INTRO: The state of Michigan is thinking about removing I-375 in Detroit. It peels off of I-75 before dead ending at the Renaissance Center. Detroit is the capital of cars and freeways. But both business and government appear willing to turn it into a neighborhood again. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
Eastern market is the biggest of its kind in America. Instead of cars bumping into each other people do….They’re face to face shopping, eating and hearing music on the street. Terry Campbell is the market’s chief operating officer, dressed in a tie-dye t-shirt. She’s working on a typical Saturday morning.
“You know I grew up in Detroit. I remember when it was crowded and when rush hour was really rush hour and it was difficult to get around. When you make decisions to optimize people’s movement then there are these unintended consequences of isolating areas and disrupting wonderful neighborhoods. It happened time and time again across North America in all of our big cities.”
Campbell keeps walking and greeting people along the way. She finds Eastern Market President Dan Carmody. He’s looking down into a canyon of pavement. 40 feet deep and 80 feet wide.
“It has multiple names. It’s the M3 connector. It’s the Vernor Highway. We call it the six-lane freeway that separates our meat department from our produce department.”
Carmody is an urban planner. He advocates for more people and fewer cars. He worked in smaller cities in the rust belt and says that when he arrived in Detroit six years ago he hit the motherlode.
“Right now this freeway doesn’t do a good job of connecting Eastern Market to downtown or to Lafayette Park. We’re cut off by public housing and urban renewal to the north, by freeway to the west by this freeway to the south and by vacant land to the east. So we would like someday to be knit more closely into the fabric of the whole city.”
City fabric also concerns Bill Rustem. He leads the progressive element in the Snyder administration. His wife is from Detroit. Rustem told one of his staffers ‘how would you like to bury a freeway?”
“It is reaching the end of its useful life. Either the state’s got to decide whether to rebuild it which is like $80 million to rebuild I-375 or look at it a different way.”
Rustem took state transportation director Kirk Steudle down to meet with executives at GM, Blue Cross and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Those people are used to roaring out of town back to the suburbs at 5 o’clock. But…
“All the stakeholders said it’s time to look at what the alternatives might be. So yes we’re beginning the process. It’s an environmental impact statement process to look at alternatives… one of which will be rebuilding, others will be boulevards, all kinds of ideas, every idea that can come from people in the community as to what ought to be the future of I-375.”
San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Milwaukee have all torn out downtown freeways. Then those areas boomed with money and people. Public transit replaced cars. Michael Sharber started a company that’s part of the Quicken Loans family. It’s called Green Lancer. He rode to the Eastern Market on bike.
“I think it would be a great idea. There’s not even enough traffic to need 375. I would argue that all day long. Look at the amount of traffic here and it’s Saturday and you’re seeing very few cars and you have this freeway taking up half the space here. This could be an outdoor seating area. You could have kiosks.” His friend laughs but Sharber says “yeah absolutely.”
The artist named Marcia Music would agree. Her dad owned a record shop on Hastings Street. That was the main street of Paradise Valley. It was black Detroit’s Harlem. It was bulldozed to make way for I-375 in 1964. See this website for Michigan highway history. Marcia and her dad watched it.
“We were standing where Hastings Street once was. And we were looking out over onto the dirt crevass. And he said ‘This used to be Hastings.’ And I was a little girl. And I’ll never forget his heartbreak.”
Would Detroit and its suburbs agree to giving up a mile of freeway? The Michigan Department of Transportation will be holding public meetings on the subject. You can read about how highways damaged Detroit in the book Origins of the Urban Crisis.