Last week we asked readers to choose their favorite American street transformation of 2016. Six finalists were in the running. These projects sped up bus trips for tens of thousands of riders (San Francisco), improved critical links in city bike networks (Chicago, Atlanta, and Oakland), and healed an old downtown freeway scar (Rochester).
Our winner came from Pittsburgh, a city that’s made a big splash rethinking its streets the past few years under Mayor Bill Peduto.
Coming out on top of the voting was Strawberry Way, a downtown Pittsburgh alley that was widely-used but nondescript. The local nonprofit Envision Downtown transformed the alley into a three-block, car-free gathering place. Pavement murals from artist Deanna Mance and street furniture and planters turned a grey, moribund space between buildings into an inviting place.
Here’s a before shot — the difference is impressive:
In our book, the most ambitious project in the running this year was Rochester’s Inner Loop highway removal along South Union Street. The Inner Loop is a 1950’s-era sunken highway that cuts off downtown Rochester from the neighborhoods around it. On the east side, the city is filling in two-thirds of a mile of the Inner Loop to replace it with surface streets and walkable development. The old highway segment is gone now:
It took years to lay the groundwork for this transformation. Advocates like the Rochester Community Design Center and Reconnect Rochester deserve a lot of credit for their role in getting the project off the ground. Many other American cities could benefit from removing downtown highway segments, but Rochester belongs to the small, select group that actually went ahead and made change happen.
The Inner Loop project may have suffered from being thrust into the competition a year or two too soon. While you can see the highway has been filled in, South Union Street still looks like a construction zone. The full complement of walking and biking improvements are slated to be completed next year.