Remember when someone suggested fairly early on during the COVID-19 lockdown that the city shut down Seventh St. in Oak Cliff to allow residents more space to run and stroll outside, since the Katy Trail and parks were clogged? That didn’t work out too well. Some residents resented the idea that someone decided to turn their block into a COVID recreation destination. Facebook erupted into a neighborhood dog fight, and the deal died in a single weekend.
Now, the city of Dallas and a few urbanism-minded partners are back at it again with a similar, though much improved, idea. If you would like to shut down your street to make it safer and to give you and your neighbors a some additional public recreation space, all you have to do is ask. The city of Dallas has partnered with Better Block, Bike DFW, Amanda Popken Development, and a Coalition for a New Dallas (yes, that coalition) to launch the Dallas Slow Streets pilot program. Modeled after similar programs in Austin and Kansas City, Slow Streets invites neighbors to apply for a 30-day permit that will allow your street to be closed to all but emergency and local traffic. Think of it as a month-long block party.
The initial program is open to 10 streets in 10 Dallas neighborhoods, and they will be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis. To be considered you have to prove that you have the support of 25 percent of your neighbors. In other words, the city and its partners have fixed the two big problems with the original idea: the locations of the “slow streets” will be chosen by the communities they are in, and the streets will be located in multiple neighborhoods around the city, rather than in one or two popular neighborhoods.
Not only will this make the pilot program more viable, it creates a model that could work post-pandemic. According to the city’s website, the Dallas Slow Streets pilot program is intended to address the need for spaces for people as vehicular traffic is reduced during COVID-19. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve been driving over the last couple of weeks, it feels like Dallas traffic is getting back to something that resembles normal.
But that doesn’t change the fact that — pandemic or no pandemic — Dallas has too much space for traffic and not enough space for people. Hopefully this idea will create a model that will enable communities to reclaim, re-purpose, and redesign city streets well into the future.