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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Transportation

Poll: Would You Hop in a Self-Driving Uber in Downtown Dallas?

| 7 days ago

Uber Advanced Technologies Group chief Eric Meyhofer talks to the Dallas Morning News about the company’s plan to map downtown Dallas and decide whether to bring in self-driving cars. If it decides to go for it, riders here will get their choice between robot drivers and real people.

And if you ask for a ride from one address to another and those two addresses fall within the route set that self-driving cars serve, you’ll get a notice that says, ‘Hey, you’ve been paired with a self-driving car. Would you like to try that or would you like to have a driver partner pick you up?’ So you get to choose. And what happens is when you get a choice, you’re more empowered and you are more curious and you have more of a tendency to lean in and be bold.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Meyhofer classifying hopping in a two-ton vehicle using Uber’s tech as “bold.” But we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that classification speaks more to his gauge for the temperature of consumers right now—that is, his perception of our perception of the risks of autonomous driving—rather than the risks themselves. I hope that’s what he’s saying.

Anyway, it got me curious about feelings toward self-driving right here in Dallas. In March 2018 in Tempe, Arizona, a 49-year-old woman on foot was struck and killed by one of the autonomous Ubers while crossing the street, launching a discussion about the speed at which autonomous cars were hitting the market and causing the company to shut down testing for nine months. But Uber has revamped the Volvo since then and says it has made other serious changes to its safety culture.

Even after testing started back up, the rollout has been slower. In Dallas, starting in November, Uber says it will merely operate its self-driving cars with human drivers to begin to map the city and capture everyday driving scenarios. Only then will it decide whether to operate actual self-driving Ubers here.

All that considered, a poll:

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Development

Richardson Creates a Land for Future Giants

| 2 weeks ago

In June, the city of Richardson joined the Better Block Foundation to throw a party in a burgeoning neighborhood. Inside what’s for now being called the Collins/Arapaho Transit-Oriented Development and Innovation District—a place filled with generally uninviting, aging, one-story manufacturing buildings—workers trotted out food trucks, brought in live music, and invited anyone who works in, lives in, or visits the area.

More than anything, the block party served as a preview of what the city wants this pocket to become. It was held behind the buildings on grass, where a couple of temporary bridges brought together both sides of a stream that has long split the development with the other. Employees have been known to walk around the area’s many parking lots after lunch for exercise, but here, they were made privy to a new trail the city plans to install, weaving back and forth across the stream. Chairs and picnic tables added some needed life to the green space. “I was incredibly impressed with the turnout,” says Krista Nightengale, managing director at the Better Block.

“What we’re all trying to do is just create spaces where people can come together and can soften to one another,” she says.

A couple of decades removed from the ultra-prosperous days that gave Richardson’s Telecom Corridor its name, the giant office buildings vacated by telecom’s decline have been snapped up by Dallas-Fort Worth’s larger corporate growth.  (State Farm, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, and RealPage call Richardson home.) But six years ago, the city put its finger on a problem within this major submarket of the Corridor, encompassing 20 percent of the city’s jobs.

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Urbanism

Dallas: The City That Hates Pedestrians, Pt. 33

| 3 weeks ago

The Cedars has long had a tricky connection to downtown. This is largely because of Interstate 30, which separates the neighborhoods, but it’s also because of a lack of attention to the infrastructure that ferries pedestrians between the two. And no giant umbrella or bowler hat is going to fix that. Eastbound Griffin Street is essentially an on-ramp to three freeways: Interstates 45, 345, and 30. When the light is green, you better be a couple feet back on the sidewalk. It’s still nerve-racking when you hit the portion of Akard Street that takes you over the freeway.

In between the two, just across the street from the neon-covered Lorenzo Hotel and its out-of-place umbrella statue, is this giant mound of dirt. Here is what it looks like along the block:

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Urbanism

A New Study on Car-Free Living Says It’s Hard to Go Carless in Dallas

| 3 weeks ago

Over at CityLab today, Richard Florida has a data-fueled gaze into the best and worst cities in America to live carless. Dallas doesn’t do so hot.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington slides in as the seventh-worst place to walk among large metros, and the largest one in the bottom 10. Others making that list are places like Birmingham, Nashville, Raleigh, and Sherman, our neighbor to the (far) north. “With the exception of Dallas, these are not-so-large metros with less traffic congestion, where it is relatively easy to get around by car,” writes Florida.

The urbanism-focused site formed its metric with four factors: “the share of households that don’t have access to their own vehicle, the share of commuters who take transit to work, the share of commuters who bike to work, and the share of commuters who walk to work.”

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Business

Bunch Bikes Are a Ride That Really Hauls

| 4 weeks ago

Aaron Powell was a band teacher when he started cycling to work as a matter of practicality. Then, about three years ago, while on an extended vacation in Copenhagen with his wife and young daughter, he saw his first cargo bike. Happy peddlers filled the holds with their kids, their groceries, their pets, pretty much anything. How genius! 

When he returned to Denton, he looked for someone who sold them stateside. Aside from one guy in Oregon, there wasn’t much out there. And importing one from the Netherlands was too expensive. 

Bunch Bikes was born. The company, now with five full-time employees, started selling its bikes about two years ago. They’ve shipped to 45 states and three countries.

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Urbanism

New Study Shows DFW Region Still Offers Relatively Competitive Salaries

| 4 weeks ago

What makes a competitive city in the 21st century? There is increasing evidence that some of the assumptions that surfaced in the last decade about the rise of the “creative class” and the golden age of cities might not have told the whole story when it comes to what kinds of urban environments will thrive in the emerging economy. For one thing, the largest urban metro areas are decreasing in population, a side-effect of rising housing prices. As the success of the United States’ largest cities drives up prices, smaller cities are emerging with a competitive advantage.

That analysis appears to be supported by a new study by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. Kolko wanted to know where salaries are the highest for American workers. The obvious answer would be places like New York and San Francisco. But those cities are also mighty expensive. So, what happens when you adjust those salaries based on cost of living? Kolko calculates adjusted salaries for U.S. metros by comparing Indeed’s job listing database of salaries with cost-of-living data from the U.S. Bureau of Economics, a metric that includes housing costs as well as costs of goods and services, including transportation. A new picture of urban success emerges.

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Urbanism

Michael Morris: Soccer Fields Under I-345 Will Help Bring the World Cup to Dallas

| 1 month ago

Yesterday at a meeting of the Regional Transportation Council, something quite spectacular came out of director Michael Morris’ mouth. You can watch it for yourself. Fast forward to the 4:00 mark of the video for item No. 5. But first let me set this up for you.

Earlier this year, news broke that Roddrick West, son of State Sen. Royce West, was close to signing a deal that would allow him to build soccer fields under I-345. Royce, it should be noted, is very much opposed to tearing down I-345. This soccer field deal would seem to make it much harder to tear down the highway, and all this had been going on without any public debate about it. No matter. Robert Wilonsky at the Morning News said there was nothing to worry about. Everything was on the up and up.

The Texas Scorecard disagrees. That’s the Michael Quinn Sullivan joint, so read this knowing their agenda, but today they posted, for the first time that I’ve seen, Roddrick’s schematic of where he wants to put the fields. Oh, also, as a result of Royce’s run for the U.S. Senate, new information has come to light showing his appetite for conflict of interest (short version: if it makes him richer, he’s hungry for it).

OK. That brings me back to yesterday’s meeting of the Regional Transportation Council. Now you’re ready to appreciate what Morris said. He was asking for (and got) $10 million to $15 million to help spruce up the neighborhood around Uber’s new Deep Ellum headquarters. (And, please, don’t get distracted by news of yet another round of layoffs at Uber.) Morris wants to use the RTC money to do the following: give the first wave of Uber employees transit passes; improve the sidewalks and make bicycle connections; work on the traffic signals; fire up an electric shuttle that will take Uber employees from Deep Ellum to someplace, maybe the Farmers Market; and, finally, to help Roddrick build soccer fields under I-345. Morris’ exact words:

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Urbanism

YMCA to Sell Its Downtown Building

| 1 month ago

This ain’t good. Not for folks who live and work downtown. The YMCA just sent a note to its members announcing that it is putting up its building for sale. Apparently it is too expensive to maintain. And more and more offices downtown offer their employees on-site exercise options. As a member of the downtown Y for more than a decade, I have this to say:

Booooooooooooooooo! Hisssssssssss!

Man, we’re talking about shutting down a historic gym. That’s where the Kelly Oubre Jr. incident took place, for goodness’ sake. There’s not another gym downtown with basketball courts like the Y’s. Not to mention the pool. In fact, with 24 Hour Fitness gone, I can’t think of another proper gym downtown besides the Y. This is really, really, really bad news for Dallas. How can you be a world-class city without a single swimming pool and basketball court in your downtown?! They say they are going to look for another location downtown, but I find it hard to imagine how a new location could accommodate a swimming pool and multiple basketball courts.

Zac is also a member. We’ve just had a meeting to discuss the matter. We have a plan. No one is going to buy that building if the place is haunted. Time to Scooby-Doo the joint.

Here’s the letter from Giselle Patterson, executive director, and Curt Hazelbaker, president and CEO:

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Urbanism

As Dallas Preps Mobility Plan, the Texas Observer Chronicles the Detriments of Expanding Highways

| 2 months ago

Displacement, pollution, and increased congestion are all part and parcel to highway expansions. It’s a drum we’ve been beating in this space for years, and now I’d like to direct you to this Texas Observer feature, because they get it. In studying highway projects in Houston (the expansion of Interstate 45), Dallas (the existential question posed to officials as to whether we should rehab it or remove 345), and Austin (bringing down Interstate 35 between downtown and the east side), writer Amal Ahmed shows that elevated freeways are flirting with schools and swallowing homes in Houston.

In Dallas, she uses Deep Ellum as the example. Once 345 went in where the Central Track Railroad line was, the community was broken and physically separated from downtown. There are other examples, too, like Interstate 35 and the 10th Street Historic District, and Interstate 30 that cut South Dallas off from Old East Dallas. As you know, there’s a movement to tear out 345, and TxDOT and the city of Dallas are working together to improve safety and connectivity by possibly burying and adding pedestrian crossings to Interstate 30. There’s also the environmental aspects: a big study came out last week finding that all the pollution from vehicles causes damage that is similar to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

One of the more interesting tidbits from the Observer piece is a quote from a director at Rice University who wrote the book on Houston’s freeway building:

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Business

Uber Likes Us! They Really Like Us! But Hang On …

| 2 months ago

It’s official. Uber is opening an office in Deep Ellum that will eventually employ 3,000 people. The company will have 400 people in place by year’s end. The mayor, the county judge, the governor, the Dallas Regional Chamber — everyone is super pumped about the decision to give Uber $36 million in incentives to set up shop. So good on us. I hope this works out. I’ll put aside for now my concerns about whether the company will ever turn a profit. Never mind the 400 employees who were laid off in July. Course correction. It’s all good.

Except wait a second here. One passage in the DMN story about the news caught my attention. It’s this:

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Transportation

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

| 2 months 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

| 2 months 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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