Dallas has long prioritized commuters over city residents, and it’s time to reverse the order.
That was the central thread on Tuesday, as an auditorium full of engaged Dallasites spent their morning at the Dallas Museum of Art learning about the transportation challenges and opportunities of our city. They heard about the way I-345 has ripped up neighborhoods and swallowed hundreds of acres of developable land between downtown and Deep Ellum. They learned of case studies from places like Milwaukee, which recently tore out a mile-long stretch of elevated highway, boosting development in the process. And they dug into public transit, the rail system, the buses, and what a functional web of options might actually look like. What emerged was a picture of how it could come together to better serve every facet of the city.
Patrick Kennedy, a partner at a Dallas-based urban design firm who writes about Dallas’ infrastructure, laid the foundation for the day.
“If you design for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic,” he said. “If you design for people, you will get people.”
Kennedy handed the microphone to city planner Peter Park, who has worked in Milwaukee—overseeing the highway removal—and in Denver, spurring the creation of its heralded Union Station. He cited a study of highway removals that showed neighborhood improvement in each instance. “There’s proof that it works,” he said. “It’s not theoretical.”
And he compelled the audience to start thinking in terms of effectiveness and return on investment. Capacity has often reigned supreme, and building for capacity has equated to building more highways. But this only induces demand and continues the cycle of congestion. “Nobody loves congestion,” says Park. “But that’s not the singular thing we should be designing for.”
The event was hosted by the Coalition for a New Dallas, in partnership with D Magazine. Here is a sampling of key thoughts from a morning of panels and keynote speakers inside the Dallas Museum of Art:
On what happens to the traffic when highways are removed:
“In most cases, what happens is the traffic goes where it wants to go, it’s destination. … The capacity of the network is much more robust than lanes on a highway. The past assumption is when we need more capacity we buy more lanes, we just keep expanding. We see how effective this is–we get to 26 lane highways. There’s enormous underutilized capacity on city streets. There’s sometimes concern about, oh, the traffic is going to go onto the streets. I understand the concern about that. But if I’m a businessperson I’m looking for traffic count and rooftops. It doesn’t hurt me as a business person to have more access to the corridor where my business is.”
Cary Moon, former Seattle Mayoral Candidate and Co-Founder of the People’s Waterfront Coalition:
“What we learned (in Seattle) about what would happen to the traffic is it evaporates. We kept proposing that in our solution, saying trips will dissipate. Some will shift to transit. Some will use the grid. Some will decide not to go—the trip wasn’t that important anyway. Some will shift to biking. Some will stay local. We kept reminding everybody of this position to where the (Department of Transportation) got to the point they didn’t want to close the highway at all because they knew that in that period of closure we would be proved right and they didn’t want people to see that.
“They figured out how to keep the closure period—where the highway was closed and the new one wasn’t open yet—to only three weeks. … For those three weeks, traffic has never flowed as easily in Seattle. Some of the trips stayed at home, but the number of bikers in Seattle in January increased by twice as many, lots more people in transit, and lots more people figuring out how to not have to take a car trip.”
On 345 and southern Dallas:
Lee Kleinman, Dallas City Council member and chair of Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure, and Sustainability Committee:
“The future of economic development and the future of jobs is always important, but we also have to look at where they are now. Yeah, it’s better to have people living closer to jobs. But we cannot continue to isolate southern Dallas from the jobs that are north of Dallas.
We have to figure out how to provide those alternatives if you’re going to get rid of that capacity. That’s something I know Patrick is working very hard on at DART. We’re working very hard on it with the biking things. But job development in the southern sector is a major component to how we can address—you wouldn’t agree with it, but in my opinion—this lost capacity with taking down this highway.”
Matt Tranchin, president of Coalition for a New Dallas:
“It prolonged traffic from the tip of southern Dallas to Far North Dallas between three and five minutes. Now, yeah, that’s an inconvenience. But what’s that ROI? Billions of dollars of economic development, tens of thousands of jobs, bringing people back to the core. The kinds of jobs that right now people in southern Dallas are spending far too much of their money on transportation to have those jobs. What we’re talking about is redesigning a major American city.”
On buses and integrated transit networks:
Sue Bauman, Chair of the DART Board of Directors:
“Back in 1983 when the election was held and 13 cities chose to join DART and participate in this really new project for this area, the rail system was the focus and the center of the election, quite frankly. We are at the end of providing that promise and that vision. We have two more rail lines that we’re working on. One of them is an east-west connector that goes from Plano through Dallas to DFW Airport and Fort Worth. And we have the downtown D2 subway, which is going to be important to our ability to be efficient and operate correctly. It’s probably blasphemy to say we’re at the end of our rail project but we are, as far as the current project goes. We’ve fulfilled that promise.
“We now need to use that as a spine that’s basically laid out and then to build upon that. And the tool we have to build upon that is our buses. That’s where we’re flexible. And that’s where the next decades and the future of DART lie.”
Christof Spieler, VP and Director of Planning at Huitt-Zollars, and one of the architects of Houston’s re-designed bus system:
“Step one is taking bus seriously. I talked about thinking about bus and rail as one network together. I think, frankly, a lot of U.S. transit agencies were created with two different goals. One goal was build a bunch of shiny new stuff. The second goal was keep our bus system from failing. I think a lot of agencies have just taken the bus system they inherited and more or less kept operating that system. So, it’s not a matter of a lack of investment it’s a matter of a lack of focus.”
Aaron Gougis, Citizen Transit Advocate and Chief of Staff for City Year Dallas:
“The first time I got on a DART bus I got a tour of a lot of different neighborhoods. … But in Chicago, first off, the buses come frequently. That’s the backbone the system is built on. Also important is that transportation there isn’t viewed as social welfare for the poor. That’s a big issue effecting the political decisions that can take our transit systems where they need to be for all backgrounds and all individuals.”
Dr. Shima Hamidi, Director of the UTA Institute for Urban Studies an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning:
“Bus is an option that is … faster, more efficient. When you design a system that is a compliment to the existing rail system, then you will have access to the jobs that are separated from the (underserved) population.
Jared White, City of Dallas Bicycle Transportation Manager:
“2017 happened, and dockless providers of bikes started coming into the city. … There’s some good and bad. Over the last year and a half, we had a ton of bikes. It’s starting to prove that people will bike here if given the opportunity. And it’s starting to force a conversation on where are these cyclists going to go.
“Of course, now the market has changed. The bikes are getting pulled out of Dallas because the trend locally and in a lot of cities is toward scooters in various forms. But bike lanes can still be used for that, and that’s the direction we are taking.”
On selling a project:
Lilly O’Brien-Kovari, LADOT Spr. Transportation Planner, Office of the Chief of Staff:
“It becomes real when we’re proposing to take away a lane. What we’ve been working on, and I think we’re getting pretty good at, is hiring community-based organizations, actually compensating them for the amount of time they work with the city, to do education in their communities about the benefits of a lane reconfiguration. … We’ve found that when community members really understand something it’s a lot easier for our Council members to support it, even though there might be some opposition.”
“A lot of our early success stories have come through the neighborhood or the community bringing forward an issue and then coming through the Council member’s office, and then the staff gets involved. … There’s a lot of good work going on but a lot of it is coming from the community level.”
On pedestrian safety:
“40,000 people die in the United States from traffic crash each year. IN the last three years, we’ve surpassed 40,000 deaths, which is the most it’s ever been. … We’re on track to outpace fatality numbers of pedestrians, people walking, from the early 1990s. If you think about the car technology we have today, with driver assist and automatic breaking and sensors, there’s absolutely no reason we should be on an upward trend in pedestrian fatalities. … What do cities need to do to reverse this trend? The answer is fundamentally redesigning how we design streets. In the last 10 years, about 1,000 people have died in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. That’s about 100 people a year.
“… Why is it that the entire world freaks out when we have two (plane) crashes? We change our operations. We ground planes. We tell businesses they cannot operate the way they’re operating, because loss of life in a plane crash is completely unacceptable. We have complete control over how people use our surface streets and infrastructure in cities. What are we doing to challenge the notion that loss of life during a traffic crash is acceptable? We need to challenge that notion.”
“… 70 percent of our traffic fatalities involving people walking were happening on 6 percent of our streets. The idea that we have 7,500 miles of streets in LA, where on earth could we possibly begin, became a much smaller problem to solve. If we could solve for the traffic crashes that were happening on that 6 percent of streets, that 450 miles, we could drastically reduce the number of people who are seriously injured or killed on our street network.”
“… We installed a scramble crosswalk. Anybody here heard of a scramble? When people walking are in the intersection, all car traffic stops, all car and bus traffic stops. When car and bus traffic are moving through the intersection, all pedestrian traffic stops. So, you eliminate, virtually, any potential conflict between a person walking and a vehicle. This is critical in this kinds of intersections where we see a lot of people on foot dying or going to the hospital. And this is so cheap. This is paint, sign, and some signal retiming. This costs nothing in comparison to some of the big capital projects we’re contemplating in this room. But it’s incredibly effective. We have a dozen or so crosswalks throughout the city and we’ve found a 50 percent effective rate. Half of the crashes we were seeing go away after putting in this project.”