Urban Transportation, Planning and Legislation


After World War II, traffic volume returned to and then exceeded pre-war levels. New rights-of-way were mapped out and cities and towns were bypassed to facilitate high-speed traffic. Such projects included the Penn-Lincoln Parkway in Pittsburgh, the Schuylkill Expressway into Philadelphia, the new U.S. 22 connecting Harrisburg and Easton, and the Harrisburg-York Expressway. Municipal governments were able to use federal urban renewal funds to clear blighted areas, and then build rights-of-ways to connect their cities to these new road systems.

One notable example is Chinatown in Philadelphia. "In the 1960s, the city of Philadelphia, PA, had gained national recognition for its aggressive downtown planning and urban-renewal programs. A combination of clearing substandard buildings, creating new parcels for development, and providing improved vehicular access had significantly brightened the prospects for its aging central business district (CBD). A critical part of these plans was a major cross-town expressway to be located within the right-of-way of an existing urban arterial, Vine Street. The expressway was designed to link I-95 and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, on the eastern edge of Philadelphia at the Delaware River, with the Schuykill Expressway 2 miles to the west. The purpose of the new highway was to connect these major existing highways as well as provide enhanced traffic access to downtown Philadelphia. The purposed Vine Street Expressway became the focus of a protracted dispute between communities along its route and proponents of downtown improvement." For more see "Community Preservation: Chinatown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."

In-depth histories, maps and planning studies for the Philadelphia area arterial system can be found at the Philly Roads website. Here is a sampling from the website:

  • Interstate 695 Crosstown Expressway (unbuilt): The 1964 preliminary engineering report, that proposed a South Street alignment for the Interstate 695 Crosstown Expressway stated it will "serve as an effective buffer zone separating the proposed redevelopment areas to the north and the incompatible land usages to the south." The Delaware Valley Housing Association, which opposed the expressway, stated "while we believe that the expressway has serious shortcomings from a transportation standpoint and would create a racial barrier between Center City and areas to the south, our overriding concern is with the city's inability to re-house adequately the thousands of low-income families whom the Crosstown would displace."
  • Interstate 76 Schuylkill Expressway: The 1950 Philadelphia City Planning Commissions report stated "Philadelphia, in common with all great urban concentrations, faces a problem of restoring a reasonable balance to the use of its existing streets. The solution to this problem lies in the construction of a network of express highways meeting modern standards, located so that they will not blight existing development or inhibit new growth and rehabilitation, and in a manner to afford a measure of relief for the general street pattern."

Transportation Records at Pennsylvania State Archives

RG-12 Records of the Department of Highways; Minutes, Reports, and General Corespondence of the State Highway and Bridge Authority. Semi-annual reports, minutes of meetings, correspondence, audit reports and financial records of the State Highway and Bridge Authority. Information varies with the type of record but generally sheds light upon the routine activities of the Authority. The State Highway and Bridge Authority was a public corporation and governmental instrumentality created by the act of April 18, 1949 (P.L. 604) for the purpose of constructing, reconstructing, improving, equipping, furnishing, maintaining, and operating state highways, bridges, viaducts, toll bridges, tunnels, traffic circles on state highways, maintenance sheds, offices, garages, and roadside rest stops.

RG-12 Records of the Department of Highways; Photographic Unit's Construction File. More than 2,500 negatives of highway construction projects concentrated primarily in Allegheny and Philadelphia Counties during the period 1944-1960. Some negatives will also be found for highway construction projects in Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Cambria, Carbon, Chester, Clearfield, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lawrence, Lebanon, Lehigh, Lycoming, Montgomery, Northampton, Northumberland, and Perry Counties.

RG-12 Records of the Department of Highways; Pennsylvania State Highway Commission. The State Highway Commission was created by Act 438 approved August 14, 1963. The State Highway Commission consisted of nine members with staggered terms and its purpose was to develop a six-year highway construction program that would ensure both uniform standards and logical continuity through time. This was part of a two-prong effort by the legislature that also created in the same year under Concurrent Senate Resolution 128 the Highway Classification Committee. The latter committee was charged with establishing appropriate standards for the type of service each highway was to provide and with making long range plans for future needs.

RG-52 Department of Transportation; Local and Area Transportation Program Files; topics include DVRPC Urban Corridor Demonstration Program; U.S. Department of Transportation, Urban Mass Transportation Administration; Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act of 1964, etc.

The Pennsylvania Highway Department's exhibit at the 1961 Carlisle Fair.
Highway Department's exhibit at the Carlisle Fair, 1961
Image Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; RG 12; David L. Lawrence; Photographic Unit; Highway Department; Series 12.14; Negative 629


Legislation and Planning

The basic redevelopment law was the Pennsylvania Act of May 24, 1945, P.L. 991 commonly known as the Urban Redevelopment Law. Under Section 4, any Pennsylvania city or county's governing body could find and declare by proper ordinance or resolution that there was a need for a redevelopment authority to function within their limits.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs was formed on July 1, 1966 from several bureaus of the Department of Commerce and the Department of Internal Affairs. Its purpose was to serve the needs and interests of local governments in Pennsylvania. It was empowered with the ability to cooperate with municipal, county and regional planning development agencies, to undertake research on housing and housing conditions, and to undertake various measures leading up to the upgrade of Pennsylvania's housing and housing standards. In 1964, the Pennsylvania Legislature issued an eminent domain code which provided a "complete and exclusive procedure and law to govern all condemnations of property for public purposes" within the Commonwealth. Other enabling legislation for local governments to carry out renewal plans was contained in the various municipal codes - including planning, zoning, land subdivision regulations and building codes. Read more about federal and Pennyslvania's urban renewal legislation and policies in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs "Community Renewal" (PDF).

An excellent bibliography for primary resources is the 1972 Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs Library's Home Rule in the U.S. Municipalities, Counties and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: A Select Bibliography. A very interesting concept of planning "new towns" which "seem to show that given good planning and the needed capital, a new community is financially feasible and environmentally far superior to the urban sprawl to which we have become accustomed" seemed to be one solution to urban problems. See the 1972 Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs' New Town Bibliography.

Planning commission will have published many planning studies that give a good insight into the problems (and solutions being offered) that communities were experiencing due to population growth, infrastructure needs and land use issues. Read the chapter "Moving Goods and People" (PDF) from the Greater Canonsburg Regional Planning Commission's 1959 Expanding Urban Pattern: A Local Planning Study of Six Communities in the Greater Canonsburg Area, Washington County (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; RG34; Bureau of Community Planning; Urban Community Assitance Programs). Browse the chapter "Community Renewal" (PDF) by the Pittsburgh Regional Planning Association in 1958 for the Planning and Zoning Commission of the Township of North Huntingdon's Master Plan for Future Growth. Also see Columbia County Planning Commission's 1968 Community Facilities and Transportation studies of the comprehensive county plan.

Both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are exempted from the mandate of the 1968 Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code (PA MPC) to produce comprehensive plans. Thats not to say that these two cities have not undertaken neighborhood plans, redevelopment plans, and renewal area plans over the years. Read about the history of planning in Pittsburgh in "Planning and the Industrial City" (PDF).

Pittsburgh adopted their zoning ordinance in 1958 and the zoning code at that time "anticipated that future development patterns would be lower in density and far more 'suburban' in character than those already established. It emphasized new building types, which greatly changed the character of the existing urban neighborhoods, including emphasis on larger lot sizes in residential communities. Like many zoning codes of its day, the 1958 zoning code reflected suburban standards that did not fit the urban built environment of Pittsburgh" [1].

To find out the population of the 100 largest cities and other urban places in the United States from 1790-1990, go to the U.S. Census Bureau TIGER website (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing System).



[1] "Map Pittsburgh," Pittsburgh City Planning. http://pittsburghpa.gov/dcp/gis/


Image of Governor Lawrence and others at the 1961 signing of the Urban Renewal Bill
Governor David L. Lawrence signing the Urban
Renewal Bill, June 14, 1961
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; RG12 Lawrence Papers, Photographic Unit, Series 12.13

Image of a regional and county planning report
Regional and County Planning Reports discussing Urban Renewal and Transportation; Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg; RG 12; David L. Lawrence; Photographic Unit; Highway Department; Series 12.14; Negative 753H