as a park covered tunnel built upon an existing railroad industrial corridor. They were also against any highways. Period. Whether urban or rural.

Another is Stewart Schwartz, who was misinformed about the feasibility of D.C. I-95, including just how few homes it would displace (with the proper D.C. I-95 design); he was likely so misinformed by those who hired him to be the Executive Director of the “Coalition for Smarter Growth”. This organization has its address at 4000 Albermarle Street NW in DC - right next to the 1957-59 Northwest Freeway alignment just north of Tenley Circle! To his credit, Schwartz has endorsed the idea of covering segments of freeways to improve local connectivity. However, his opposition at least seemed to be based upon such misinformation, in contrast to the following I-95 opponents who embodied the highly generalized attitude of pushing the highways away with far less conversation.

These were a group of black-clothed priests that attended my June 5, 2005 presentation near Catholic University of America, at the Archbishop Carroll High School through the D.C. NE Historical Society. My presentation was "The Never-Built Freeways of Northeast D.C.: The Plans and the Controversy, Part I" by Douglas A. Willinger of the Takoma Park Highway Design Studio. IIRC, these men were identified to me as Jesuits: members of the Jesuit Order, established by Ignatius Loyola in 1543 to counter the Protestant Reformation, via strategizing to further and expand the power of the Vatican/Roman Catholic Church. (If these men were with another Catholic Order I would appreciate hearing so through this post’s comments feature). I remember two of these men in particular, one white haired elderly, described to me as liking to jump on the bandwagon rather then think for himself, and a young, dark haired, reddish complexion one – too young to have been more then a child when D.C. I-95 was canceled in 1968-1973 – who appeared to me to be of mixed Irish and German ancestry. It was he who expressed the astonishment that they were actually going to run I-95 through Washington, D.C., as if that was somehow unfathomable. He did not appear too pleased to hear me discuss its feasibility, even as I acknowledged the shortcomings of the earlier designs (and that I felt it was right to stop those earlier specific plans, such as the 1964 plan’s demolition of Brooks Mansion).

Figuring that these men had an interest in what they would likely call “social justice” matters, I ended my laptop projection presentation with my own example of activism: the South Capitol Street/ Frederick Douglass Mall, and its desecration by the atrociously placed Nationals Ball Park Stadium, with the visual image of the stamp-pair that I had created with Ian Goddard in early 2005. I looked forward to an interesting discussion.
Instead there was only a cold silence.

Such so far reflects the general attitude of the authorities towards any urban freeways.

A Beholden Doctrine

No comments: