Reading Beltway - Reading's first planned BypassReturn to Historical Articles
Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, a circumferential highway (beltway), has encircled Washington, D.C. since 1964.
Surprisingly, Reading, PA almost had its own beltway 55 years before the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway.
In 1909 John Nolen* at the invitation of the Civic Association of Reading recommended the immediate acquisition of land for the construction of a beltway or boulevard at an average distance of two and one-half or three miles from the center of the city.
At that time five-sixths of this proposed beltway already existed in the form of country roads. Thus all that was needed was to merely connect the pieces of road, and then widen and improve according to some appropriate plan. The result would be a beltway or boulevard with an average width of 200 feet or more.
It would have been eighteen miles in length and would have traveled through a rich variety of rolling country. The enhancement of real estate values along the line of the beltway would have been so great that abutting property owners could have afforded to donate the land required, so that the city and county would have only the expense of constructing and planting.
It was John Nolen’s opinion that it would not only be cheaper, but also better and more interesting, to give the boulevard a somewhat different treatment in different parts, provided that it affords continuous drives, walks, and riding paths, that it is attractive throughout its course, protected from unsightly things, and in some degree separated from the ordinary sights and sounds of city life.
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Map of "The Future City of Reading" recommended by a study undertaken in 1909 at the invitation of the Civic Association of Reading.
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*John Nolen (1869–1937) was the first American to identify himself exclusively as a town and city planner. In 1903, at the age of thirty-four, he enrolled in the new Harvard University program in landscape architecture, studying under Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and Arthur Shurcliff. Two years later, he opened his own office in Harvard Square.
Over the course of his career, Nolen and his firm completed more than four hundred projects, including comprehensive plans for more than twenty-five cities, across the United States. Like other progressive reformers of his era, Nolen looked to Europe for models to structure the rapid urbanization defining modern life into more efficient and livable form. His books, including New Towns for Old: Achievements in Civic Improvement in Some American Small Towns and Neighborhoods promoted the new practice of city planning and were widely influential.