A Daily Conversation About Dallas


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

| 3 days 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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YMCA to Sell Its Downtown Building

| 5 days 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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As Dallas Preps Mobility Plan, the Texas Observer Chronicles the Detriments of Expanding Highways

| 4 weeks 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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Uber Likes Us! They Really Like Us! But Hang On …

| 4 weeks 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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DART’s Cotton Belt Line Comes Into View, to the Chagrin of North Dallas Residents

| 4 weeks 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 month 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

| 1 month 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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The Federal Government May Soon Help Pay to Remove Freeways

| 2 months 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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An Unearthed Traffic Film Documents Mentality That Drove Car-Centric Dallas

| 2 months 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.”


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Maybe Millennials Sort of Like Dallas After All

| 2 months 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

| 2 months 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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An Easy Fix For Deep Ellum’s Public Safety Fears

| 2 months 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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