In case you didn’t know, TxDOT is undergoing a study of all of the highways in and around downtown Dallas called CityMAP. The last public input meeting is tonight from 5 to 8 pm at the African American Museum in Fair Park. I assume parking will be free, but if not you can always pay $15 to park and then ride a bike share bike around in circles for another $10 bucks. Or arrive by DART.
CityMAP is the most important thing going on in the city right now. In fact, it’s the most important thing since the creation of DART and before that the Kessler Plan. It’s potentially transformative for not just Dallas but also TxDOT in terms of how public infrastructure projects are inclusive of public input and holistic in how it is geared not just transportation for transportation’s sake (which makes transportation more difficult and expensive, oh the irony), but also economic development and quality of life. These sometimes competing and sometimes congruent priorities are exactly the issues and inadequacies of the existing process that we intended to raise with ANewDallas.com.
The title quote of this post is from friends of mine that live in uptown. They’ve lived there for about 20 years, almost as long as people have been working to urbanize the area we now know as uptown from the swaths of suburbanized roads intended to move cars through it as quickly as possible, limiting its functionality as a neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, the infrastructure of the 60s and 70s destabilized the historic working class minority neighborhoods once comprising the area. Eventually, this led to collapse of the neighborhood ecosystem, accelerated by S&L banks buying up large chunks of property assuming the area would become bank towers.
What is there today is the result of 25 years of investment towards a vision different and diametrically opposed to the ‘move cars fast’ ethos that favors the long trip rather than the short trip. By favoring the long trip, the infrastructural investment and design undermines the short trip that advantages a real estate market that favors proximity, ie urbanism. Instead of gaining efficiency by moving cars fast, the efficiency gained is through distance. Everything is closer together, more convenient, and more adaptable because of the various route and mode choices urbanism allows.
The quote above was then followed with the clarifying phrase, “we rarely have to leave our neighborhood.” And that’s really the intent. You can freely leave if you want, but if everything is within a short walk, you don’t have to. We wrongly think of the car as freedom, but if we must use it and must drive all over creation in order to meet our needs, it is the opposite of freedom. Real freedom is the option to take your car if you so want.
This is how thoughtful people approach the issue of congestion, working the levers to nudge the real estate market to favor proximity and thus get more cars off the road, but also strengthening grids to spread what cars are being used are not concentrated into singular arterials or highway corridors. Congestion is a man-made phenomenon created by those trying to combat congestion.
This is the logic that should permeate all neighborhoods and planning processes, bringing greater access and amenity to neighborhoods in order to make them more ‘complete’ neighborhoods where everything you need in your daily life is within a short distance. Public infrastructural investments are 1) scaled commensurate to context – ie at the neighborhood scale or the citywide scale like CityMAP and 2) are targeted in order to nudge advantage proximity in the real estate market. The result is private investment that 1) solves congestion and 2) brings more tax base, which then brings improved services.
So kudos to TxDOT for approaching this study that way. You should thank them by attending and having your voice heard.
Provided nothing unforeseen happens today I plan to attend. Below is conceptually what I will be advocating for in a phased approach.
The above image is an aerial showing 345 as it exists between Deep Ellum and downtown Dallas. You don’t have to look terribly closely to see the corrosive effect that long trip infrastructure has had on sites that require short trip infrastructure to give them value enough to invest in and populate. Any property is an invisible vessel that is filled with the ‘liquid’ of demand (or emptied). When it’s full it fills with buildings. When that demand is sapped, it is displaced, in this case to the exceedingly northward ‘burbs, ie Oklahoma.
Phase 1 should be a no-brainer. 345 severely disrupts the grid and we should look to forge connections wherever possible in order to maximize connectivity and route choice. The better and more interconnected the grid is, the more we’re able to spread around traffic while getting people to where they need to go.
What happens to the grid at present is that Pearl Street dead ends and Cesar Chavez gets off the highway only to get right back on. Since it is effectively a useless street, it’s traffic counts are very low in proportion to its size.
Since the majority of desire lines (crow flight between origin and destination) is southeast to northwest, the majority of traffic is passing through downtown, but not to go up 75 as much as to get over to Stemmons (35E) so it goes up 345 and then doubles back on Woodall Rodgers. Because 75 southbound traffic is doing something similar, this invariably creates congestion on the parking lot we know as Woodall Rodgers on a daily basis.
By connecting Cesar Chavez to Pearl, (both of which should be far more ceremonious than they are currently) we make a more direct connection from Southeast to Northwest. This road should also be designed to be a more ceremonial promenade and a grand entrance into the city. The exits into downtown off 345 should all be shut down to improve the pedestrian connections between downtown and Deep Ellum while slowing the cars flying off or onto the highway in downtown which ought to be more pedestrian friendly (that is if we want a healthy downtown – or we could just slowly exsanguinate it like we’ve been for 50 years). If you are coming to downtown, your exit is Pearl/Cesar Chavez.
The second half of this effort should convert McKinnon and Harry Hanes, two 5-lane one-way drag races err roads, into two two-way boulevards. If Harry Hines is two-way north of Harwood as is the Tollroad, why are they one-way through the area (oh that’s right, accelerate through the formerly minority areas)? These should be converted to two-way and complete the boulevarding link from southeast to northwest and we should be systematically undoing all of these twisty ties that were invariably designed and built in the 60’s and 70’s because all things had to be directly connected to all things by roads even though the grid does perfectly well at that.
McKinnon should be shifted over slightly and the link from Harry Hines to the Tollroad should be severed in order to create development sites between Harry Hines and McKinnon, which would then frame and activate Reverchon Park. Because Harry Hines and McKinnon would both be tamed, two-wayed, and boulevarded, crossing them from the Design District or Victory to Reverchon Park would be much safer. And possible. That’s important too.
Moody is the name of the short stretch of road that links Pearl to McKinnon and Harry Hines. It is bizarrely one-way and the desire line from Harry Hines to Pearl and Field to McKinnon creates an X-shape of traffic movement where every vehicle must merge and then cross four lanes of traffic in a span of about 200 feet. It might be the worst designed road in history. No wonder people don’t feel safe walking from uptown to Victory.
Moody should also become two-way in conjunction with creating roundabouts at these junctions to facilitate traffic flow and get people moving in the direction they need to go while reducing conflict points. New roundabouts would provide a platform for sculpture or some other public art gateway into uptown and downtown.
We’re not done with big fast dangerous roads through minority neighborhoods narrative yet. While some highway revolts around the country were successful in the 1960s and 70s, I-45 was built despite protests and predictably fragmented historic African American communities in South Dallas.
After the Cesar Chavez – Pearl link is created, we should begin moving 45 to run between the rail lines and the levees and make a direct link to Stemmons. This would restitch South Dallas and the Cedars.
This can be built while 45/345 is still operational therefore reducing delay due to years of construction. Once it is near operational, the corridor can be abandoned and reconnected.
As for 45, it should be sunken and stitched across similar to what Munich is proposing with the Autobahn.
The next phase looks at I-30, which is what has divided East Dallas from South Dallas.
We should first finish the CBD/Fair Park link, but a little different than as currently planned. This creates a new front door for Baylor Hospital and direct access from 30 east.
Once it is complete, 30 can be abandoned between the CBD/Baylor Link through downtown. Then 30 can be re-routed around South Dallas and the Cedars and connected to 45. Doing so would pick up all of the Southeastern to Stemmons traffic that the Trinity Toll Road is trying to accommodate and thus make the Trinity Toll Road obsolete and unnecessary, preserving the space between the levees for open space and recreation.
The re-routed I-30 can also be built while maintaining the function of existing 30 and again, not causing undo delay for 5 years. After it is built, we can then convert the remainder of 30 to a ceremonial boulevard.
All of the red areas above are repositioned public right-of-ways that can be converted to plazas, parks, and development. Every mile or so existing dilapidated corridors through South Dallas become repositioned mixed-use and commercial opportunities, which would then help to revitalize the neighborhood fabric they nestle within. Traffic is spread out over a much larger area and Fair Park is repositioned as a central feature of the city rather than on the periphery of physical consciousness.
I estimate this plan is worth more than $30 Billion in economic development, real economic development as in private investment and new tax base, not the mumbo jumbo economic development justification for most highway projects which is based on theoretical time savings which never actually occur. That starts to look like a real city to me, where regional infrastructure is appropriately tangential rather than deleteriously central.