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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Transit Oriented Development

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

| 1 day 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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Urbanism

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

| 1 month 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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Urbanism

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

| 1 month 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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Transportation

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

| 2 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

| 2 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.

Here:

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

| 2 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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Urbanism

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

| 2 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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Urbanism

Stream the Coalition’s ‘Death and Life of Dallas Transit’ Symposium Right Now

| 2 months ago

Right now in the ornate debate chamber below Old Parkland, about 200 people are listening to a bunch of very smart people discuss everything that makes changing our transportation system difficult. There are discussions with city and Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials about funding. Another panel includes a frequent DART rider chatting with a couple board members. As I type this, data wizard Robert Mundinger is explaining how DART is the longest light rail system in the nation, “which is like saying you’re the best football team because you have the most players.” That’s a good quip for 8:30 a.m.

The day’s highlight will likely be Jarrett Walker, who’s making some of his first public comments after being hired to overhaul DART’s bus route system. Here’s the full lineup. Stream it below.

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Urbanism

You Will Never Believe How Large the United States’ Free Parking Subsidy Is

| 2 months ago

This article on Vice covers some familiar ground. Cars are an expensive way to get around cities. Not only do they make transportation costs higher for residents, they also warp the price of land. It begins with an anecdote about affordable housing in Vancouver and how the market still prioritizes space for cars over space for humans, and then discusses how free parking in American cities constitute an implicit subsidy. These are all topics we’ve covered in some form or fashion in this space before. But then, it drops a whooper:

Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at UCLA, has crunched some numbers around zoning and parking, and he has come up with a way to quantify how much the U.S. effectively spends on free parking:

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Urban Design

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 39

| 2 months ago

The Strip on Cedar Springs is probably one of the city’s easiest urbanism wins. The sidewalks are wide. Pedestrians can use blinking yellow lights as they cross the street, and the cars mostly follow it. It’s packed on either side with bars and restaurants and various retail. And, sure, it could always be better. The crosswalks need new paint—and it’s coming—and we should at least have a conversation about weekend vehicular traffic along that section. And some of the sidewalks need an upgrade.

The city’s at least trying to do something about that, but, as you can see from the above, they’re going about it all wrong. A pedestrian-minded FrontBurnervian sent the following photo, showing what a pain it is to navigate this construction:

Ugh.

This is at Cedar Springs and Throckmorton. A dispatch from our correspondent:

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Urbanism

Announcing a Transit Symposium Charting the Future of Dallas Mobility

| 2 months ago

On January 31, a quite interesting discussion around transit will take over the debate chambers at Old Parkland. It’s headlined by Jarrett Walker, the man charged with overhauling the currently inefficient DART bus system. But there are other heavy hitters here: Michael Rogers, the city’s transportation director, joins West Dallas Councilman Omar Narvaez and the city’s deputy resilience officer, Genesis Gavino, to discuss the forthcoming mobility and climate action plans.

DART Board Member Patrick Kennedy will moderate a panel on how to fund transit projects, which includes assistant city manager Majed Al Ghafry, former TxDOT Commissioner Victor Vandergriff, and McKinsey senior partner Steffen Fuchs. Finally, you’ll hear from folks who actually ride DART, like D contributor Doyle Rader; other DART board members, like Dominique Torres and Jon-Betrell Killen; and another expert who helps visualize data, friend-of-the-magazine Robert Mundinger.

The event, the Death and Life of Dallas Transit, is organized by the Coalition for a New Dallas. That’s the super PAC co-founded by D founder Wick Allison. (D and the Coalition are separate entities.) Learn more about the panels below, and register here. The symposium begins at 8 a.m. on the 31st and runs past lunch.

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Urbanism

Texas Trees Foundation Nabs $2.5 Million Grant for Medical District Redo

| 3 months ago

Last January, Matt wrote a story for the magazine titled “The Woman Who Fought the Sun.” It was about Janette Monear, the president and CEO of the Texas Trees Foundation, and her organization’s effort to bring some sanity to the Southwestern Medical District. The Medical District is a mess. It’s hostile to pedestrians, and, thanks to acres of concrete, it’s also the hottest part of the city. Texas Trees came up with a streetscape plan to remedy some of the problems in the district and make it a place where, you know, people might actually like to walk.

This work isn’t cheap. Through her philanthropic foundation, Lyda Hill in 2018 promised to donate $2.5 million to the project — but the money came with a big contingency. Texas Trees itself had to raise $2.5 million by December 31, 2019. You know how this story ends. Texas Trees upheld its end of the deal, and Lyda Hill’s organization last month confirmed that the matching grant is on its way.

In a letter to D Magazine written shortly before the Christmas break, Monear said: “The great ‘stars’ aligned and together we will redesign the public rights-of-way and transform the Southwestern Medical District into a campus that will have a profound impact on our city, the medical institutions, and all of the individuals, organizations, and businesses within and beyond the boundaries of the district. … During a season of hope and goodwill, we would like to express our gratitude to you for your support. Yes, this support is about a redesign, but truly it is about the gift of giving to create a space where all can enjoy and thrive. It is about enhancing three major institutions beyond the footprint of their buildings. And it is about investing in an area of healing.”

Monear says the design process for Harry Hines Boulevard will begin this month.

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