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Friday, March 23, 2012

A Failed Underpass in EUR: a Brief History of Over and Under

This underground passageway is shuttered now, and probably has been for years, useful only for collecting trash and attracting graffiti. 

The "sopraelevata," an elevated intersection
on Rome's east side, completed in 1975
It seemed like a good idea at the time.  In the 1950s and 1960s, Rome was one of many cities to experiment with high-level roadways (the "sopraelevata," connecting Viale Castrense and Via Prenestina on Rome's east side--photo at right) and pedestrian underpasses, like the one under Viale America, in the suburb of EUR (photo above). 

The purpose was the same.  As traffic density increased, the elevated highways would carry vehicles over pedestrians and dense urban intersections, and the underpasses would carry pedestrians under busy streets full of cars and scooters.  In EUR, the tunnel under Viale America was designed to allow thousands of EUR workers safe access to a Metro stop on the south side of the wide street. 

The Buffalo Skyway, opened in 1955
Over and under projects could be very successful.  For example, in our hometown of Buffalo, the Skyway, completed in 1955, successfully ferried workers and other commuters over canals, a river, and a clogged lift bridge. 

But by and large these efforts to deal with traffic's consequences proved unpopular.  Just about everyone but us wants to tear down the Skyway, despite the wonderful driving experience it provides.  Seattle, adds Dianne, after much controversy is tearing down its waterfront "viaduct," as we Westerners call these things.  We don't know precisely why the EUR underground was closed, but we can imagine.  Over time, the passage became intimidating: graffiti, the smell of urine, predictable (for Rome) accumulations of trash, the threat of crime.  For some, a dash across the street was preferable to descending and ascending long flights of stairs.  And in Rome, the descent from sunshine into the unnatural and relative darkness of a tunnel, must have seemed not only odd, but contrary. 

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

1 comment:

Riley said...

But when we're underpasses ever a good idea? I suppose the Toronto underground system and New York's Penn Station complex are examples, but those underpasses are so much more.

Perhaps the answer is that people do not want purely utilitarian solutions to traffic, which is why I've always loved the Skyway.