FrontBurner

A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Transportation

How Traffic Studies Perpetuate a Traffic Congestion Obsession

| 17 hours ago

A few weeks ago, Texas A&M’s Texas Transportation Institute released its annual Urban Mobility Report. Every year since 1987, TTI has compiled what it refers to as the “definitive measure of traffic congestion in America,” a document that is intended to help inform transportation decision-makers and elected officials throughout the country on how to plan transportation improvements.

The release of the report, which is co-sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation and the National Institute for Congestion Reduction, is usual covered by media outlets around the country. This year, the headlines reported that traffic congestion dropped in half in 2020 due to the pandemic, but it was steadily rising back. In other words, sorry folks, congestion isn’t going anywhere.

Solving this looming congestion problem, the report argues, is going to require a variety of solutions, but in reviewing the list of proposals in the report, they all tend to hover around a critical core assumption: reducing traffic congestion means coming up with ways to speed-up cars. That’s not a surprising conclusion. Over the past 30-plus years, studies and analyses of this type have tended to view reducing traffic congestion as the number one transportation challenge facing urban regions.

But over on Planetizin, Todd Litman, the founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, argues that this is one of a number of misleading assumptions baked into the Urban Mobility Report.

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Podcasts

EarBurner Podcast: Introducing Mike Piellucci, Our New Sports Editor

| 18 hours ago

Are you ready for some stuff to go down? Seriously. This is about to happen.

In the next few weeks — OK, maybe a month — D Magazine will launch a new sports thing called StrongSide. It’ll be just like FrontBurner and SideDish and FrontRow. Only it will be totally different and focused on sports in North Texas. Its tagline, until we decide to change it, is: “Smart takes and winning stories about Dallas sports.” And the guy who will call the shots is named Mike Piellucci. In this episode of EarBurner, Mike introduces himself, and Zac insults my bottom. And we discuss competitive collegiate meat judging.

Quick links to stuff that comes up in our conversation: the D story Mike wrote about the first professional bridge team; the Sports Illustrated story he wrote about meat judging; the Athletic story about the discord within the Mavericks organization that Mike edited; and the D story Matt wrote about Dr. Death that NBC won’t even send him a thank-you coozie for.

You’ll find the podcast player below. Or you can subscribe through whichever podcatching app you prefer. Also below, you’ll find a letter of introduction from Mike himself that ran in the August issue of D.

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For Fun

Let’s Make Mini Butter Sculptures for the State Fair of Texas

| 18 hours ago

A few years ago, for an article in a magazine that no longer exists, I went to Des Moines, Iowa, to meet the woman responsible for the world’s most famous butter sculpture.

Des Moines was lovely. The people were friendly. Sarah Pratt, a gifted artist who has been sculpting the Iowa State Fair’s legendary butter cow for years and who spent years before that apprenticing under the previous “Butter Cow Lady,” was generous with her time and with her knowledge of a craft that I find fascinating. 

Pratt sometimes taught classes on butter sculpture, and I recall being struck by the realization that there wasn’t much of anything at all stopping you or I from making a butter sculpture ourselves. We may have to work on a comparatively limited scale — the Iowa State Fair butter cow is made every year from 600 pounds of dairy. But with a stick of butter and a working freezer at home, anyone can become a butter sculptor.

So I was tickled to learn this week that the State Fair of Texas has added a “mini butter sculpture” competition to its usual lineup of creative arts contests. Registration is open until July 26. Entries must be limited to one pound of butter or less and submitted in a plastic container with your information on it. The winners will be displayed in a refrigerated case during the State Fair’s run, presumably near the professionally done butter sculpture you can usually expect to find in the Creative Arts Building. (While less storied than Iowa’s butter cow or Minnesota’s dairy princesses, artists have churned out some neat work at the State Fair of Texas over the years.)

Opening up butter sculpture to amateur competition is a nice democratic gesture in keeping with the American tradition of food art. People have been playing with their food for centuries. Edible sculptures weren’t uncommon at royal banquets in the Middle Ages, when feudal lords reaped most of what was sown by agricultural workers. But Americans put an egalitarian spin on the form, writes Pamela H. Simpson in her book, Corn Palaces and Butter Queens. “[Food art] may have begun on the tables of the wealthy and powerful, but its audiences democratically expanded at local festivals, state fairs, and international expositions” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she writes.

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Leading Off

Leading Off (7/23/21)

| 20 hours ago

Triple-Digit Temperatures Coming Next WeekIt’s going to be real hot, but ERCOT says the state’s electric grid is ready for the strain of all those humming air-conditioners. Let’s hope that ERCOT is right.

‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ Will Get Portrait in Texas Senate. Fort Worth’s Opal Lee fought for years to make Juneteenth a federal holiday and got her wish last month. It’s been decades since a new portrait was permanently placed in the chamber, so this is a big deal. Which is fitting, since what Lee did was a big deal.

Untreatable Fungus Found in North Texas Hospitals. Candida auris, the “superbug” fungus that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spread among 22 patients at two unidentified Dallas area hospitals, primarily poses a threat to people who are already seriously ill. But there are a lot of seriously ill people at hospitals, and “superbug” and “fungus” are two words you do not want to see appearing together in any context.

More Reason To Watch Simone Biles Win Some Gold Medals at the Tokyo Olympics. Two of her coaches lived in Dallas and sound like good folks. “The dopest people,” matter of fact.

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Local News

Dallas Is Not Building Enough Housing to Keep Up With Its Booming Neighbors

| 2 days ago

There is more housing being built in Dallas-Fort Worth than any other large metro region in the country except Houston. That’s according to a rent.com analysis of housing permits issued between March 2020 and February 2021, dates that fall within the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s four biggest metropolitan areas all issued more building permits in that year than they did between March 2019 and February 2020.

So why is housing in Dallas (and Houston and Austin) growing increasingly unaffordable? Says William Fulton, director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University:

The answer is that Texas is booming so much right now that even the most productive housing market in the country can’t keep up with demand. Texas generally—and Houston in particular—has more land for housing and less housing regulation than anywhere else in the country, yet prices are still going up.

Part of the problem may be that most of the new housing is targeted at the high end of the market: Developers are building both single-family homes and apartments for luxury buyers and renters, which is one reason why first-time homebuyers as well as renters are having a harder time.

Of the more than 60,000 permits issued in the Dallas area metro in the year examined here, more than 45,000 were for single-family construction, with more than 16,000 for multi-family homes. That’s a similar ratio to Houston. Austin had a more even split, with 22,000 single-family permits and 19,000 for multi-family. (The New York City metro had about 13,000 single-family permits, and more than 36,000 multi-family.)

Fulton, with the Kinder Institute, suggests that this new housing just isn’t enough. “And all of our research says that Texas is gradually losing its affordability advantage: Home prices are rising faster than incomes, making housing less affordable each year,” he writes.

What the rent.com analysis doesn’t note is that the city of Dallas, excepted from our sprawling metro region, missed out on much of this housing permit action through unforced errors. We’ve written a lot over the last year about how Dallas’ old and busted permitting system has chased home builders to the suburbs. In Dallas, supply is nowhere near meeting demand. Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development shows that Dallas, population 1.3 million, issued about 3,600 housing unit permits in 2020. Frisco, population 170,000, issued more than 3,100.

We’ve previously covered how Census data tells a similar story of the region’s growth during the pandemic. Collin County grew by nearly 37,000 people last year. Dallas County barely added 300 residents. Despite the pandemic, Dallas-Fort Worth is booming. The city of Dallas has little to do with it.

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Local News

Unruly Passenger Kicked Off American Airlines Flight, Should Consider Flying Spirit

| 2 days ago

Here are a few things that can be true at the same time:

  • Many people are on their worst behavior while traveling by air, and it’s only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic: The FAA has this year logged more than 3,000 cases of disruptive passengers, the majority of them throwing hissy fits because they have to wear a mask. We should all chill out a little bit.
  • Viral videos of people melting down or acting up or otherwise embarrassing themselves are free of context, and we should for many other reasons be uncomfortable with our culture of public shaming, which is exacerbated by the attention economics of social media and by the digital content churn we see in blog posts like this one. We should try to have a little more empathy, even for people who appear to be acting like real jerks.
  • The American Airlines agent seen in the viral video below is handling an ugly situation at DFW Airport remarkably well, and “You can find another carrier to fly; I’d suggest Spirit” is a great line. We should applaud this man’s cool.

The Dallas Morning News has a few more details on what happened. A dispute over mask-wearing led a passenger to insult a flight attendant. The passenger was kicked off the flight, and somebody filmed this:

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Local News

Dallas’ Aging Population Is Growing, and So Is the Need for Care

| 2 days ago

Stacey Malcolmson is the president and CEO of The Senior Source, which for 60 years has looked after the interests of elderly North Texans. Among other services, the nonprofit runs financial literacy classes and volunteer programs. It offers resources on area nursing homes as well as support for caregivers responsible for aging family members. The Senior Source is also an advocate, lobbying for policies that will better protect a population that is especially vulnerable and, too often, socially isolated.

“We all deserve to age with dignity and respect,” Malcolmson says. “And that’s going to be aging for a lot longer than it used to be. Living until 90 is no longer just a pipe dream. And that is 25 or 30 years after retirement for some people.”

The country’s more than 70 million Baby Boomers are getting old, and demographers have warned of a coming “silver tsunami.” Texas is, on average, younger than most states. But the population of Texas residents aged 65 and older, now numbering about 3.9 million people, is expected to double by 2050. Caring for this aging population—financially, emotionally, medically—will be a challenge.

I talked to Malcolmson on the phone about how Dallas residents can prepare for this demographic change and ensure that all of us can grow old with “dignity and respect.” This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

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Leading Off

Leading Off (7/22/21)

| 2 days ago

COVID. Dallas County reported 659 new cases and five deaths, while UT Southwestern researchers warned that an increasingly sluggish vaccination rate and the more contagious delta variant of the virus could send case numbers shooting back to the peaks we saw earlier in the pandemic. Getting the jab remains the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to protect yourself and others: of the nearly 9,000 people who have died of the virus in Texas since February, all but 43 were unvaccinated.

Plano House Explosion ‘May Have Been Intentional.’ Officials initially blamed a gas leak for causing an explosion that destroyed a Plano house and hospitalized six people this week. On Wednesday, they said that, actually, the explosion “may have been intentional.” Police left reporters on that cliffhanger, offering almost no additional details along with the update.

Jerry Jones Holds Court at Training Camp Press Conference. The Cowboys owner said the f-word, head coach Mike McCarthy continues to wear a beard pretty well, and a handful of players remain unvaccinated. We learned these things and more at the press conference in Oxnard, California, where the team’s training camp is getting underway. Going to be a great season.

The Mi Cocina in West Village Is Closing. And reopening elsewhere in Uptown.

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Local News

Katrice Hardy Is the New Editor of the Dallas Morning News

| 2 days ago

The Dallas Morning News has a new top editor. Louisiana native Katrice Hardy becomes the first woman and Black journalist to lead the newspaper. She is currently the executive editor of the Indianapolis Star and the Midwest regional editor for the USA Today Network. The Star just won a Pulitzer prize for investigating how the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department used its dogs to attack suspects more frequently than any of the country’s 20 most populous cities.

The News’ announcement piece goes through her career, starting with the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, where she began as an intern and left as managing editor. During her more than two decades there, she worked on the enterprise and watchdog desks and also edited various metro sections. She left for South Carolina in 2016, where she was the top editor for the Greenville News. She began in Indianapolis in 2020. 

As a regional editor for the Star’s parent company Gannett, Hardy also oversaw about two dozen other newsrooms. One of those, the Louisville Courier-Journal, also won a Pulitzer last year for its coverage of the police killing of Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed every day for more than half a year.

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Sports & Leisure

Sha’Carri Richardson Stars in Ad for New Kanye West Album

| 3 days ago

Sha’Carri Richardson is missing out on the Tokyo Olympics because of an outdated rule banning athletes for using marijuana. But the Dallas-raised sprinter has enough charisma and talent that she remains set to be one of the breakout stars of these Olympic Games without actually appearing in the Olympic Games.

As proof, I submit the 60-second clip below, which aired last night during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Richardson features in the short video, which function as an advertisement for Beats by Dre, Apple Music, Nike, and the new Kanye West album (out Friday). It’s not a gold medal, but Richardson will get her shot at a few of those sooner or later. And this ad must come with a better paycheck.

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Architecture & Design

Behind the Design of Downtown’s Hottest New Destination: AT&T Discovery District

| 3 days ago

When AT&T made the arguably bold decision to keep its headquarters in downtown Dallas, stakeholders quickly began discussing expanding and renovating its home to create a destination for not only employees but the public. Those early talks evolved into what is now the $100 million Discovery District.

Architects at Gensler’s Dallas office had no frame of reference for creating such a space. Sure, they benchmarked hundreds of cool campuses around the country—none of which were open to the public. But AT&T wanted something that had never been done before.

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