For many years the symbol of progress for many cities in Latin America were highways, enormous corridors of concrete designed to meet the needs of sprawling metropolitan areas that followed the American model of car dependent communities.
These autopistas were designed to promote urban expansion and the real estate speculation that comes along with it, creating massive metropolitan areas that transformed otherwise compact Latin American cities, such as Buenos Aires.
But now what is left of this approach to urban planning? Huge traffic jams, increasing air pollution (not that cities in Latin America need an extra hand with that) and a reduction of the economical activity of the city caused by long commute times, even forcing companies to change their schedules to adapt to the situation. All of this leading to a true collapse of the single occupant-vehicle transportation scheme, which is already being revised in many places in the world, but still has some supporters in Buenos Aires.
So what can be done to infrastructure of such scale – located in almost every part of the Buenos Aires’ metropolitan area?
For the moment it can’t be removed, as is being done in Seoul or Seattle, because the problem of the need for mobility is still present and the city can’t go without the single-occupant vehicle scheme previously mentioned. Buenos Aires is not yet ready for a full introduction to public transit of quality in its metropolitan area, which can replace the automobile transport load of the highways.
A solution then lies in using the current infrastructure as a platform for growth in innovative modes of transportation.
Buenos Aires’ Bus Rapid Transit has proven successful in many places in the city, why not try transforming the metropolitan freeways into BRT corridors? Why not transform the space of highways into new areas of green and sustainable transportation, including bike-routes, segregated bus lines and carpool lanes?
Latin American cities don’t have the money nor, in many cases, the political will to transform their modes of transportation from one day to another. A reutilization of the existing system is a way to look toward the future, the transformation of Buenos Aires’ extensive network of freeways is a challenge for the next decade.
In which other ways would you reutilize highways? Is there an alternative to demolishing them?
Credits: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.