Motoring around metro Phoenix today, it's difficult to comprehend that this was not always a huge agglomeration of real-estate ventures connected by freeways. In fact, Phoenix didn't want them, would have been better off without them, yet couldn't avoid the curse.
In 1950, when Phoenix came in as America's 100th most populous city, it occupied a mere 17 square miles, with a population density of more than 6,200 per square mile, around what you'd find in today's Seattle or Portland. In other words, a real small city: cohesive, walkable, sustainable and scalable. Remnants of the old city exist, but much has been annihilated, not least by the freeways. By 1960, the city of Phoenix had 439,170 people and had slipped the bonds of real cityhood forever. Around this time, local government adopted an ambitious freeway plan prepared by Wilbur Smith & Associates, one of the nation's leading transportation planning firms. It envisioned much of the system eventually built. But most Phoenicians were horrified.
An urban legend persists that Eugene C. Pulliam single-handedly defeated the freeway plan in the early 1970s -- and thus delayed your charming commute to Gold Canyon. Although the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette were indeed powerful in those days and not afraid to crusade (sometimes for the right reasons, sometimes not), freeways were widely resisted. Phoenicians then didn't want to become another LA, and they had a chance to avoid the fate. LA had shown (and Robert Moses' New York before it) that freeways didn't solve traffic congestion -- they generated it. We didn't want smog. We didn't want to lose our views to concrete and citrus groves to suburbia. Of particular alarm was the 100-foot-high Papago Freeway planned across central Phoenix, with monstrous "helicoils" discharging traffic onto Third Avenue and Third Street.