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The 20 Things You Need to Know For 2011

We figured out the people, places, and ideas that matter this year in Dallas. You're welcome.
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photography by Matt Hawthorne

#20
Dallas will go outside.

Yeah, we know. We’re not Portland. We’re not Denver. We don’t have mountains. We don’t have the ocean. We don’t have a lot of hippies. But we do have a concrete jungle. And up until now, we’ve been fine with that. But this year, our perception of that jungle will change. Dallas is finding ways to take advantage of the green spaces, lakes, and roads between the buildings. Dallas has 125 miles of paved trails for hiking and biking. It’s opening a standing wave for kayakers. Parks are popping up in the middle of downtown. Screw Portland. We live in Dallas, and we’re going outside. —K.N.

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photography by Matt Hawthorne

BIKES
Pending approval this year, the new Dallas Bike Plan includes 700 miles of on-street bike lanes and about 300 miles of off-street pathways. Although funding for the plan (intended to replace the current version, in place since 1985) isn’t in the 2011 city budget, Max Kalhammer, senior transportation planner in the Department of Sustainable Development and Construction (or Bike Czar, if you prefer something shorter), says there are projects that are already incorporating bike lanes. These projects are taking place all over Dallas, including parts of Oak Cliff, White Rock Lake, northwest Dallas, and South Dallas. Another important part of the plan that you’ll start seeing is education and outreach. Kalhammer and his group will promote the healthful aspects of cycling as well as the impact it could have on our air quality.

Jason Roberts plans to continue his bike-to-school program, which he started last year. In exchange for riding their bikes to school, kids get prizes. But his focus isn’t just on the youngest generation; he’s also developing programs for senior citizens. “I like to promote this 8-to-80 demographic,” he says. “I try to think about folks who are typically most marginalized by our infrastructure geared toward one mode of transit.” One way to do this is by creating a bicycle boulevard, which is on Roberts’ to-do list for 2011. “Whenever you drive on [bike boulevards], you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be on it. You drive extremely cautiously because you’re not sure if it’s a road or not.” He plans to develop this on Seventh Street.

So with the adoption of the Dallas Bike Plan and bicycle enthusiasts such as Roberts taking the lead, the future of cycling in Dallas looks surprisingly hopeful, even if it’s going to take 10 years to get those 700 miles.

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illustration courtesy of Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation

PARKS

With the passage of the 2006 bond program, the Parks Master Plan was adopted, creating the concept of four core downtown parks. Each park was to have a primary function that complements the other parks. “The ultimate goal,” wrote John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., “is to create a vibrant pedestrian experience, places to gather and build community, and provide respite in the heart of downtown’s hustle and bustle.”

Main Street Garden has already been implemented and, for those who live near the park, it is more than a respite from downtown Dallas; it’s part of home. On the heels of the success of Main Street Garden, another park is starting to take shape. Belo Garden, which has been in the city’s hands while it underwent remediation, will be back under the watchful eye of Belo Garden Development this year. Soon, the dirt lot will begin its transformation into a 1.8-acre garden. Whereas Main Street Garden is active, Belo Garden will be passive. “Belo Garden was proposed to be the quiet, contemplative park,” says Larry Good, president of Good Fulton & Farrell Architects, who helped with the Parks Master Plan. “It’s truly a park where the emphasis would be on studying the horticulture, studying the plant materials, and how people could landscape their own lots, gardens.”

Another green space that’s under construction is The Park. Though it will be 5.2 acres of park land—with a kids’ playground, dog park, restaurant, grove, and performance pavilion—some people are still confused as to what’s going on above Woodall Rodgers Freeway. (A cab driver recently told his passenger that the construction site is people drilling for oil.) But when it’s finished, no one will be confused.

“It will transform the way Dallasites think about Dallas,” says Kristin Gray, director of development at Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation. “It connects Uptown to downtown, but more importantly, it connects us to each other.” This year will see the completion of the installation of 316 concrete beams above Woodall Rodgers. Dirt will be laid down, and trees will be planted. Look for the announcement of the operator of the restaurant that will be a focal point of The Park.

Also, an old park is getting a facelift. The dog park at White Rock Lake has been providing a playground for Dallasites’ four-legged friends for a decade. “When we started the dog park, people didn’t even know the phrase ‘dog park,’ ” says Andie Comini, one of the original founders. She says the last 10 years have taught operators a lot about how to build a dog park. This renovation will turn it into a state-of-the-art park. Drainage is a problem for the park as it’s built in a flood plain, so fixing that is one of the first priorities. Both dog areas will be extended, more pavement for parking will be added, canine turf will be added along with grass, and the dog launch along the shore will become a better area for both canine and human swimmers and observers. Construction will take place this year. Look for more details during White Rock Lake’s Centennial Celebration, slated for March 15 through June 25.

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photography courtesy of Jason Roberts

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photography by Nick Prendergast

BETTER BLOCKS
Jason Roberts’ Better Block project has the potential to take the nation by storm. “We get calls now weekly from different cities saying that they’re going to introduce a Better Block program,” he says. “We stumbled on something that was great.” Roberts began the Better Block Project to show people in his community the possibility of a pedestrian-friendly area. He discovered that, by creating a series of demonstration zones, people were more receptive to new ideas. “I think that permanence causes a bit of reluctance,” he says. “Our efforts have been more like let’s do a trial run. It may not work. If it doesn’t work, we pull out. But if it does work, we can build upon and continue.”

This year, Roberts plans to hold a Better Block summit in Dallas for all cities wanting to try it at home. Beyond the summit, the folks who work with Roberts are finding ways to make the Better Block Project produce jobs. From working with manufacturers who design street furniture to others who create temporary streetlights, Roberts is ensuring Dallas will remain the center of Better Block, even as it spreads.

Also, Roberts explains, there are new, search-friendly, open-government technologies in the works that can map how many people are in an area, how many walk,  what bike trails they use, and so on. In the near future, he’ll be better able to show the effectiveness of the project.

Until late last year, Roberts spent his downtime playing in a band, promoting Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, creating Better Block, and generally making his neighborhood (and yours) better. That was all with a full-time job. He just went part-time. Imagine what else he’ll accomplish in 2011.

WATERSPORTS
If Chad Lacerte gets his way, 2011 will be the year the first metro area gets a cable wakeboard park. (If you don’t know, cable wakeboarding uses wires instead of boats.) He can already see the job-growth potential, riders practicing jumps and stunts, and newbies attempting to complete the minute-long course.

Of course, he was hoping he’d see all that happening in 2010.

Lacerte, owner of Dallas Watersports Complex, proposed the idea of putting in a cable park on Fishtrap Lake in 2009. He got approval from all the right people and ordered the equipment from a manufacturer in Germany. That $800,000 worth of equipment is now sitting in boxes in West Dallas, unopened.

In 2010, Dallas Housing Authority said it would like to develop a master plan for that area of town to ensure its citizens’ needs are being met. That put the Dallas Watersports Complex behind a summer. Lacerte hopes that’s the only season the new complex will miss. “We want to do what’s best for the community and what’s best for Dallas,” the native Californian says.

Lacerte wants to make the complex more than just wakeboarding, however. He’d like to see some rock climbing, zip lines, volleyball courts, bounce houses, and, someday, a pro shop and restaurant. But it’ll all start with the cable park.

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illustration courtesy of Schrickel, Rollins & Associates

TRAILS
In September, 28-year-old Lauren Huddleston was jogging along the Katy Trail when she made an abrupt left turn. A cyclist hit her, and Huddleston died three days later. Suddenly, safety on Dallas trails became the top priority.

Ideas about how to deal with cyclists and pedestrians on the same path ranged from posting speed limits to adding signs to dividing the trails altogether. For the Katy Trail, that last option is the most appealing. Since its inception, the idea has been to finish the soft path (which is currently three-quarters finished). This year, as long as the Friends of the Katy Trail can raise the funds, construction to complete the soft path will be under way.

And it’s important that the Katy Trail is proactive in its response to the safety situation: the trail is an example for the other 121.5 miles of paved trails in Dallas. “The Katy Trail is a highly respected trail,” says Robin Baldock, executive director of the Friends of the Katy Trail. “We’re a spine for other trails.” 

Another development along Katy Trail is a new usage study. Back in 2002, a survey found that 15,000 people use the trail each week. If you’ve spent any time there, you know that number has to be low. So does Baldock. This year, the trail will find a group to conduct a count of all the users of the trail, which will help address safety issues.

Another way to help prevent incidents such as the one in September is to have more trails, says Lee Kleinman, board member of the Park and Recreation Department for the city of Dallas. “You’re either going to spend money to take an existing trail and divide it or take that money and build more trail mileage. That reduces density.”

Several trails he says will be finished soon are Cottonwood Trail (which will connect Central Expressway to White Rock Creek Trail), Northaven Trail (which runs from Central Expressway and connects to White Rock Creek Trail and Irving’s Campion Trail), and the Santa Fe Trail (which will connect White Rock Lake to Deep Ellum and Fair Park). The connector from the Katy Trail to White Rock Lake, which requires a bridge over Mockingbird Lane, will begin construction this year. Of the master plan’s 250 miles of trails, 125 are ready to be used, but that doesn’t mean they have lights, fountains, or benches. Chris Angarola, chairman of the board of directors of the Friends of the Santa Fe Trail, says that although the city has finished building the trail, it is now up to the Friends and the citizens in the neighborhood to put on the finishing touches. Expect to see final design plans this year and major fundraising efforts in order to get the trail finished.

As budget cuts continue to hit the Park and Recreation Department, friends groups are going to become more vital for trails to meet users’ needs. “The city funds the construction of these trails through bond money, but that does not provide for maintenance, beautification, and many amenities,” Kleinman says. “When new facilities are constructed, it adds additional maintenance burden to the parks department. The department’s budget for 2011 is $10 million less than it was in 2009, but we have expanded the system. Friends groups play a vital role by complementing the city’s maintenance efforts as well as providing for amenities.”

TRINITY
So you know about the Trinity River Corridor Project. You’ve heard about the levees and the toll road. You’ve seen little progress these past few years, but you’re not satisfied. You want to see more. Lucky for you, 2011 is a good year for the project. For starters, the city of Dallas will open the standing wave. So get out your kayaks. “Kayaking is a great national sport,” says Gail Thomas, president and CEO of the Trinity Trust Foundation. “A lot of people don’t realize what a popular sport it’s become all over the country, and now Dallas is going to be a part of that recreation.”

Along with the opening of the standing wave, construction on the 600-acre Texas Horse Park will also begin. Located just half a mile from the Trinity River Audubon Center, the horse park will host competitions, offer therapeutic riding programs, and provide miles of trails. For those who prefer to travel on foot or bike versus animal, the Trinity Strand Trail will be for you. When completed, the trail will be 7.8 miles long and will connect from the Katy Trail down to the Audubon Center. Construction will begin this year on 2 miles of path following the old Trinity River. Plans for a separate trail for bikers and pedestrians are in the works, but the trail will start off as just one shared lane. “Everyone’s welcome that’s not motorized on our trail,” says Shelly White, executive director of the Trinity Strand Trail. Two trail heads already exist for the Trinity Strand Trail, and the first 2 miles are funded, but White is looking for more money to complete her vision.

If your knees can’t take the pounding they used to, Peter Payton, director of field operations and community outreach at GroundWork Dallas, has some good news. With the recent opening of the Lawnview DART station, there is now a 10-mile soft trail connecting to DART. Payton looks forward to one day connecting all of Dallas with trails. 

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