Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Eisenhower Was Shocked By Urban Freeways

President Eisenhower is usually blamed for slicing up American cities by promoting the Interstate Highway System. In fact, he did not know the the highways would go into cities and was shocked when he saw that they did:

"After the interstate-building program was well under way, the president also awoke to unexpected realities of the plan he had pushed. On a summer day in 1959, Eisenhower's limousine was on its way to Camp David, Maryland, when the president noticed a huge earthen gash extending through the northwest section of the city. Asking the reason for this massive intrusion of bulldozers he learned from an aide that this was his interstate highway system.

"Eisenhower recoiled in horror. His interstate concept, borrowed from the German model, had been to go around cities, not through them. Amazingly, he had been unaware during the lengthy congressional donnybrook that the only way the interstates could become a reality in this increasingly urban nation was to promise cities enough money to eviscerate themselves.

"The president immediately enlisted Bragdon and his staff to figure out how to stop the paving over of large sections of American cities. But the BPR (Bureau of Public Roads) dug in its heels at every turn. Nearing the end of his term, Eisenhower concluded that his hands were "virtually tied," and he reluctantly gave up, but not without reflecting on the wastefulness of thousands of motorists 'driving into the central area and taking all the space required to park the cars.' In a few years his comments would prove prophetic."

From Stephen B. Goddard, Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century
Goddard gets the information from Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower the President, p. 587 and from Gary Schwarz, "Urban Freeways," Southern California Law Review, March, 1976.


Blogger Ben Gage said...

nice blog, even Presidents are unaware of the work they wrought, a nice warning for all of us. Personal good intentions can become butterfly effects somewhere...

5:46 AM  

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