From Roads to Streets

All over the world, cities and regions are confronted with the ambiguous heritage of extensive networks of highways and their fragmented urban landscapes. Limited-access expressways still play an important role in moving people and goods within metropolitan areas, but they may not be the most efficient and sustainable way to do the job.

Highways with segregated interchanges create physical barriers and take-up great chunks of precious urban and suburban land that could have other uses; they tend to limit pedestrian and bike movement, and sever access to waterfronts and nature. The high volumes of traffic these highways support generate noise, dust and air pollution, raising health and social justice issues for local communities. By providing seemingly easy access for cars and heavy-goods vehicles, extensive highways networks encourage car-centric lifestyles, urban sprawl, mono-functional uses of space which in the end leads to more traffic and congestion.

Social and economic patterns are changing with growing aspirations for the vibrancy of city life and car-free living in denser, mix-use neighbourhoods served by multi-use and greener public spaces, in close contact with nature. Cities and metropolitan regions respond to these trends by redeveloping former industrial and car-oriented city fringes for more intensive land-uses, with the support of new metro, tramway or express bus lines. These projects are increasingly becoming catalysts for green development strategies, sustainable urban mobility programmes and climate-neutral policies.

The Covid crisis shows a rapid change in mobility, housing, working and leisure patterns, opening a window of opportunity to reset our urban development and transport models. Converting urban highways’ into green and active city boulevards could be a powerful way of making cities-regions both climate-neutral environments and desirable places to live.

From Roads to Street Expert Group

In March 2020, METREX launched “From Roads to Streets”, an expert group to serve as a platform for the exchange of knowledge and experience on the conversion of urban highways into city streets or boulevards (places to move, to stay, to live, and to work in), as a key measure to transform metropolitan cities and regions. METREX Member L’Institut Paris Region is the lead partner.

This METREX group works in close cooperation and support of the EUROCITIES “Urban Regeneration in the City Fringe” working group created in April 2020 with eight participating cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Lyon, Prag, Vilnius, Göteborg, with Oslo as the lead partner. This group works on the conditions and methods for transforming urban fringes in three directions: overcoming highway barriers, creating quality public spaces, and managing radical land-use mix.

Both METREX and EUROCITIES groups collaborate with the URBACT III “RiConnect” action planning network, which consists of eight metropolitan and transport authorities: Porto Metropolitan Area, Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Region, Krakow Region, Thessaloniki Region, Amsterdam Regional Transport Authority, Grand Paris Métropole, Transport for Greater Manchester, with Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) as the lead partner. RiConnect is about rethinking mobility infrastructure in combination with metropolitan and local planning, in order to reconnect people, neighbourhoods, cities, and natural spaces.

In 2020, the three networks joined forces to build up knowledge and expertise on these complex issues, with the aim to strengthen strategic and creative planning capacities within each city and region, including the Paris Region. The joint reflection of the networks also aims at raising awareness of EU and national levels on the social and environmental impacts of car-oriented infrastructure policies, with the need to shift funding streams towards converting urban expressways into green boulevards as a pathway towards compact, carbon neutral, resilient, and socially-sustainable city-regions. Some material presented in the course of the 2020 METREX expert group meetings can be found below.

Work will continue in 2021-2022 through online and physical meetings, hands-on workshops, peer-to-peer-reviews, seminars and (hopefully) site visits, bringing together experts and practitioners from different horizons.
Other experiences will be added to the joint learning platform, including potentially Barcelona, Birmingham, Göteborg, Nantes, Paris, Porto, and Warsaw. A final summary report, supported by a wide range of situations, strategies and projects, will focus on the takeaways and learnings for the future of city-regions. A common final conference should take place in 2023.