What will freeways look like in the future?

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Is the High Desert Corridor the last gasp for freeways? Or will they always be part of our lives?

Seleta Reynolds heads LA’s Department of Transportation and says that as transportation changes -- with the advent of electric vehicles, driverless cars, and drone delivery -- we should change how we think about freeways and their costs.

“If we don't figure out a way to optimize what we have, which is a huge massive capital maintenance burden, then I'm not sure I'd buy that freeways will be here in a hundred years, because we won't have the dollars to continue to invest in them and maintain them,” Reynolds said.

She points to some projects that are re-envisioning the freeway structures, such as the Hollywood Park project to create a park and deck the freeway at the 101 in Hollywood. Another project would rework the stub of the 2 freeway in the Silver Lake and Echo Park area. Landscape architect Chris Reed worked with his students at Harvard on a concept to turn the spur of this unfinished freeway into an elevated park filled with plants, paths for cyclists and pedestrians, and a rainwater capture system.

Stoss Landscape Urbanism's proposal for the 2 Freeway spur includes
paths for pedestrians and bicyclists and a rain capture system.
(Chris Reed / Stoss Landscape Urbanism)

He says that in addition to separating communities and spewing pollutants, freeways also exacerbate storm water runoff.

“It was an exciting speculation to say, look, let's just take a piece of infrastructure and turn it on its head and allow it to become this vibrant space for ecology, for culture, for people in ways that just aren't possible right now,” Reed said.

But could interventions like this steer us away from freeways in the future?

“It's hard to imagine L.A. without the automobile and without the freeways because L.A. is a 20th century city and the automobile is a 20th century invention,” said Eric Avila, author of “The Folklore of the Freeway.”

“In so many ways the identity, the politics, the economics, the landscape, the environment of L.A. is based upon the automobile.”

Bridges and Walls is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency. And special thanks to NPR’s Story Lab.

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