The city of Seoul, Korea just tore down a massive urban highway carrying 160,000 cars a day. And the result was an absolute catastrophe: the city’s economy soured, drivers were stranded in gridlock all day, and puppies and small children shed tears of remorse and longing for their lost highway.

Just kidding. Really, the results were beautiful, everything went just swimmingly, and the project has gotten rave reviews from residents (you can see photos here).

The whole article is worth a read, really, but here are the things that stuck out at me:

“As soon as we destroyed the road, the cars just disappeared and drivers changed their habits. A lot of people just gave up their cars. Others found a different way of driving. In some cases, they kept using their cars but changed their routes.”

The city had beefed up its bus service and given people options to avoid the motorway, and the effect on the environment was remarkable…

But wait, it gets better…

Last week, the verdict of ordinary Seoulians, asked at random what they thought of the development, was overwhelmingly positive. “The city centre is so much cleaner,” said Rhoda Chung, a young pharmaceutical worker. “The shopkeepers were arguing against the restoration. but now that they can see the difference they all like it.” Soo Chul Kwak, a retired driver, said: “Before, you only heard the traffic, but now you can hear the water.”

And they had this to say about traffic:

“The idea was sown in 1999…We had experienced a strange thing. We had three tunnels in the city and one needed to be shut down. Bizarrely, we found that that car volumes dropped. I thought this was odd. We discovered it was a case of ‘Braess paradox‘, which says that by taking away space in an urban area you can actually increase the flow of traffic, and, by implication, by adding extra capacity to a road network you can reduce overall performance.”

…The research team spent six months investigating what would happen to the traffic and developing a forecasting model which said it would slightly improve the traffic overall. It was put to the electorate that the motorway should be removed, and mayor Lee was elected partly on the environment ticket. “There were worries about the traffic,”says Hwang, “but we explained what would happen, and that there would be alternatives, and they began to understand.”

Now, just because it worked in Seoul, and San Francisco, and Portland, OR, and Milwaukie, WI etc., doesn’t mean it’ll work in other cities.  But it certainly makes me think that Northwesterners who think that urban highways are indispensible should think again.