A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Urban Design

You Can Now Ask the City To Shut Down Your Street

| 2 months ago

Remember when someone suggested fairly early on during the COVID-19 lockdown that the city shut down Seventh St. in Oak Cliff to allow residents more space to run and stroll outside, since the Katy Trail and parks were clogged? That didn’t work out too well. Some residents resented the idea that someone decided to turn their block into a COVID recreation destination. Facebook erupted into a neighborhood dog fight, and the deal died in a single weekend.

Now, the city of Dallas and a few urbanism-minded partners are back at it again with a similar, though much improved, idea. If you would like to shut down your street to make it safer and to give you and your neighbors a some  additional public recreation space, all you have to do is ask. The city of Dallas has partnered with Better Block, Bike DFW, Amanda Popken Development, and a Coalition for a New Dallas (yes, that coalition) to launch the Dallas Slow Streets pilot program. Modeled after similar programs in Austin and Kansas City, Slow Streets invites neighbors to apply for a 30-day permit that will allow your street to be closed to all but emergency and local traffic. Think of it as a month-long block party.

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Dallas Slips in Annual Park Rankings, But More Dire Challenges Loom

| 2 months ago

There’s good news and bad news in the Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore rankings. First the bad: Dallas slipped two spots in its national ranking among city park systems (from 52 to 54), mostly due to its comparatively weak park amenities and limited dog parks and restrooms. But Dallas’ park access score has “improved dramatically,” according to the report, thanks to new trails and agreements with schools to open grounds for public use. The city’s median park size of 7.7 acres also exceeds the national median of 5.2 acres. These gains can be attributed to the city’s embrace of the Trust for Public Land’s “10-minute Walk to a Park” campaign.

But the real story in this year’s report is—you guessed it—the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysts with The Trust for Public Land are concerned that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic will strip municipal budgets and hamper progress to increase park access. The report points out that the city of Dallas furloughed 235 Parks and Rec employees last week.

“While few cities have announced budget plans for 2021 and beyond, park advocates are gearing up for a fight,” said Bill Lee, senior vice president for policy, advocacy and government relations at The Trust for Public Land. “We encourage the federal government to provide relief to struggling park systems in the next recovery bill. We need our parks, and we will not allow park systems to be collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Local News

Will Royce West’s Son Get to Build Soccer Fields Under a Highway?

| 3 months ago

The proposal to install a private development of soccer fields under Interstate 345 is scheduled to return to City Hall on Monday. We haven’t heard anything about this project for more than a year, after a council committee sent it back to the drawing board following concerns that it was unsafe to exercise under a highway. Some members also wondered whether the plan was the best use for the land, as the Deep Ellum Foundation had been trying for nearly a decade to turn it into special event and staff parking.

Those in opposition also note the optics of the deal. The Texas Department of Transportation is currently researching the potential for removing or burying the elevated, 1.3-mile I-345, which connects Interstate 45 to Central Expressway and occupies a whole lot of land between downtown and Deep Ellum. Tearing it out and replacing with a boulevard would free up hundreds of acres that could be used to build much-needed affordable housing, create physical spaces for jobs near the city’s core, and improve the pedestrian connectivity between two of Dallas’ most important neighborhoods. All of this development would generate millions in tax revenue for the city.

The man driving the deal to build the soccer fields is Roddrick West, son of U.S. Senate hopeful and longtime state Sen. Royce West. Royce has been perhaps the loudest and most powerful voice against removing I-345, causing political groups to question his son’s intent and confront his father at public hearings. (Disclosure: one of those groups is the Coalition for a New Dallas, the Super PAC co-founded by D Magazine founder Wick Allison that operates independently of D Magazine.)

Roddrick maintains that his dad has nothing to do with this project and that the lease agreement would include a clause that requires a two-year exit should the city and the state decide to do anything to the freeway. TxDOT confirms that fact, adding that the termination clause “can be exercised at TxDOT’s sole discretion.” The agency will not detail the lease’s financial information until the deal is final.

“Sometimes development hits a highway and doesn’t want to jump over because of the psychological effects on pedestrians,” Roddrick said. “With programming this site in particular, bringing life and activity to this site, it will drastically improve the pedestrian experience for folks crossing under 345 to go between Deep Ellum and the Farmers Market.”

For the project’s critics, the math doesn’t add up. While TxDOT owns the land under the freeway, the city controls it. Council will have to agree to cede control of the land for the soccer balls to roll.

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This Monday: Stream a Symposium on Dallas’ Parking Requirements

| 3 months ago

Parking requirements dictate much of what gets built and what doesn’t in this city. Residential, commercial, it doesn’t matter. City code dictates the amount of parking you need or don’t need in order for you to put up that fourplex or open that restaurant. City code hasn’t exactly warmed to the idea of urban neighborhoods as well as it should have: every 100 square feet of a restaurant requires a parking space, just as every single hotel room does.

Going back to his days on Dallas City Plan Commission, North Oak Cliff Councilman Chad West has been a proponent to rethinking the code to better reflect the conditions in the neighborhoods that make Dallas the city that it is.

And because you have absolutely nowhere to go other than your allotted walks, you’ll be able to tune into this stream with West and a few others that talk about this very topic. The Coalition for a New Dallas, the super PAC that D founder Wick Allison started (and is independent of operations at D, mind you), is sponsoring a Zoom stream with West, Travis Liska of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and Mintwood Real Estate’s Katy Slade. It happens Monday, April 27, at 5:30 p.m. It’s not like you have anything else to do.

When we come out of this pandemic, we’ll be coming to a city that will be greatly changed. Before the pandemic, the requirements were already making some projects pencil out and others not. The digital symposium promises to discuss “innovative parking proposals” that could change how our city does business.

When we can all return to our lives, it’ll be particularly important for the city to establish smart policies that encourage sustainable growth. And that, in many ways, starts with parking.

“Many cities in DFW, including Dallas, have antiquated parking codes that have not been updated in decades to reflect changes in how people move around,” West said. “The codes often stand in the way of thoughtful, neighborhood-centric growth. It’s time for us to change that.”

Head here to RSVP.

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Neighborhood Cannibalism: A Simple Street Closure Turned Oak Cliff Against Itself

| 4 months ago

One of the most encouraging subplots of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been a story of adaptation.

Groups, organizations, and neighbors have pooled resources, schemed plans, and unrolled do-it-yourself solutions to meet some of the most pressing needs of the medical crisis. These include alcohol distillers who are producing hand sanitizers, jeans manufacturers who are producing protective gear, and restaurants who are reinventing their business models to stay open and keep their workers employed.

Better Block, the urbanist activist/design consulting organization founded by Jason Roberts, responded quickly. First, they repurposed some makeshift market stalls to transform Oddfellows in Oak Cliff into a pop-up outdoor marketplace, selling the restaurant’s freezer and pantry stock to neighbors in need of kitchen staples. Then Better Block turned their production facility into an open-source protective mask factory, and they have been shipping the face shields to medical providers around the country.

A couple of weeks ago another idea emerged from the Better Block brain trust: shutting down city streets to create new pedestrian plazas to help relieve congested parks and allow for more social distancing-compliant outdoor fun.

It sounded like a good idea before it all fell apart amid a bitter neighborhood squabble online.

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Transit Oriented Development

Dallas Finally Seeks to Take Active Role In Transit-Oriented Development

| 4 months ago

Shelter-in-place orders be damned, the Dallas City Council did hold its regularly scheduled briefing yesterday via teleconferencing and with relatively few technological hiccups. And while the end of the meeting brought some COVID-related debate around a proposed eviction ordinance (more on that soon), it was comforting to settle into a few presentations revolving around the usual, drab city business. The most interesting briefing addressed the city’s revived effort to steer development around so-called Transit-Oriented Developments.

Transit-Oriented Developments, or TODs, are central to the long-promised benefits of Dallas’ light rail network. When DART originally proposed the system back in the 1980s, the hope was that new rail stations would spur on new developments of dense housing and commercial real estate. Despite the agency’s continued touting of its TODS, redevelopment around DART stations has only happened sporadically, perhaps most visibly at the Mockingbird Station. Yesterday’s presentation drove home how little development has actually been directly generated by the region’s light rail system.

Here are some of the most interesting numbers:

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20-Minute Neighborhoods Could Solve Many of Dallas’ Urban Problems

| 5 months ago

Many of Dallas’s urban challenges can be summed up in a single term: land use. Whether we are talking about affordable housing or public transportation, income inequality or fixing streets, quality public schools or walkability, at its core, we are really always talking about land use.

Our massive investment in light rail doesn’t work? That’s because the city has developed with insufficient density around stations to make them useful. We can’t afford to fix the streets? That’s because our low-density development model means we have more street surface area than tax base to pay for it, and our highway system has made it easy for new investment to continually seek-out cheaper, under-developed locations outside the city. Our schools are underfunded? That’s because for 70 years land use decisions have allowed urban neighborhood to erode and an endless succession of competing suburbs to spring up to siphon off students, teachers, and taxes from the inner city. At the end of the day, all of Dallas’ urban problems are land use problems.

Which is why a new trend that is being adopted by a number of cities around the world caught my eye.

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Dallas Doesn’t Think It’s Charging Contractors Enough to Occupy Public Sidewalks and Streets

| 6 months ago

More than a year after the city started fining contractors for illegally occupying streets and sidewalks, staff believes they aren’t going far enough. As such, they’re asking for Council approval to charge contractors higher fees to work in the public right-of-way, both as a way to generate revenue and to get them to finish their jobs quicker. They also want to increase daily fines.

The City Council’s transportation committee was briefed on the plan on Tuesday, learning that Dallas has the lowest lane and sidewalk closure fees of all the major cities in Texas. That causes streets and sidewalks to remain closed longer than needed and sometimes to even be used for storage of equipment.

Under the new fees, a 61-day closure of a 100-foot lane would jump from $366 to $1,514. The fee per square foot doubles after 121 days and triples after 180, hopefully incentivizing contractors to hurry up. (If you’re in and out within 60 days, you’ll pay just $.012 per square foot a day. If your work takes up the right of way for 180 or more, you’re looking at $.096. It hikes to $0.288 a day if your job occupies a second lane or sidewalk.) The city estimates it will increase revenue from fees from $1 million to $3 million in 2021 and, as a byproduct, “incentivize contractors to remove their barricades as early as possible.”

If you’ve been following this website for any amount of time, you’ll recognize our Dallas Hates Pedestrians series. North Oak Cliff Council member Chad West even brought it up during the meeting. The very first of those, published a whole two years ago, expressed pent-up frustration over this very issue: a mess of equipment near a downtown parking garage that swallowed up a full lane of traffic as well as a sidewalk.

“I am so happy this topic has been brought up,” West said. “If you go to a walkable city like New York, you’re never gonna have a sidewalk that’s closed off for weeks at a time without scaffolding to walk under.”

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Hey, You, Dallasite: Take the City’s New Transit Survey and Tell Them Your Priorities

| 6 months ago

The city has begun the second phase of its long-percolating mobility plan, asking residents to (broadly) select their priorities for how Dallas invests in its transportation system. Some of the survey’s questions are a little vague—for instance, do you prefer sinking money into “big projects” or spreading it out across “smaller projects.” But the thrust of it is clear: do you prefer your tax dollars to go toward adding infrastructure for bikes, pedestrians, and public transit, or do you prefer to continue to focus on the vehicle?

The survey kicks off by asking you to select your priorities: equity, housing, safety, environmental sustainability, economic vitality, and innovation. Then it asks you to pick your tradeoffs: you have finite money, so do you prefer spreading out transit dollars evenly across Dallas or focus on neighborhoods where “the economic need is greatest?” From there, you get to apply one-to-five stars to your preferred scenario: invest locally, adding hundreds of new miles of bike lanes and transit space; invest regionally, adding more ways to get out of Dallas; or keep things basically as they are.

The results currently are a rather small sample size; about 75 people have taken it so far, according to the log. But the majority are siding with improving Dallas’ transit system to accommodate safe, alternative ways for people to get around without a car. And most respondents want the money prioritized in neighborhoods that haven’t received the same amount of love and attention from City Hall. That could obviously change once a few hundred more people take the survey.

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Urban Design

January Was Not the Best Month for Disabled Residents to Visit Bishop Arts

| 6 months ago

Last week, I received a couple of photos from a FrontBurnervian who was concerned about folks who are disabled visiting Bishop Arts. There were two photos of torn-up sidewalks at either end of Bishop Avenue, a stretch sandwiched between Eight Street on one side and an alley on the other.


A block east, our correspondent found the handicapped parking behind Paradiso occupied by a pair of dumpsters and a storage container, which you see atop this post. Krystal Sarna, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, said this: “They were put there temporarily as we work with the city to pave part of the alley behind the building to accommodate the trash trucks. ADA inspectors were aware before they were placed there.”

After being sent the photo, the city said Code Compliance determined that the location of the dumpsters was indeed a violation and “are working to get them into compliance.” The sidewalks were torn up due to telecommunication utility work, and its completion was delayed by rainfall.

“A City inspector from Public Works visited the locations on Jan. 28 and found that the access ramps around the construction areas were not blocked off and are still accessible, along with other access ramps in the surrounding area. It was determined the sidewalk sections under construction are compliant with ADA regulations because the area can be accessed using the other available open walking paths.”

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Good Public Transit

In Overhauling Its Bus System, Dallas Faces a Much Different Challenge Than Houston

| 6 months ago

The most illuminating moment of last Friday’s Death and Life of Dallas Transit symposium, which was put on by the Coalition for a New Dallas, was a simple pie chart projected on a screen by public transit consultant Jarrett Walker. Walker is the nation’s leading bus guru. He has led the network design processes for many of the most successful bus network revamps in recent years, including in Houston, Columbus, Richmond, and Auckland, New Zealand, and he’s also worked on transit with city governments in Seattle and Minneapolis. Last year, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board hired Walker to look at its own system. On Friday, the pie chart offered our first glimpse of what that might entail.

The chart depicted the share of bus routes in DART’s current system that are designed around providing either coverage or ridership. Today, according to Walker’s analysis, DART’s bus system devotes around 43 percent of its routes toward maximizing the system’s overall coverage, and it dedicates around 56 percent toward enhancing ridership. There is also around 1 percent of routes that are duplicates—redundancies in the system.

At a glance, the chart reinforces common knowledge about DART’s system. The bus network neither excels at offering a reliable transit option nor connecting people to the places where they would like to go. But the breakdown reveals something more.

As Walker explained to the 200 or so people who had gathered in the debate hall in the Old Parkland campus, bus networks can only do one of two things. They can focus on maximizing the amount of space they cover or they can focus on providing the most reliable service. By prioritizing neither and splitting the number of routes dedicated to those two functions down the middle, DART’s current bus system reflects an inability on the part of DART’s board to decide what kind of bus system it wants.

In other words, the problem with DART is DART’s leadership, which has not decided what DART wants to be. The result is a system that tries to do a little bit of everything—to have it both ways with regard to ridership and coverage, and, therefore, it is a system that doesn’t do a good job of anything.

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Tiny Fate, Texas, Wants to Solve All Our Infrastructure Woes

| 6 months ago

Suburban growth in the United States is a devil’s bargain. The prevailing post-World War II development approach is based on the rapid outward expansion of automobile-oriented suburbia. Such development, enabled by costly new roads and utilities, produces short-term growth and an infusion of cash for local governments. But it does so at the expense of unpayable long-term liabilities once that infrastructure requires maintenance.

This dynamic—call it the Growth Ponzi Scheme—has been fueling the breathtaking expansion of North Texas for decades now. The superlatives write themselves. While Dallas defers road maintenance and has a $1.5 billion backlog in flood mitigation projects, the region’s suburbs spend eye-popping amounts to facilitate outward expansion. This expansion, in turn, spreads North Texas’ wealth ever outward, hastening the decline of poorer parts of the region. In 2018, voters in Collin County (whose population has tripled since 1990) approved a $750 million bond issue for new roads, described by backers as “a start” toward raising the $12.6 billion officials say they will need over the next few decades. That is only for projected new roads, not maintenance of existing ones.

At some point, the forces that have buoyed the region’s expansion will slow or reverse, and residents will be left with a bloated infrastructure and a tax base spread too thinly across the landscape to support it. Then come the difficult choices.

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