Bentley exhibit focuses on origin of Detroit freeways

October 17, 2001

ANN ARBOR—In celebration of Detroit’s 300th anniversary, the exhibit, “Getting Around Detroit: Detroit’s Streets from the Woodward Plan to Freeways” is currently on display at the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library.

“Through maps, photographs, city plans, engravings and books, this exhibit traces the history of street planning in Detroit from the early 19th century through the 1960s,” says Associate Director Bill Wallach.

For the past 200 years, city planners have developed and tested a variety of street plans, largely through trial-and-error, according to exhibit designers. The invention of the automobile sparked the most active phase of experimental street planning in Detroit, as improvements were needed to compensate for increasing levels of congestion.

Since the mid-1920s, “an evolution in street planning has taken place,” says Len Coombs, associate archivist and curator of the exhibit. “From street-widening, to divided streets and streets with overpasses, streets have evolved through the years to form what is now our present-day freeway system.”

Highlights of the exhibit include the first street plan for Detroit, circa 1830, and pictures of Woodward Avenue before and after street widening in the mid-1930s.

According to Coombs, the evolution of Detroit’s roadway system is still visible to drivers. “All the various kinds of roads Detroit tried at different times can still be seen,” says Coombs.

“Getting Around Detroit: Detroit’s Streets from the Woodward Plan to Freeways” is on display through Dec. 21, at the Bentley Historical Library, 1150 Beal Ave. on North Campus. The exhibit is free.


Detroit’s 300th anniversary