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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Beginning December 12, nine of Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s major bus routes will return to normal service after six months of delays. That’s big news, because those bus routes are the primary arteries to achieve the agency’s goals of increasing frequency and reliability for riders. DART rolled out its much-lauded new bus network in January 2022, and by June it was already having to walk it back because of a driver shortage.

The redesign established 22 “core frequent routes” that would come every 15 minutes during peak times and every 20 minutes afterward. The new system scrapped the former hub and spoke model for something more closely resembling a grid, increasing the chances your bus shows up on time. DART says it increased access to jobs by transit within 60 minutes by 34 percent.

The trade-off was you might have to walk a little further to your destination, or use the system’s GoLink on-demand service to replace the less popular routes that were eliminated in service of the more frequent ones.  

But that only works if there are enough drivers. In June, DART told the Dallas City Council that it was down 163 drivers. Twenty-minute buses were coming every 30 minutes, 15-minute pickups ballooned to 20 and 25 minutes. As a Band-Aid, the agency delayed arrivals by 5 minutes for about 31 of its 97 bus routes, roughly a third of its entire system.

DART then got to work finding drivers. It bumped its starting wage to $21.13 an hour, about $4 higher than it had been. Rosa Maria Cristobal, the agency’s vice president for human resources, said competition from companies like Amazon and FedEx prompted the increase in starting pay as well as signing bonuses. DART launched media campaigns and hiring fairs.

The result of that “aggressive operator hiring initiative” meant that DART could return nine of its highest ridership routes to full service about a month ahead of time. The remaining 22 will return to regular service on January 23.

And then we can see how successful the redesign is. Below are the routes that will be back to normal on December 12:

Podcasts

New Podcast: Mark Lamster Argues for Redesigning Dealey Plaza

Matt Goodman
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(Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News, courtesy Mark Lamster)

Last month, Dallas Morning News architecture critic Mark Lamster set about solving what he calls “one of the city’s most profound urban failings.” Dealey Plaza, perhaps the most frequented tourist destination in Dallas, “is a deplorable state of affairs,” a tangle of wide access roads that ferry vehicles onto Interstates 30 and 35 and to points west while hiding and minimizing the tragedies it should seek to memorialize.

It fails its responsibility for the future, as this will be the front door to an eventual park along the Trinity River levees. It fails its present, too, by putting pedestrians in danger and failing to appropriately recognize the assassination of President John F. Kennedy beyond crudely drawn white Xs that pop up along Elm Street. (Today is the 59th anniversary of Kennedy’s murder.)

Hidden behind concrete is Martyr’s Park, which Lamster notes is difficult to access and fails to be an appropriate home for a forthcoming $100,000 memorial to victims of racist violence. Jerry Hawkins, the executive director of the nonprofit Dallas Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation has a strong quote for why this is a problem: “If Martyr’s Park is a reflection of the city’s will to address its past wrongs, then the mirror is broken.”

It’s a lot to unpack, so we invited Lamster to the Old Monk to discuss the work. The News commissioned a team of designers to rethink the space, including Stoss Landscape Urbanism’s Chris Reed and Monica Ponce de Leon of MPdL Studio in New Jersey.

The News presents this speculative proposal — a big idea, complete with renderings and architectural drawings — to show how these spaces could be transformed; to suggest what is possible if the city can summon its collective will,” Lamster writes.

The News held a discussion with the designers involved last week. Michael Granberry’s coverage of the event includes statements of support from Mayor Eric Johnson and Park Board Chair Arun Agarwal. Some of the hundred or so attendees had their own concerns, largely with the decision to shut down Elm. It sets the table for the sort of discussions that will need to happen before this becomes reality.

Other quick takes: Lamster says depressing I-345 is a “half-measure” and “generally half measures don’t work.” Elm Street near Dealey Plaza needs to be closed to vehicles because it’s a “dangerous traffic disaster waiting to happen.” As for Dallas: “I think the city is changing, but it’s not changing fast enough.”

Listen after the jump.

Four miles from downtown Dallas, just below the Tenison Glen Golf Course, is a 50-acre spread of elm, hackberry, and ash trees that’s basically inaccessible to the public. By the end of 2023, this will be Dallas’ newest soft-surface natural cycling trail, an offshoot of the 50-mile loop that will link together the city’s existing trails and create new pedestrian and cycling access through the Trinity Forest.

Creekside Park, which Tim broke the news about earlier this week, will only be accessible by way of the concrete Trinity Spine Trail that runs adjacent to it. Inside those 50 acres will be five miles of trail and a separate skills park, all of which will be designed for low- and moderately-skilled riders.

“The LOOP is really bringing new greenspace activation opportunities to Dallas,” says Philip Hiatt Haigh, the executive director of the Circuit Trail Conservancy, which is building the LOOP. “We’re helping realize the Park Department’s long-term vision.”

That vision goes back to 1966, when the city of Dallas began buying wooded parcels of land south of White Rock Lake. By the early 2000s, the city had amassed about 50 acres in this little corner of East Dallas. About four of those acres are an open stretch beyond the trees—that will be where the mountain biking skills course is, filled with hills and jumps.

It’s basically been raining in Dallas since 8 a.m., the type of slow and steady downpour that soaks deep into our soil and helps to bust the drought. (By the way, North Texas is now in the weakest drought condition, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s great news.)

Rain alone can make it miserable to be outside on two feet, but downspouts spewing runoff onto the sidewalk seems especially cruel. The photo above this post is on the Ervay edge of First Baptist Dallas. And while it’s absolutely in no way the only downspout that is relieving itself of water in downtown, it seems to be depositing far more of it than its brethren. There’s so much water that it’s pooling on the sidewalk instead of making it down the drainage gate.

Anyway. Just another day on two feet in Dallas. Enjoy your weekend. Stay dry.

Urbanism

How Dallas Should Fix Dealey Plaza

Tim Rogers
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Mark Lamster's plan dropped October 23 in the Arts & Life section.

I’ve been meaning to mention something for the past week. Now that we’ve finished some work on our “print product,” I have a moment to say: you need to read this special report published by the Morning News and helmed by its architecture critic, Mark Lamster. “Reinventing Dealey Plaza” is a major piece of civic journalism that deserves lots of attention and maybe even a community presentation and panel discussion at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 15, at the Sixth Floor Museum (sign up here).

Major aside that I almost certainly should have resisted the urge to include: I wasn’t sure how best to share the report with you. The News just reported its dismal third-quarter results, and they indicate a dwindling number of you will encounter the printed Arts & Life version of Lamster’s work. The paper lost $2.6 million in the three-month period that ended September 30, on revenue of $37.7 million. Revenue from digital-only subscribers rose by $1 million, but print subscription revenue dropped $900,000. The paper has 144,631 total subscribers, adding in the third quarter 1,484 digital subscribers but losing 2,918 print subscribers. Anyway, “Reinventing Dealey Plaza” lies behind a paywall. This is one of the reasons you should subscribe to the paper if you can afford it.

Still with me? Here’s how Lamster begins his report:

“The time has come for Dallas to redesign Dealey Plaza and the Triple Underpass, which together represent one of the city’s most profound urban failings.

Editor’s Note: The Dallas City Council unanimously approved the WOCAP plan during Wednesday’s agenda meeting.


Last March, construction workers put up a fence along both sides of 8th Street near Bishop Arts, blocking off about a dozen old two-story apartment buildings and duplexes. The developer Lennar Multifamily Group bought these properties from the McDonald family, who had owned the affordable units for decades. When they were sold, the most expensive rented for $1,200.

Lennar is doing what the city’s zoning allows it to do: demolishing those 65 units and replacing them with 252 market-rate apartments of between 500 and 1,400 square feet. The apartment buildings will be four stories tall and extend down both sides of 8th from Adams to Llewellyn, sparing only a house that Lennar didn’t scoop up. Those plans are in line with the new development that now flanks Bishop Arts.   

Over the past few months, Councilman Chad West and his plan commissioner, Amanda Popken, have mentioned the changes to 8th Street as a reason why neighborhoods further south need an area plan that will help shape what can and can’t be built. In 2019, the city changed how it modifies neighborhood zoning by implementing a point system that ranks priority communities. An area plan is a good way to jump to the top of the list.

North Oak Cliff went through its own rezoning process a dozen years ago, encouraging density like what Lennar is bringing to 8th Street. The apartments up and down Zang Boulevard along the streetcar route were born from that rezoning, too.

Further south is a different matter. The West Oak Cliff Area Plan, which goes before the full City Council for a vote this afternoon nearly three years after the process began, will set the table for how five neighborhoods west of Tyler Street will eventually be rezoned. Those include downtown Elmwood; the area around the North Cliff Neighborhood Center, at Pierce and Catherine streets; Edgefield and Clarendon, near Winnetka Elementary; Hampton and Clarendon, down to Illinois; and a portion of the Jimtown neighborhood, which is packed in below Clarendon just west of Hampton.

If the plan is approved, it will help trigger what’s known as an authorized hearing. That’s the process by which the city considers rezoning a neighborhood.

Here’s the tall goal from the plan itself: “Due to the three DART light rail stations in and around the area, as well as the ongoing and continued growth in the Bishop Arts District to the northeast, this area is one where there are concerns about potential future growth pressures and subsequent fears of gentrification and displacement.”

Local News

The Conclusion of Bitter Elm Thicket Zoning Battle Leaves Dallas With Lessons

Matt Goodman
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In Elm Thicket, new development stands next to old bungalows. Christine Allison

The Dallas City Council on Wednesday closed the chapter on a contentious zoning battle that took nearly seven years to settle in the historically Black neighborhood of Elm Thicket/North Park. It was the conclusion of the city’s protracted attempt at controlling the style of home that can exist in this northwest Dallas neighborhood, where old cottage-style bungalows now sit beside modern, flat-roofed, square-shaped new builds that often tower over them.

The Council approved zoning changes that block new single- and multi-story homes from occupying more than 40 percent of their lots. The previous maximum was 45 percent, which is how most of the city’s single-family lots are zoned. Council’s decision also lowers the height restriction here from 30 feet to 25; allows duplexes to be built on two north-south thoroughfares, Mabel Avenue and Roper Street; and limits the style of roofs on new homes to hip and gable, which require sloping edges and sides that create a triangle.

“I am not against progress. This does not prevent builders from building,” said Councilman Jesse Moreno, whose District 2 includes Elm Thicket. “I want to encourage development in a responsible manner while giving a nod to the existing context and culture of the area.”

The city, in 2016, began to explore how to manage development in this community. City staff proposed changes to “soften the development styles” and address “scale and massing” to make the big homes sync better with the smaller ones. The changes were repeatedly referred to on Wednesday as a “tip of the cap” and “a nod of respect” to the history of the neighborhood, even though council members acknowledged the new regulations will do little to address the rising property values that attracted the city’s attention in the first place.

“My people were told where we could go, where we could live,” said Jonathan Maples, the president of the Elm Thicket/North Park Neighborhood Association, who led the community effort in support of the changes. “This city has a history of systemic racism and redlining. … I ask you, City Council, which side of history are you gonna be on?”

Last week, Jeff Speck was looking at a map of Uptown and trying to make sense of McKinnon Street. It is basically an elongated freeway on-ramp that shoots drivers onto Harry Hines and the Dallas North Tollway. It’s a big wide street in a neighborhood that should be the city’s most walkable, but you wouldn’t want to be on two feet here. Elsewhere in Uptown, there are enough one-way streets that the neighborhood still functions, in part, as a commuter spoke for drivers.

Speck is a city planner and urban designer who authored the best-selling planning book over the last 45 years, Walkable City. It explores ways municipalities can achieve the goal spelled out in its title. He followed that with Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, which is also very literal. (And includes some dings at Dallas: how our high-rises come paired with surface lots and garages, how we practically trademarked the “Dallas Donut” of apartment buildings flanking parking lots.)

Uptown Dallas Inc. flew him in to speak on Monday night at the Crescent. It finally appears that the city will soon convert McKinney and Cole streets from one-way to two-way streets, a core tenet of Speck’s goal to help cities design streets to make neighborhoods safer for perambulators. (The city recently made public 30 percent design documents pertaining to making those streets two ways.)

He was still researching the neighborhood when we spoke last week. But he still had plenty to say that Dallas can learn from. The interview below has been edited for length and clarity.

A new collection of organizers is pushing for the Dallas City Council to request that the state slow down its plans for Interstate 345. Sometime this fall, the Texas Department of Transportation will begin seeking resolutions from partners like the city in support of its “preferred alternative” for the highway, which would take the road below grade between downtown and Deep Ellum. The TxDOT plan includes 11 opportunities for at-grade decking over the road that could support development. It also would add 7 acres of surplus right of way beside the thoroughfare.

Resolutions in support of this plan are important features for TxDOT; they help the agency compete for funding from the Texas Transportation Commission, and they contribute to the federal environmental impact statement. That statement, known as an FEIS, is required before construction can begin.

Meet More Neighbors Dallas. They’re a chapter of YIMBY Action—yes in my backyard—that advocates for policies that will lead to more housing for more people in cities across the country. This local chapter now has its eye on removing I-345, starting with urging the state to develop an FEIS for removal that can be analyzed alongside the FEIS for putting the highway in a trench.

“We’re pushing the jobs away from people by keeping these highways,” says D’Andrala Alexander, the organization’s co-founder. “A lot of what we’re asking for at this moment is actually to pump the brakes. We’re asking for time.”

State officials briefed the City Council’s Transportation Committee in June, about a month after TxDOT unveiled its preferred trench plan. Both sides presented TxDOT’s plan—which the state refers to as the “hybrid” option—as a compromise of sorts between the folks who want the highway removed and replaced with a boulevard, and the others who want to keep the roadway but see the need for more buildings around it.

More Neighbors Dallas has enlisted environmental groups such Sunrise Dallas and Downwinders at Risk. The Imagining Freedom Institute, Do Right by the Streets, and the Coalition for a New Dallas are all involved. (The Coalition was started by the late founder of D Magazine, Wick Allison, but has always operated separately from the magazine.)

The mix of organizers is reflective of the opportunity they believe removing 345 presents. The city’s climate action plan has a goal to significantly reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips in the coming decades. Sunrise and Downwinders have long favored policy that curbs emissions; they view a highway as a major barrier to that goal.

The city of Dallas is currently rewriting its land use plan, which, in its simplest terms, governs what can be built and where.

A few months ago, I began looking at what had changed since 2006, when the city first adopted what it called ForwardDallas. How were other cities similar in size to Dallas handling development? How were they addressing historic inequities in their land use policies and zoning, like where industry is allowed to operate and which neighborhoods can densify?

I came across a piece in The Atlantic with a curious title: “Cancel Zoning.”

The author, M. Nolan Gray, makes the argument that zoning exacerbates inequality, housing affordability issues, sprawl, and segregation. In some cities, almost 90 percent of its housing is zoned single-family. Zoning in Dallas is a curious patchwork. According to an analysis by the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab, about 48 percent of the city is zoned for single-family homes with detached garages.

Another 17 percent—about 65 square miles—are made up of what’s known as planned development districts. That’s when a developer wants to do something that the code doesn’t allow, so they request a zoning change that carves out a certain area from its surroundings. That could mean using fewer parking spots outside a retail store, adding a patio to a restaurant, or modifying height requirements to try and build something higher than what is allowed by-right.

Gray would like American urban planners to look to Houston, a city that has largely eschewed zoning in favor of addressing specific behaviors and nuisances. It allows neighborhoods to sort of opt-in to zoning through deed restrictions. 

“Houston builds housing at 14 times the rate of peers like San Jose. And it isn’t just sprawl: In 2019, Houston built roughly the same number of apartments as Los Angeles, despite being half its size,” Gray writes. “Since reforms to minimum-lot-size rules were put in place in 1998, more than 25,000 townhouses have been built, overwhelmingly in existing urban areas.”

Land is increasingly expensive, and it’s putting home ownership (and even renting) out of reach for a lot of people. Density allows builders to take the same plot of land and build up, creating more places for people to live. 

Pushes to get rid of zoning aren’t just happening on the local level. In 2019, four federal bills were authored that would have tied federal funding for other projects to zoning reform. 

But I was even more curious about Gray’s thoughts after reading his book, Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It. I spoke with him last month at length about everything from zoning and environmental concerns like Shingle Mountain, to what zoning was originally used for.

Part of our conversation follows. It has been edited for length and clarity.

The city of Dallas has launched a survey to help inform how it will update its 11-year-old bike plan. That survey is live through July 17.

But first, an anecdote.

I live in Oak Cliff, where the city recently reverted Polk and Tyler streets into two-way thoroughfares. The city began this process in 2016 with a goal of slowing traffic and encouraging more pedestrian activity along these streets. When they were one-ways, they were raceways in and out of the neighborhood.

There’s a new roundabout that allows drivers to access both directions of Tyler and Polk at their northern junction, a few blocks above Davis Street. Past Davis, Polk Street splits into a driving lane, a bike lane, and another lane for on-street parking abutting a dozen or so new homes.

When there are no cars parked in those spots, drivers take the lane as their own, zooming perilously close to the designated bike lane, as the gentleman in the red Hummer did in the photo above this post. I’ve seen some cars even wait for the traffic light at Jefferson Boulevard while idling in that bike lane. (That light and others in the corridor still blink red six weeks after the street opened up to traffic, for some reason.)

This is the sort of thing I would like to share with the city.

In early 2014, the Texas Department of Transportation told the city of Dallas that it wouldn’t remove IH-345, the 1.7-mile elevated highway that stands between downtown and Deep Ellum. A TxDOT spokesman told the Dallas Morning News that the agency had always planned “to maintain the existing bridge.”

Years of debate ensued as TxDOT launched a feasibility to study to figure out the best plan for that bridge as it nears the end of its lifespan. Then, last month, TxDOT released the long-awaited results of that study. The state’s preference is to keep the highway as a permanent feature between downtown and Deep Ellum, but it wants to spend at least $1 billion to dig a 65-foot-deep trench that will contain 10 lanes.

TxDOT says removing the highway entirely and replacing it with a boulevard would cause traffic delays that render that idea unfeasible.

The Council’s Transportation Committee last week largely took TxDOT at its word and spoke glowingly of what the state is calling the “hybrid” plan. The groundswell of support for removal seems to have dried up. In 2021, 12 current council members said they supported “removing I-345 and replacing it with a mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood that restores the community grid and reconnects East and South Dallas.” (Those council members answered a questionnaire sent by the Coalition for a New Dallas, an organization that advocated for 345’s removal and was started by D Magazine’s late founder, Wick Allison. D and the coalition operate independently.)

No one at that meeting of the Transportation Committee spoke in favor of removing 345.

“I feel very strongly that y’all found a hybrid solution that is kind of a win for everyone,” said Councilman Adam Bazaldua, who represents South Dallas and the neighborhoods around Fair Park.

The state calls this the “hybrid” plan. It considered five options: removal; depressed; elevated but with a more narrow footprint; as-is; and “hybrid,” which puts the highway below grade.

TxDOT’s preferred hybrid alternative would create opportunities for connectivity between two of Dallas’ most important urban neighborhoods by way of at-grade streets and bridges. But the amount of land that could be freed up for development will be far less than if the highway were removed entirely and replaced by a boulevard. Those who support removal estimate that tearing the highway out would free up about 245 developable acres, land that could be used for more housing, jobs, retail, and other purposes. The hybrid plan creates about 15.5 acres.

Despite TxDOT’s reaching a significant milestone (that feasibility study), it now feels as if the debate over 345 is back where it began all those many years ago.