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We in the Twin Cities are lucky: We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to radically improve our air pollution. As a mortality demographer, I know the research that concludes that air pollution kills hundreds of people in the Cities every year. But I'm also a new parent, and it's thinking about my baby that makes me the most excited about this rare chance to make our metro better ("Is Rethinking I-94 too ambitious?" editorial, July 28).

Interstate 94 needs to be fully rebuilt between downtown St. Paul and Hwy. 55. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in the middle of a long-term process to decide what to do with it. Some of the options under consideration would build a freeway much like the one we have. But others would do something brave: Take out the freeway and replace it with a more neighborhood-sized boulevard, more public transit and, with the reclaimed land, a chance for new parks and housing, too.

This proposal is based on a common-sense realization: Not all traffic is the same. Suburb-to-suburb traffic never should have been routed through the urban core at all. Many other trips could be replaced with a radically expanded mass transit network — of the kind that our Legislature took some strides toward investing in last year (a fact that has yet to make it into MnDOT's modeling). What remains, a minority of I-94's current traffic, can be handled on a smaller scale.

Want proof? When I-95 collapsed in Philadelphia, everyone expected a traffic apocalypse. It didn't happen for the simple reason that travelers adapt to their options.

For the seven years I've lived in Minneapolis, I've lived in the metaphorical shadow of 94, in a neighborhood I love, whose proximity to eight lanes of traffic I never thought hard enough about. Throughout my pregnancy I worried about what I should eat and drink; I never considered what I should try not to breathe.

But last summer, when my daughter was a few months old, I began to be aware that this walkable, diverse neighborhood, full of small businesses, parks and pollinator gardens, routinely has air that is unhealthy for "sensitive populations" — like babies. Babies are more profoundly harmed by pollution because their brains are still developing their fundamental architecture, and because their tiny lungs need to breathe more quickly than adults do.

My growing knowledge of how our freeways might be harming this life I'm trying to safeguard is one thing. But my priorities are also shifting as I've started to abandon my desperate pretense that, despite the changing climate, my daughter's life will look like mine. I'm slowly starting to accept that it might not.

In this wildfire-choked summer, I'm far from the only Minnesota parent who has been weighing my child's joy, never greater than when she is outside sifting through dirt and listening to birds (her first word), against the health of her lungs, her heart, her brain.

Although I circle these questions again and again, I suspect they have no answer. Except this one: If the air is going to get much worse in ways we can't control, we should try to clean it up in absolutely every way we can.

We don't need to stay chained to what city planners believed would be a good life, decades before I was born, before any of us knew how the climate would change. We don't need to lock ourselves into their mistakes for another half-century, all for the sake of a status quo we can't keep anyway. Climate denialism doesn't always feel like denial; it can feel like just the way things are done.

We can learn from cities that are leading; we can be a city that leads. We can choose something better.

My daughter is learning to walk, and I need to learn to walk with her into a future I cannot fully imagine, rather than clinging to a past I can't keep.

It's time to imagine the Twin Cities if they weren't bisected by a freeway, and take our own new, proud steps toward it.

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field is a mortality demographer at the University of Minnesota, where she is a tenured associate professor in sociology and population studies.