FrontBurner

A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Urbanism

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 20

| 14 hours ago

A pedestrian sent over the below photo, which he snapped on his way to lunch in the Farmer’s Market at the intersection of Wood and Jackson-Pearl.

Come on.

He writes: “I’ve been commuting daily on foot across downtown to what is now the East Quarter for about four years and regularly run in and around downtown. The construction has been driving me absolutely crazy and your series has at least given me a sense that I’m not alone.” 

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Business

Amazon Bails on New York, But It is Unlikely That Dallas Is Back in the Running for HQ2

| 1 week ago

According to a spokesperson for the company, Amazon has backed out of its plans to locate part of its HQ2 in Long Island City, reigniting some speculation that the company could move part of its offices to Dallas. But it doesn’t appear the company has any intention of revisiting its search.

Criticism over the relocation of one of the world’s largest companies to Long Island City, Queens began as soon as the announcement was made last November. Community activists and some political leaders criticized the massive tax incentives Gov. Andrew Cuomo wished to hand over to the company and feared that the influx of tech employees with lucrative, $150,000/year jobs would disrupt the local economy and displace current residents. Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon is believed to have chosen New York for its HQ2 was the belief that the city was large enough to absorb a company of its size and wealth. But the residents and representatives of Long Island City, which has already been undergoing a massive transformation over the past decade, fought hard against the relocation—and won.

“After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens,” Amazon spokeswoman Jodi Seth said in a statement.

Does this mean that Amazon will now look back to Dallas for its HQ2? On the surface, likely not. In that same statement, Seth says that the company does not plan to re-open the HQ2 search at this time. But as Jeremiah reported last week, Mike Rosa, senior vice president at the Dallas Regional Chamber, says the chamber has ” never hung up the phone with Amazon.”

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Urbanism

New Report Lays Out Case for DFW’s Urban Future

| 2 weeks ago

We’re living in an urban boom. To find evidence of it, all you need to do is look around at all the cranes in the sky around downtown Dallas. Over the past decade, urban-style apartments have sprouted up in Uptown and in the outer suburbs alike, many neighborhoods have become more walkable, and areas of the central city that were once undesirable now boast some of the hottest real estate markets in town. Complementing these trends is the fact that Dallas has joined the ranks of cities like San Francisco and New York with regard to how its booming real estate prices have sparked a crisis in housing affordability.

But what are the real values of urban neighborhoods? How do they function economically? What kind of price premium comes with building walkable communities? How do they impact other factors of life, such as economic mobility and social equity?

A few weeks ago, the Center for Real Estate & Urban Analysis at George Washington University, released a report that attempted to answer some of these questions. Following methodology developed for similar reports on Washington, D.C., metro Atlanta, southeast Michigan, metro Boston, and metro New York, the researchers attempted to identify all the urban, walkable neighborhoods in the 16 counties of what they define as North Central Texas. The report drills into economic, housing, employment, and real estate market data to determine how these walkable communities—which the report terms “WalkUPs”—factor into the regional economy.

What the analysis found is remarkable.

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Urbanism

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 19

| 2 weeks ago

An alert FrontBurnervian sends over the photo above this post, from the intersection at Jackson and Ervay streets downtown. This is staring north toward Ervay, and as you can see, both sidewalks are occupied with construction mess. Sometimes we get some trolling in the comments on these Dallas Hates Pedestrians posts, telling us to walk across the street to the other sidewalk. I like to think that we should instead consider requiring scaffolding so we don’t have to do that in the densest part of our city. But here, the point is moot. You walk with the cars, or you find another block.

This is a fine example of the Right of Way issues that the city is struggling with. Simply put, we give it away. Construction takes over pedestrian walkways, forcing people on two feet into unsafe or inconvenient decisions. This reminds me of the construction outside AT&T’s forthcoming Discovery District on Commerce Street. Great, we’re getting a Cool New $100 Million Tech District. You’d think the easiest part of building that would be to do so without forcing me into four lanes of traffic when I cross the street. 

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Urbanism

What Dallas Can Learn From a Symposium on Building Better Cities

| 3 weeks ago

Last Thursday, some policy wonks got together at SMU to discuss how our city—and how other American cities—can dig out of a shortfall of affordable housing. The George W. Bush Institute-hosted event dug into the role smart policy can play in promoting inclusive urban growth, alternating between specifics and broader philosophical questions. The conversation occurred during a number of panel discussions. Here are some takeaways from the first four of the day.

Bush Institute-SMU Economic Growth Initiative Director Cullum Clark has some ideas on how to improve Dallas’ housing policy. Sitting on the first panel of the morning, Clark laid out the challenges facing our city. No different than most other American cities, Dallas’ middle class increasingly can’t afford thriving neighborhoods and doesn’t want to live in struggling ones. But the city sticks out because of our deep segregation along racial and economic lines (for proof, Clark pointed to the the recent publication of the Opportunity Index). DFW’s economic vibrancy also provides opportunity to get it right here, while Dallas’ exceptional amount of underutilized land presents its own set of opportunities and challenges.

How does this all play into the way Dallas regulates housing? Clark would like to see the city overhaul its zoning code and permitting process, lightening its touch while becoming more targeted. He wants to see greater effort to attract national, high-quality affordable housing builders. He wants to see a focus on preserving and rehabbing existing housing alongside the city’s efforts to close in on its shortage of some 20,000 affordable housing units. On that point, he said during a phone call after the conference, that he was in favor of the city amending its housing policy in the fall when Colorado-based Steele Properties was knocking on the city’s door with a plan to rehab a broken down complex just west of Oak Cliff. The City Council ultimately stayed the policy’s course and shooed Steele away.

As it stands, the city’s housing policy has identified up-and-coming areas for affordable housing investment. But Clark would like to see the housing policy amended so that it adds emphasis on neighborhoods that are geographically close to those areas and other existing pockets of vibrancy. The city’s Market Value Analysis did not peg Fair Park as a reinvestment zone, for instance; in Clark’s telling, that was the most obvious omission. He also pegs Trinity River-adjacent The Bottoms as a potential revival story.

Of course, the city has scarce resources, a point that Clark acknowledges. “If you’re forced to make bets about scarce dollars and pick your locations, in that world, I think you can be a little more forward-thinking in your investment strategy,” he says. “If we were picking stocks, you don’t have to only look at the stocks that have already gone up a lot. Maybe you should look at the stock of companies that are trading at really cheap levels but there’s an underlying business that has bright prospects for the future.”

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Urban Design

City Staff Reveals Its Response to TxDOT’s Plan to Widen I-30

| 4 weeks ago

On Monday afternoon, Dallas city staff will present a series of recommendations that push back against TxDOT’s plan to expand Interstate 30 east of downtown. The city’s transportation department will suggest burying the interstate to reconnect the neighborhoods that it ripped apart. It will tell the state not to make the highway any wider or higher than it currently is. It will call for the frontage roads to be re-thought, to incorporate “complete street” elements that would allow for safe walking and slower speeds. And it will urge the state to build connections over the freeway that would be safe for pedestrians to walk or bike.

These so-called “guiding principles” were created in response to a draft plan to expand Interstate 30 that TxDOT sent the city in May. Its proposals were in line with what highway engineers have done since their jobs were created: it wanted to widen and expand the freeway and its frontage roads from downtown to U.S. 80. This drafted plan seemed to fly in the face of the forward-thinking CityMAP study that TxDOT itself created in 2016, which was supposed be a guide for how to redesign or replace the hulking highways that tore Dallas apart. It also ignored Downtown Dallas Inc.’s 360 Plan, which aimed to restitch the neighborhoods in the city’s core. The City Council adopted Downtown Dallas Inc.’s plan as official policy in 2017.

The 360 Plan never suggested expanding the freeway, and traffic numbers don’t support widening it either. After Downtown Dallas Inc. got a whiff of TxDOT’s plan, they drew up a white paper for the city with a list of recommendations. They’re reflected in the presentation.

“TxDOT’s plan would be a restarter for us,” said Kourtny Garrett, the president of Downtown Dallas Inc. “The impact of its project is going to stretch into planning for rail, for the Cedars … it stretches into the Farmers Market and it would’ve been very significant in its impact considering the way those areas are developing.”

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Urban Design

Pedestrians Finally Get a Win In Lakewood

| 1 month ago

Frequent readers of our Dallas Hates Pedestrians series may recall the AT&T utility box that was enjoying its life while completely blocking a sidewalk in Lakewood. Councilman Lee Kleinman, the chair of the Council’s Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure, and Sustainability Committee, I think got tired of seeing our ongoing string of photographs and pithy quips about Dallas’ propensity to hand over public right of way to any entity that wants it. He emailed over a photo of a tangle of wires that he took in Vietnam; he likes to joke about that being the future of 5G infrastructure if we don’t manage it right.

Anyway, Kleinman sent a photo of that utility box to city staff. And city staff got to work. In AT&T’s defense, the utility cabinet was installed before any sidewalks were built north of it. It’s been there at least since 2001, and the sidewalks went in around 2007. The city, I guess, just worked around the thing.

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Local News

DART Has a Plan For Its Electric Buses if D-Link Is Killed

| 1 month ago

Earlier today, Peter Simek wrote about how DART is likely to kill its free D-Link service, which acts as a bridge between the streetcars in Oak Cliff and Uptown and travels around to various sites in downtown. Part of D-Link’s fleet are seven electric buses that were paid for with a $7.6 million federal grant. DART was one of 10 transit agencies to receive said grant. In the comments, Jim Schermbeck, the environmentalist and head of Downwinders at Risk, asked about what would happen to those buses. It was a good question. 

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Urbanism

Uber’s E-Bikes, Called Jump, Are Now In Dallas

| 1 month ago

Uber’s electric bike fleet has landed in Dallas. The candy apple-red Jump bikes are now in Uptown and downtown, along with the company’s similarly branded scooters. Late last year, Uber filed an application with the city to place 2,000 e-bikes on its streets as well as 2,000 scooters. Keep your eye out on the sidewalks.

They’re pedal-assisted, meaning you still have to use your legs, but the motor will work harder—all the way up until the 20 mph mark. City officials hope that’s speedy enough to embolden users to actually ride in the streets. For now, it’s free to unlock and then it costs 15 cents per minute.

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Transportation

Remember How Bird Was Going to Build Bike Lanes for Its Scooters? Not Anymore.

| 1 month ago

Last August, e-scooter rental company Bird came up with an ingenious way to drum-up support for their business and cool concerns that the scooters that have flooded many U.S. cities are dangerous. The company said it would donate $1 per scooter per day to their host cities to create protected bike lanes.

It was a wonderful idea. After all, scooters are often most useful in cities like Dallas that have done a poor job historically of investing in multiple transit options. Dallas needs more bike lanes. Bird needs more riders. Bike lanes could provide safer rides and attract more users. Win-win for everyone.

Well, not so much. Bird has quietly backed off its offer, according to Streetsblog, and the information about the bike lane program has been removed from the company’s website. Furthermore, not many cities have received any money from the rental company. One city that did receive cash, Baltimore, has about $110,000 sitting in an account waiting to be budgeted.

Given how quickly Bird backed off its bike lane program, you might see the whole thing as a cynical public relations ploy by a company that was trying to shore up political support for its product at a time when cities around the country were blocking or banning e-scooters. Perhaps the decision has more to do with economics. The initial venture capital cash that fueled its rapid expansion may be drying up.

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Local News

How Transforming the Medical District Could Transform Dallas

| 1 month ago

Have you ever tried walking along Harry Hines near the Medical District? In reporting the feature for our January issue—titled “The Woman Who Fought the Sun,” it’s online today—I needed to see how bad this stretch, from Medical District Boulevard all the way past Inwood, is when you’re on two feet. The story is about the Texas Trees Foundation’s attempt to remake the Southwestern Medical District, one of our city’s untapped treasures, into a walkable neighborhood that attracts more housing and retail and bars and restaurants.

The complementary components are already there. UT Southwestern’s research holds its own next to any medical institution in the state, if not the nation. Parkland is the public hospital for the county. Children’s Health offers pediatric procedures that are largely unavailable elsewhere. Something like 3 million people come here to receive care each year. About 30,000 work here. And yet walking this area is a disaster. There are miles of missing sidewalks, many of which simply vanish. The tree canopy is just 7 percent, meaning concrete bakes under the sun and radiates outward. This was a warehouse and manufacturing district before the hospitals moved in, and the infrastructure hasn’t adapted.

The Texas Trees Foundation, a nonprofit that was started decades ago by Trammell Crow to stick trees along Woodall Rodgers, is the lead. They’re coming up with the design work, securing funding, and then handing it all over to the city to implement. It’s an interesting arrangement, and the feature is partly about the group’s history and why you should take them seriously.

But before you get to it, I’d like to take you on a walk down Harry Hines, the main artery of the district. It’ll help you understand why this needs to change.

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