Yesterday, tucked into the City Council’s mass-approval of items on its consent agenda, there was a solution to a problem that we’ve been badgering Dallas staffers about since February of 2018.
The Council voted to bolster its right-of-way policy so that it favors pedestrians over construction. The new ordinance mandates that anyone who’s working in or near a sidewalk that you should be able to traverse—both city contractors and private companies—must ensure that pedestrians can do their thing while the work is happening. (So long as there is not a safety risk.) So get your scaffolding ready, contractors.
You may recognize the gist of this. We’ve been documenting these mistakes in our Dallas Hates Pedestrians series for 15 months. We’re up to 26 entries and we could probably make it to 100 if we put our minds and feet to it. The city has long ceded priority to anyone who was doing work in the right of way. Construction companies have been allowed to fence off entire sidewalks, toss “closed” signs like they’re shooting dice, and commandeer lanes to hold equipment. There are plenty of times that some scaffolding would solve this problem, but it’s easier and cheaper for the companies to block the sidewalk. Now they’ll need to get in gear or they’ll be fined. Here is the verbiage from the ordinance:
“A traffic control plan must be submitted with the permit application and must include detailed drawings showing the proposed traffic controls for vehicular and pedestrian traffic for each phase of the proposed work in the public right-of-way. Traffic control plans must show necessary pedestrian sidewalk detours, crosswalk closures, temporary covered walkways, or scaffolding for the safety of pedestrians that comply with the requirements of the latest edition of the Texas Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, as amended, published by the Texas Department of Transportation and City of Dallas requirements. Traffic control plans must be approved by the City of Dallas before commencing work.”
There are other things here, too. If you’re cutting up a sidewalk, you must leave it in a condition that is equal to or better than the way you found it. If your work requires metal plates to be placed in the street, they must be secured so that they do not “cause any loud and disturbing noises and vibrations.” This was a major problem downtown, where cars and trucks would clang and bang over the metal plates and echo out into the bedrooms of high-rise residents. Now traffic cannot be stopped through an arterial or a “community collector” street from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. or from 3:30 p.m. through 6:30 p.m. on weekdays.
And if you don’t start your project within 60 days of getting approval from the city, your permit is void. You have to go back to City Hall and start again. Construction companies now must notify all businesses within a 500-foot radius if they’re planning to close the right of way for more than 24 hours. Mess up on any of these, or fail to have a permit on-site, and you face individual fines of up to $500.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, but city staff empowered 13 employees to issue citations to violators. They gave out 314 from August 2018 to this March and generated around $100,000 in revenue.
This has been a long road. City staff began redrawing the ordinance last year, and the Council has been briefed on it three times since October. I know what you’re thinking—so what’s the answer to this story’s headline? Is Dallas Hates Pedestrians dead?
No. This doesn’t solve the problem of disappearing sidewalks, poorly placed utility boxes, cacti-surrounded walk buttons, and streets that are dangerous to walk across. We will continue to seek those out, and hope that our public shaming inspires change.
But for now, the city has given notice to all the construction companies that the streets and sidewalks do not belong to them. And that is a victory worth celebrating.