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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Transportation

DART’s Cotton Belt Line Comes Into View, to the Chagrin of North Dallas Residents

| 16 hours ago

I rely on DART. Having not owned a car in a decade—a personal point of pride, especially in this city—its services are my primary method of getting around town. While I have learned to enjoy the benefits that DART provides (and there are benefits) I understand why many people shy away from, or outright dismiss, Dallas’ sole provider of public transit services.

The system can be daunting and confusing. If you are trying to get from Point A to Point B with one or more transfers, you need to time everything just right as to not get stuck at a station or on the side of the road. Buses don’t always show up when they’re supposed to, traffic being a primary contributor. Yet, for all of its inefficiencies, I can’t call DART altogether ineffective. It will get you where you are going, but it will test your patience.

Last Thursday, I took DART from my work in downtown to the June Shelton School and Evaluation Center in Far North Dallas to attend the fourth community meeting regarding the Cotton Belt, DART’s 26-mile suburban rail line connecting Plano to DFW Airport. It was the first to be held in the city of Dallas. It took more than an hour to reach Arapaho Road and Hillcrest Lane, a distance of about 13 miles. Here’s what that trip looked like:

  • 5:04 p.m. – Leave work and walk to the station
  • 5:16 p.m. – Get on the train
  • 5:44 p.m. – Arrive at Arapaho Station
  • 6:00 p.m. – The 361 bus arrives, three minutes later than scheduled (this is pretty good)
  • 6:15 p.m. – Arrive at Arapaho and Hillcrest bus stop, walk to Shelton

I know what you’re thinking. “It takes an hour to get from downtown to North Dallas?! Are you insane? Get a car, you fool!” For many, this is a standard travel time on DART. It takes up to an hour or more to travel almost anywhere from downtown unless you live within a four-mile radius. And this is just from downtown, DART’s central hub. It’s a completely different story riding the system across town. It’s not a new thing, either. In 2016, D’s Peter Simek spent some time riding buses around Oak Cliff. His headline: “Doesn’t Anyone at DART Realize How Terrible Riding DART Actually Is?”

I pass the time reading books and refreshing my Twitter feed.

Inside Shelton’s Gene and Jerry Jones Family Dining Hall, neighbors gathered for the meeting, talked among themselves, and looked at enlarged photographs of the Cotton Belt route, running east to west, along the sides of the room.

As the presentation got underway, it was clear that we were in for a contentious evening. DART officials recognized notable members of the community, their own board members who were in attendance, as well as recently elected Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn. The Cotton Belt runs through the middle of her district. She addressed the 200-member strong crowd, voicing many of their concerns.

“There are lots of things that are happening and you have to speak up because you think it’s hard to fight City Hall? It’s really hard to fight a railroad,” she said. “So, use your collective voice and make things happen. I’m with you. This is not a great thing for the neighborhood.”

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Urban Design

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 32

| 1 week ago

Last year, Crescent Real Estate snapped up a 30-year-old office tower at 2401 Cedar Springs in Uptown. It was the sort of drab, mundane seven story building that is rapidly starting to look out of place in the neighborhood, which is being outfitted with a whole lot of glass. The new renderings instead have a feature that looks like an engorged pneumatic tube system you find at banks. Paper City described architecture firm Corgan’s plans for the building as a “work playland,” complete with “social lounges” that can either be a conference room or a golf simulator. Which, fine, do what you do, but can you leave the sidewalk alone?

A FrontBurnervian who appreciates his morning walk to work sends the photo above this post. Perhaps the golf simulator is too big and dangerous for pedestrians to walk by as it’s being installed. More likely, it’s probably a lot more convenient for the contractors to have a place to put all their construction detritus, sidewalks be damned. Walkers have access to a sliver of the median or they can wander along the street. Your choice. Crescent, meanwhile, has a place to put a billboard along the fence advertising how much space is for rent.

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Pedestrian Life

Dallas County Pedestrian Fatality Rates Are Rising Much Faster Than the Country’s

| 2 weeks ago

Pedestrian safety is going in the wrong direction nationally. In Dallas County, the situation appears to be worse.

A new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents went up 35 percent from 2008 to 2017. Based on projections from data from the first six months of 2018, GHSA estimates that national pedestrian fatalities will reach their largest annual total since 1990.

The trend isn’t consistent across the country; 23 states enjoyed decreases last year and two remained the same.

Dig in close to home, however, and the picture is dreary. Since 2010, pedestrian fatalities in Dallas County have doubled, according to data supplied by the Texas Department of Transportation. As of the end of July, Dallas is on pace for about 91 fatalities in 2019. That would be a jump of 19 year-over-year; we recorded 72 one year ago. Here’s every year since 2010, courtesy of TxDOT:

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Urbanism

The Federal Government May Soon Help Pay to Remove Freeways

| 3 weeks ago

Congress is getting serious about highway removal. Tucked into the reauthorization of a $287 billion transportation spending bill is a pilot program that will help pay to tear out freeways—studying, planning, and the actual construction.

As it’s written, there are no caps on funding each project, but, if passed, the U.S. Department of Transportation could pay for up to half the cost of a highway’s removal, from planning to construction. (Total federal dollars from other applicable programs can’t cover more than 80 percent of the project.)

It’s not the first time the feds have set money aside for such a thing. Congress has allotted $4.7 billion for block grants that can go toward capital projects, safety improvements, cycling trails, and highway removals. But this is the most direct and specific that the federal government has ever been about paying to knock down highways, and it’s the first time it has prioritized economic development as a deciding factor in issuing grants for such a project.

“It starts to move the national discourse forward,” says Ben Crowther, a fellow at the Congress for the New Urbanism, the nonprofit that advocated for the funding. “The federal government that created most of these roads is taking a bit of responsibility to undo some of the damage that they’ve done to neighborhoods and communities.”

The reauthorization bill is known as the FAST Act—Fixing America’s Surface Transportation—and its current iteration will expire in 2020. The $287 billion is a 27 percent increase over current funding and includes provisions meant to trim carbon emissions and subsidize vehicles that use alternative fuel sources. The bill still needs support from the U.S. House and Senate, but yesterday it breezed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by a vote of 21-0.

The portion of the bill addressing funding for tear-outs includes many of the bullet points you see from supporters of such actions: that the freeway or street imposed a barrier to mobility, access, or economic development in a neighborhood that could now stand to benefit from its removal. Sound familiar? That’s the same language used by the city and the state in exploring tearing out I-345 between downtown and Deep Ellum, as well as shrinking and redesigning Interstate 30 east of downtown.

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Urbanism

An Unearthed Traffic Film Documents Mentality That Drove Car-Centric Dallas

| 3 weeks ago

A fascinating little film reel popped onto YouTube today which offers a chance to plumb the historic mentality that helped destroy downtown Dallas and turn the city and region into a car-driven sprawling behemoth.

Entitled “Report to Dallas” (1955), the film is produced by the Dallas Citizens Traffic Commission, a group that was tasked with master planning Dallas’ response to the car. What makes the old film fascinating is that it is a kind of psychological time capsule. In its descriptions, justification, assumptions, and marketing, it lays out clearly how it came to be that the car trampled Dallas and a city that once had an extensive streetcar network and a thriving downtown was subdued by the needs of the car.

In fact, the reason is summed up perfectly in one of the closing lines of the film. “Traffic is the life blood of the city,” the baritone narrator drones. “Slow down the traffic and the heart beat slows down. Stop it and the city dies.”

Yikes.

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Urbanism

Maybe Millennials Sort of Like Dallas After All

| 3 weeks ago

Last week I dove deep into some data that was used by a personal finance company to argue that Dallas is drawing more millennials than any other major U.S. city. I argued that just because 2017 saw a surge in the number of people between 20 and 34 who moved to Dallas, that was not enough evidence to justify the banner proclamations that appeared in local media (and from the Dallas Regional Chamber) proclaiming Dallas a millennial magnet. To understand if Dallas is competing well in the generational marketplace, we would need a more nuanced study.

Well, here’s that study. The Dallas Business Journal (via WFAA) reported over the weekend on the 2019 U.S. Cities Scorecard for Millennials, a 3,000-person survey that takes the temperature of millennial perceptions of American cities. The survey asked millennials across 22 metro areas to rank cities according to 40 criteria, ranging from cost to climate to transit to taxes. The results offer a take on how a generation perceives American cities.

How do they see Dallas? It’s kind of a mixed bag.

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Local News

The Reality TV Twin Who Built Shingle Mountain

| 3 weeks ago

More than 20 years ago, Marsha Jackson bought a home in southern Dallas with enough land that her daughters could stable horses and practice roping and barrel racing. Then, early last year, the shingles started piling up next door. They grew into a mountain that became infamous, even as a recycling company attempted to grind up the discarded roofing material, belching black dust that got into her vents. When she coughs, she says, the phlegm is black.

The 60-foot-tall asphalt mountain is an absurdist monument to slapdash city zoning, inadequate state oversight, and the plans of men eager to make a buck. Shingle Mountain wants to be seen. And you can see it if you drive north on Interstate 45 near Hutchins and look out your passenger window. You have plenty of time. Despite the city shutting down the recycling operation in March, it will stand there for at least another year. The company, Blue Star Recycling, has run out of money. Jackson, meanwhile, is trapped in a Kafkaesque limbo, attending court hearings only to hear that there isn’t much Blue Star can do with its empty bank account. The judge didn’t seem eager in June to hold the company’s manager in contempt for not complying with a city order to clean up the mess in 90 days. “[W]e don’t have debtor’s prison,” is how Judge Gena Slaughter put it.

Since late last year, Shingle Mountain has appeared regularly in the Dallas Morning News’ Metro section and on nightly TV news. It is a flashpoint in environmental justice in this city, an ugly monument to City Hall’s apathy toward the people who live in southern Dallas. It took the head of a scrappy environmental nonprofit and a News Metro columnist to get the city’s attention. But by then, it was too late. The pile was taller than the trees.

So who is responsible for this mess? In the stories published so far, the name Chris Ganter invariably pops up. He is the CEO of Blue Star—or was, until his recent ouster or retirement. His transition out of the company has never been explained, just as his background remains a mystery. I found that he lives in Collin County, and in the late 2000s, he and his twin brother, Ben, starred in a real estate reality TV show called PayDirt, which aired only on local television.

After I sent a few emails to lawyers I’d found in court documents, I heard from Ganter. Apparently word had found its way to him that I was asking questions. He emailed me late on a Saturday night, writing that he wanted to meet for some “windshield time.”

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Police

An Easy Fix For Deep Ellum’s Public Safety Fears

| 4 weeks ago

I’m worried about the crime in Deep Ellum, but my concerns have nothing to do with public safety. Rather, I’m worried that Dallas is falling into an old habit that views crowds as threats, pedestrians as unruly, and vibrancy as something that needs to be managed, cleaned up, and tamped down.

Yesterday, Shawn and Matt reported on a community meeting held in response to a perceived spike in crime in Deep Ellum. Cops described a need to “deploy more drastic strategies to ensure public safety.” They are worried about a wave of “crimes of opportunity, robberies and assaults” in the entertainment district. There’s talk of using the controversial curfew law—which has been shown to disproportionately target people of color—to crackdown on the neighborhood’s crowds.

To me this all sounds like it has been pretty busy in Deep Ellum lately and that has people freaked out. There are stories of dealers drugging innocent partiers and robbing them. A police helicopter was dispatched to help break up crowds. Philip Honoré, the Deep Ellum Foundation’s public safety manager, reported rumors that some of the surge in the crowd this past weekend came as a result of the closing of Jim’s Car Wash, a South Dallas institution whose saga Jim Schutze has written about for years. Let me briefly translate what that means: there were black people hanging out in Deep Ellum parking lots this past weekend, and it scared people.

Geez. Can we tap the brakes on the fear mongering, take a breath, and try to look at the situation with a little bit of perspective?

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Local News

Is Dallas Really Attracting Tons of Young Professionals?

| 4 weeks ago

We are all familiar with the ubiquitous internet fodder known as the news list. Every week our inboxes and social media accounts are bombarded with business marketing that masquerades as trend reports, and companies are getting better at slipping in promotions under the guise of breaking news. One particularly effective attention grabber is the city ranking. You know the formula: Moneytips’ “Best Cities for Early Retirement,” WalletHub’s “Best Places to Raise a Family,” Magnify Money’s “Best Cities for Working Women.

A new “report” that was released last week announced some watershed news for Dallas. SmartAsset, a personal finance website, crunched Census data and found that Dallas was the city “Where Millennials Are Moving”. Eat your heart out Seattle, Portland, New York, and Denver. When it comes to that oh-so-alluring demographic of upwardly mobile young professionals, Dallas is the place they most want to be.

Wait. It is?

The SmartAsset report sent the Dallas Regional Chamber and the Dallas Morning News into giddy fits of boosterism. Any cub reporter at a daily paper in a major city should have raised a cynical eyebrow as soon as they saw that the rigorous research institute behind the new findings also authored previous reports like  “Best Cities for Living the American Dream,” which proclaimed that Aurora, Illinois is the best American city for “living a full and fulfilling life, surrounded by a community of people doing the same.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, the inertia of optimism took over.

The Dallas Morning News dubbed Dallas a “millennial magnet” and reminded us that “millennials are the largest generation in the country’s workforce, and their preferences are increasingly influencing where companies locate and how workspaces are designed.” The Dallas Regional Chamber issued a press release in which DRC President and CEO Dale Petroskey proclaimed SmartAsset’s findings as “yet another sign that the Dallas Region offers the perfect mix of affordability, job opportunities, and premier quality-of-life amenities. More and more young adults are understanding that Dallas is a place where you can have a great life, and a great future.”

Wow—that’s quite a conclusion to draw from a report that, when you look at the data and methodology, ultimately boils down to a tabulation of year-over-year Census population estimates of the net gain of city residents aged 20-34. It is a clickable marketing meme masquerading as research. In fact, the age range SmartAsset analyzed doesn’t even follow the established definition of the “millennial” generation, which the Pew Research Center pegs as ranging from age 23-39. The flimsiness of the study isn’t a slam on SmartAsset. The company shrewdly found some easy-to-crunch data and paired it with a search engine-optimized term. It worked. Now we’re talking about them.

What I found particularly shameful was the way the DMN, the DRC, and other news outlets ran hard with the findings. Their trumpeting of Dallas’ supposed millennial appeal amplified the blur between real data and opportunistic marketing. It projects a false impression about just how successful Dallas is at attracting the next generation of workers.

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Development

Let’s Check In on That Planned Mixed-Use Development on Henderson Ave.

| 4 weeks ago

In April 2018, the City Council finally approved developer Mark Masinter’s plan for a sprawling mixed-use development on a barren stretch of funky Henderson Avenue from Glencoe Street to McMillan Avenue. It was a long, hard battle—the “New Hampshire primary,” is how he describes it.

The 156,500-square-foot project has about 12,000 square feet earmarked for restaurants. The rest is an even split between office and retail. You’ll likely recognize the location as the empty field that has featured varied small pieces of public art over the years.

Masinter said after the Council’s approval that construction could begin as early as the end of 2018, but making that happen has proved no small task. Masinter says the reason for the delay is the design work, which has taken longer than expected. His firm, Open Realty, now hopes to start construction during the fourth quarter of 2019, about a year after those initial plans. That would set things for completion during the second half of 2021.

“I want to get it right,” he says. “There are certain buildings where we’ve gone, ‘We want it to be like this,’ and all of a sudden we go, ‘No, no, no, no, no, that’s not good enough.’ The problem is, even though it looks like we’re doing simple construction, and we are, once you start you can’t stop.

“If it’s off, it’s not off by much,” he says. “I’d rather get it right.”

It took a few weeks, but after I’d missed him for my recent story about the city’s efforts to boost walkability along Henderson Avenue, Masinter sat down with me inside his Uptown office.

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Urban Design

On Knox, Pedestrians Get a Win Over Drivers

| 4 weeks ago

I’d like to direct you to this story in our sister publication Park Cities People, about a major construction project that abuts busy Knox Street at Travis Street. In 2021, there will be a 12 story mixed use building at what used to be the old Weir’s Furniture. The People story explores what some planning ahead of these projects can look like in the future, after the city passed an ordinance mandating that contractors provide a safe walkway for pedestrians near their projects.

Here’s the writer, Timothy Glaze:

The sidewalks along Knox and Travis will be heavily enforced with scaffolding and other “thru-ways” that pedestrians can walk under. It’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it’s the city’s requirement to protect walkers from objects and other debris that could fall during construction.

An entire traffic lane on Travis and Knox will be off-limits during construction, as the safety zone set up for pedestrians will spill out onto the road.

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Urban Design

Victory Park and the Design District May Soon Have a Trail Connecting Them

| 4 weeks ago

A long-awaited pedestrian and cycling connection from Victory Park to the Design District appears to be moving forward. The plan’s brushstrokes date back at least to 2016, when a nonprofit called the Circuit Trail Conservancy unveiled a 50-mile cycling loop that would extend from just west of White Rock Lake south to the Great Trinity Forest. From there, it would take you to the Design District via the Trinity Strand Trail along the levee and back up through Oak Lawn along the Katy Trail, eventually meeting at the trailhead near White Rock.

We’ve written about many angles of the Loop, from the 17-mile Trinity Forest Spine Trail, the $20 million voters approved during the 2017 bond, and the questions the City Council had about funding for the whole project.

But one of the trickiest connections in the entire system is also one of its smallest. What’s known as the Hi Line Connector is just a one-mile stretch between booming Victory Park and the Design District, which are split apart by Interstate 35E and an elevated rail line.

The Loop of connected trails. The Circuit Trail connection is the bubble on your top left. (Courtesy: Circuit Trail Conservancy)

Despite being a smidgen of the total Loop, it will require more interaction with public right of way than any of the other planned 49 miles, according to Philip Hiatt Haigh, the Conservancy’s executive director. That includes some difficult, major pieces of infrastructure: the roads beneath both Interstate 35E and the elevated DART/TRE rail line as well as the enormous, busy intersection at Oak Lawn and Hi Line in the Design District.

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