Urbanism

One Picture Sums Up Everything Stupid About Dallas Urban Design

Forgive me if I take a moment to rant childishly.

Fred Pena's as confused as you are by Dallas' world class urban design.
Fred Pena’s as confused as you are by Dallas’ world class urban design.

Forgive me if I take a moment to rant childishly.

Over on the DMN’s site, Robert Wilonsky points to a urban design snafu at the corner of Zang and Beckley in Oak Cliff. It was already a particularly terrible intersection, a place where, years ago, traffic engineers decided to carve away everything that wasn’t street to make it all street, and where happy cars can now make a variety of right hand and left hand turns, under the guidance of a well-trained traffic signal, and where pedestrians are presumed to not really exist at all.

In recent months, as construction of the Oak Cliff Streetcar extension makes its way down Zang, the intersection has also been the setting of more than a few traffic backups and re-directions — not to mention expletive-laden tirades on my part about buses, streetcars, yuppie urbanists, and my own over-privileged irritation over that fact that I am still not able to drive 100 mph on empty streets between the office and my apartment.

Then, at some point in the past week or so, as part of that construction, what you see above was installed. Take a second to look at the photo. Note the traffic signal. Note its location. Reflect for a second or two — if it even takes you that long — on how completely and absolutely utterly insane that looks. It is pretty stupid-looking. Quite stupid. Keep looking. So stupid. Look longer. It’s kind of funny, right? It almost feels like it belongs in one of those click bait lists of crazy photos from Russia. Haha. Funny stupid. But remember, it’s not a photo of Russia. It’s here, in Dallas. Suddenly not so funny. Mostly stupid.

It’s actually kind of amazing stupid. It’s stupid on its own terms: pole in sidewalk. Then think about the why it’s there — pole for streetcar — and how come we are supposed to like streetcars — people walk to streetcars — and it is even stupider than it already was. In fact, I’m surprised by how often I can be struck by how stupid it is. Do you know what I’m not surprised by? Assistant city manager Jill Jordan, of Trinity River fame, has a perfectly reasonable explanation for why this pole has to be right there in that sidewalk.

You can go read Wilonsky’s blog if you want to read Jill Jordan’s perfectly reasonable explanation of why it makes sense to do something as incredibly stupid as what you see above. But here’s the thing. I’m not going to share that explanation with you. There is no credible explanation for why that pole should be in that sidewalk. Instead, I will make a simple observation: someone at city hall can come up with a reasonable explanation for that kind of blatant stupidity. That alone should make you doubt any explanation that ever comes out of city hall.

Look at that photo again. I mean, is that a picture of a city that knows how to do anything? Is that a picture of a city you want to live in? Is that a picture of anything but a stupid city? We try to have intelligent conversations about our city, about urban design, public transit, highways, streetscapes, density, yadda, yadda. There are a load of smart people who are actively engaged in trying to make Dallas better. But when I see that picture above, I think of them and it makes me feel a little, well, dejected. Like, what’s the point?

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