Throughout the second half of the 20th Century, our nation's cities were marred by the onslaught of unsustainable suburbanization and the expansion of limited access highways that ripped through urban centers and divided communities within them. Paired with systematic disinvestment from redlining and white flight, these forces combined to create lasting physical, social and economic hardships in cities across the US. Over the last 20 years, cities have rebounded in America and new patterns of thought focused on livability, walkability and urban form have started to sprout: from the Big-Dig in Boston to Octavia Boulevard and the Embarcadero in San Francisco, cities are reassessing the value of highways that solely move automobiles through cities, and have started to focus on how these pieces of infrastructure impact the daily lives and economic interests of a their residents and visitors.
In Oakland, California, through the efforts of ConnectOAKLAND, the city is taking up the mantle of this new pattern of thought and is beginning the planning process to reconnect West Oakland to Downtown by transforming an underutilized freeway (I-980) into a multi-modal transportation corridor that reestablishes the historic urban grid. The project's dual benefit will reconnect two of Oakland's historic neighborhoods while better connecting Oakland along with the entire East Bay to San Francisco, San Jose and Silicon Valley through the incorporation of a second transbay tunnel for Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), commuter rail (Caltrain), and high speed rail (HSR). This article will explore the ConnectOAKLAND vision for I-980 as a case study for current and future patterns of highway removal, and as a part of the national movement to rethink the role of urban highways and holistically re-envision the US transportation infrastructure.