Changing Lanes

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Changing Lanes

Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways

By Joseph F.C. DiMento and Cliff Ellis

The story of the evolution of the urban freeway, the competing visions that informed it, and the emerging alternatives for more sustainable urban transportation.





The story of the evolution of the urban freeway, the competing visions that informed it, and the emerging alternatives for more sustainable urban transportation.

Urban freeways often cut through the heart of a city, destroying neighborhoods, displacing residents, and reconfiguring street maps. These massive infrastructure projects, costing billions of dollars in transportation funds, have been shaped for the last half century by the ideas of highway engineers, urban planners, landscape architects, and architects—with highway engineers playing the leading role. In Changing Lanes, Joseph DiMento and Cliff Ellis describe the evolution of the urban freeway in the United States, from its rural parkway precursors through the construction of the interstate highway system to emerging alternatives for more sustainable urban transportation.

DiMento and Ellis describe controversies that arose over urban freeway construction, focusing on three cases: Syracuse, which early on embraced freeways through its center; Los Angeles, which rejected some routes and then built I-105, the most expensive urban road of its time; and Memphis, which blocked the construction of I-40 through its core. Finally, they consider the emerging urban highway removal movement and other innovative efforts by cities to re-envision urban transportation.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262018586 384 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 53 b&w illus.


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262526777 384 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 53 b&w illus.


  • Freeways have had a stronger imprint on the form, environmental qualities, and social fabric of American cities than any single type of public investment. Yet until now, surprisingly little scholarly attention has been given to their evolution and cumulative impacts on city life. This timely book provides a rich historical account of how shifts in urban priorities, disciplinary mindsets, and regulatory climates have shaped and reshaped the designs, roles, and images of America's principal channel-ways. Underpinning most freeway projects, we learn, have been a host of competing agendas, be they job creation, blight removal, or exurban development. Political and social conflicts have been unavoidable, prompting a twenty-first-century movement of freeway demolitions, chronicled in the epilogue. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the planning and design of American cities, past, present, and future.

    Robert Cervero

    Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

  • Changing Lanes is a unique addition to American highway literature. Many have looked inside the highway establishment, but DiMento and Ellis place the evolution of highway policy within its rich context of urban politics and design. This work is deeply researched and subtle conclusions are illustrated by insightful case studies.

    Martin Wachs

    Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA; Senior Principal Researcher at the RAND Corporation

  • Joseph DiMento and Cliff Ellis highlight a largely neglected part of freeway history, the contest of ideas and visions of the freeway's role in the city among professional architects, landscape architects, planners, and engineers. Their richly detailed case studies illustrate that the tension between the often-conflicting worldviews of these professionals ultimately resolved itself in a way that privileged the freeway's traffic-carrying role with profound consequences, both for good and for ill, for the development of the city and the lives of its residents.

    Jeffrey Brown

    Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Florida State University

  • Freeway histories have generally been of two sorts: stories of the builders of the Interstate Highway System, and stories of freeway planning and revolts in particular cities. Changing Lanes is unique in weaving these together to consider the competing visions for urban freeways that have so profoundly shaped American cities.

    Brian D. Taylor

    FAICP, Professor of Urban Planning, Director, Ralph & Goldy Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, Director, Institute of Transportation Studies, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs