Archives For Highways

 

“How We Might Regain Worthwhile,
Cherished Places and Neighborhoods

A review of
Three new books related to
Interstate Transportation
And the Destruction of Places.

Review by Brent Aldrich.

Photo - Brent Aldrich - Click to Enlarge


The Big Roads:
The Untold Story
of the Engineers, Visionaries…

by Earl Swift
Hardback:
HMHarcourt, 2011
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Kindle ]
Railroaded:
The Transcontinentals and the Making
of Modern America
.
by Richard White.
Hardback:
Norton, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]
[ Kindle ]
Railroad Stations:
The Buildings That Linked the Nation

David Naylor
Hardback:
Norton, 2011.
Buy now:
[ Amazon ]

THE BIG ROADS - SwiftThe first problem is by now a familiar one: the particularly American capacity for self-destruction of our cherished human and common realms in favor of the scale and privatization of the automobile, and its ensuing snare of roads, speed, and placeless suburbanized development.

The second problem – and I take this one personally – is that our 47,000 mile Interstate Highway System, the crowning legacy of the Auto Age, may be traced back to an Indianapolis cyclist.

—————

So especially with that second point in mind, and a few new books about American transportation history, a few reflections seem to be in order. To begin with, Earl Swift’s The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways begins with Carl Fisher, builder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, racing, repairing, selling… bicycles: riding one on a tightrope between downtown buildings, building another that was two stories tall, shoving another off of a highrise as a promotional gimmick – whoever dragged the wreckage to his shop received a free new bike. (I love this pre-1900 bike propaganda, and could make a case that it’s this lack of delightful bike culture in Indianapolis now that most discourages more bicyclists).

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“Our complicity in the age
of ‘Cheap’ Oil and Hypermobility

A Review of

Interstate 69:
The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway
.

By Matt Dellinger.

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.


Interstate 69:
The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway
.

By Matt Dellinger.

Hardback: Scribner, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Interstate 69 - DellingerDriving back home to Indianapolis from Evansville one night last year, a city in the southwestern most tip of the state, which I’ve only been through this once, I pulled out my Indiana road map to figure out how to get home. It was late, and so I started along the route that looked quickest – not a common choice for me, but there I was. And after just a couple of miles, signs began to appear to tell me that the Interstate was ending. I checked my map, and sure enough, a thick red line stretched all the way to Indianapolis, but it wasn’t here. I realized my mistake, as this was only, as my state-produced map indicated in its margin, the I-69 CORRIDOR, which I knew about only vaguely at the time, mostly from its huge opposition. And so, I took state roads back to Bloomington and on to home, much as I normally would.

I relate this incident because it seems now, as it did then, to indicate the power of an image – in this case a line drawn on a map – as representing a complex set of desires and hopes, beliefs, fears, and narratives about how the world works (or should work). The dream of Interstate 69, reaching from Canada to Mexico, via this route through Indiana, and down through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, has been in the air for multiple decades now, and its history tells the story of transportation in the States. Matt Dellinger’s Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway starts down in Evansville, and winds down the path of the proposed I-69, meeting its advocates and adversaries all along the way; tracing the routes of rivers, trains, and state roads that all predated the Interstate system; and telling the stories of cities – large and small – that stand to feel the effect if I-69 ever reaches them: what the effect will be is the driving motivation behind anyone interested in the I-69 project, and is telling of broader beliefs about cities, economies, and communities; read this book with an atlas in your other hand.

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