Some 60 years later, South Bend taking another step away from Studebaker past
If you’ve ever wondered why there are freeway-like cloverleaf ramps in the middle of the city of South Bend, where Eddy Street crosses over Lincolnway, you’re not alone.
The cloverleafs were built on both sides of the Cooper bridge in the early 1960s as part of the city’s so-called Urban Renewal efforts. The idea was to move traffic, especially Studebaker workers, into and out of the downtown faster.
But the cloverleafs’ days are numbered. It turned out they were outdated as soon as they opened, since Studebaker closed in 1963.
Tuesday will mark the beginning of their end. The city’s Board of Public Works will open quotations from firms interested in doing the preliminary engineering required by federally funded transportation projects. The city in August won a $2.4 million federal grant to pay for that engineering, and will add $600,000 of city money for a $3 million contract.
The University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture last year completed a study that the city submitted with its application for the federal money. The school’s dean, Stefanos Polyzoides, said cities across the nation, especially here in the rust belt, are moving to undo urban renewal projects, as part of the new urbanism movement to make cities more walkable and pedestrian-friendly.
“There are many, many bad wounds from the 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond that had to do with this new car-based urbanism that crept in and this infrastructure is now completely useless,” Polyzoides says. “And removing this infrastructure and redeveloping the edges to the river, and reconnecting with the neighborhoods behind the infrastructure could be a tremendous advantage for the city.”
The architecture school is helping other cities in the region with similar efforts, including Elkhart, LaPorte and Kalamazoo.
The city of South Bend hopes the U.S. Department of Transportation, headed by former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, also will fund construction work to remove the ramps since it’s paying for the preliminary engineering. The entire project could take seven to 10 years, but it will be worth the wait, says Jitin Kain deputy public works director for the city.
More than just eliminating the cloverleafs, the project will reconnect city streets that were severed by the 1960s work. In many cities, these projects broke up neighborhoods that were predominately populated by people of color, which was documented by the Notre Dame study and many others.
“It’s a great project for the city because we are removing outdated freeway infrastructure from the heart of the city along the St. Joseph River and replacing it with a network of complete streets, with mixed-income, mixed use housing. That is a much better use of land than what is currently happening there.
“It will increase access to the river, make it more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, create more connectivity.”
In addition to all of those practical improvements, the project has symbolic value, Polyzoides says.
“The Eddy Street is like almost 70 feet wide,” he says. “It’s an enormous piece of infrastructure. So removing its cloverleafs is an indication that you’re changing from a car-oriented world to a pedestrian- or person-centered world, so there’s symbolic meaning to that as well. Things have to change in that direction to make cities better.”
Kain says it will probably take the city about a month to award the contract to one of the engineering firms who submitted proposals.