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Dallas Plans to Deck Over a Highway — With a Parking Garage

Dallas' vision for highway lid topped with a parking garage. Image: Woodall Rodgers Deck Park Foundation

Dallas’ vision for highway lid topped with a parking garage. Image: Woodall Rodgers Deck Park Foundation

“The most Dallas thing ever.” That’s how Robert Wilonsky at The Dallas Morning News described a new plan to build a parking garage over a highway in the Big D.

The project adds an ironic twist to what has been, until now, a civic success story. Klyde Warren Park is a beloved five-acre space that sits on a lid on top of the Woodall Rogers Freeway. The new project, proposed by the Woodall Rogers Deck Park Foundation, would extend the deck with new public spaces and, on the northeast side, a bar and restaurant, offices for the park, and a parking garage with 70 to 90 spaces.

As you can see in the rendering, there is no lack of parking nearby. So why build more car storage on top of the highway?

Jody Grant of the Woodall Rogers Deck Park Foundation told Wilonsky that the garage would generate revenue needed to make the whole plan pencil out. The group is also counting on $40 million in public bonding to help pay for the $90 million project.

Even if you take Grant’s scenario at face value and assume this garage won’t be a money loser, it’s a sad commentary on the state of financing civic projects. Highway decks are supposed to heal the damage caused by urban car infrastructure. Can’t Dallas come up with a way to pay for this one without causing more damage by building new car infrastructure?

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Texas DOT Seems Open to a Downtown Dallas Highway Removal

The Texas DOT is formally considering tearing down Interstate 345 in Dallas. Image: CityMAP/TxDOT

TxDOT shows just how much land could be freed up by tearing down Interstate 345 in Dallas. Image: CityMAP/TxDOT

Will Texas embrace a model of mobility that works well for cities, instead of tearing them up with wider highways?

A new report from the Texas Department of Transportation indicates that at least in some circumstances, the answer may be “Yes.”

TxDOT last week released its “CityMAP” plan for urban highways in central Dallas [PDF]. Normally, you would expect a highway-focused report from TxDOT to be nothing but road expansions and widenings, with no regard for the neighborhoods that the highways cut through. But CityMAP is different.

The report calls for “integrated solutions reflecting statewide, regional and local shared goals that seek a balance for mobility, livability and economic development.” In other words, TxDOT is thinking about more than just moving cars.

Most significantly, the report indicates that TxDOT is seriously considering a highway teardown. Grassroots advocates in Dallas, led by planner Patrick Kennedy, have been mobilizing to remove I-345, which divides downtown Dallas from the Deep Ellum neighborhood, to make way for walkable development. The proposal gets a nod from TxDOT in the report.

TxDOT considers how tearing down the 20-lane highway and replacing it with an at-grade, six-lane road would affect traffic congestion and city life. The agency estimates that traffic delay on the surface street wouldn’t be any worse than if it spent hundreds of millions more dollars to bury the highway in a trench. (Although TxDOT says the teardown could increase congestion on surrounding roads.) Furthermore, TxDOT notes that removing I-345 would increase opportunities for urban housing, which could lessen the need for people to drive on highways in the first place.

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Reminder: Just Laying Track Is No Guarantee Riders Will Come

Atlanta's streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Atlanta’s streetcar route is still surrounded by parking lots. Photo: Streetcarviews/Tumblr

Laying track isn’t enough to build a successful transit system — as some cities are learning the hard way.

A slate of new rail projects — mostly mixed-traffic streetcars, but that’s not the only way to mess up — are attracting embarrassingly few passengers. Some of these projects may be salvageable to some extent, but for now, they don’t provide the speed, frequency, and access to walkable destinations that make transit useful for people. Here are four cautionary tales about the inadequacy of just putting down rails and praying things work out.

Dallas

Dallas’s streetcar line opened last April and is attracting just 150 to 300 riders a day, Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 1.6-mile streetcar connects downtown Dallas to the neighborhood of Oak Cliff. It cost $50 million, and the city hopes to expand it.

Before it opened, Peter Simak, writing for D Magazine, said the line was simply too short, and Dallas simply not walkable enough, for it to have much of an impact. The entire line covers ground formerly served by four bus stops. Still, some advocates maintain that ridership will climb once new development fills in and planned expansions are built.

Atlanta

Ridership on Atlanta’s 2.7-mile streetcar has been underwhelming as well. The project has been roundly panned by the local media, who have pointed out it’s barely faster than walking.

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The Pendulum Swings Away From Highways on the Dallas City Council

Half of the Dallas City Council now opposes the construction of a six-lane, limited-access highway along the Trinity River. Image: Army Corps of Engineers via Dallas Morning News

A runoff election Saturday has solidified who’s in and who’s out of the Dallas City Council. At stake were the future of two highway projects: the construction of the Trinity Toll Road and the removal of I-345 to make way for walkable development. Highway opponents gained ground, though not enough for a majority.

Before the election, four of 14 votes on the City Council consistently opposed the construction of the Trinity and supported removing I-345. Then in the May election, two candidates endorsed by A New Dallas, a PAC supporting the I-345 teardown, picked up seats. With the 35-vote victory victory on Saturday of Adam McGough, it appears that the council is now split on both highway issues.

McGough is the former chief of staff to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, the Trinity Toll Road’s chief booster. But late in the campaign he expressed opposition to Alternative 3C, the design that involves building a six-lane high-speed road alongside the Trinity River. McGough explicitly called for 3C to be rejected and said he supports a smaller four-lane road instead.

McGough also supports the effort to replace I-345 with surface streets. His runoff win puts him in a bloc along with Mark Clayton and Carolyn King Arnold, the newly elected council members, and the four sitting highway opponents.

With the City Council split 7-7, the pro-walkability camp remains one vote shy of a decisive majority. But in Dallas’s weak-mayor system, it is significantly stronger than before the election. As the Dallas Morning News reports, “the toll road will always be a bumpy ride for the mayor” and “the lopsided votes of the past in favor of the Trinity project now become closer.”

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Dallas Highway Teardown PAC Snags Two Council Seats. Next Up: Runoff

A coalition of Dallas residents trying to build a more walkable, people-friendly city gained some momentum in Tuesday’s election, picking up at least two City Council seats. At stake is the potential replacement of a downtown highway segment with mixed-use development and parks. The balance of power in the council now comes down to a June runoff.

The A New Dallas Coalition wants to tear down IH345, rebuild the urban fabric and change the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

A New Dallas wants to replace a downtown highway segment with walkable urban fabric, changing the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

There were six open seats in the 14-member council, plus two incumbents facing challengers. Supporters of the highway teardown have to win four of the eight contested races to gain a majority on the council.

A New Dallas, the recently-launched political action committee which backs the highway teardown, endorsed candidates in four of the races for open seats. Co-founder Patrick Kennedy said the group was pleasantly surprised that two of its endorsed candidates — Mark Clayton and Carolyn King Arnold — got the necessary 50 percent to avoid a runoff altogether. The two other endorsees didn’t get into run-offs, but Kennedy said their campaigns influenced candidates who did, and the council’s position on the highway teardown will come down to the June election.

The coalition hopes to continue organizing on behalf of urban neighborhoods into the June runoff and well beyond, said Kennedy.

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re a legitimate political machine able to influence elections in just a few short months in operation, with strong grassroots neighborhood energy, business support, and a litany of very talented professionals volunteering their skills,” he said.

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Dallas Advocates Launch a PAC to Tear Down a Highway

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

The movement for a more livable, less car-clogged Dallas has legs.

A group of reformers advocating for the teardown of Dallas’s Interstate 345 has set out to reshape the political landscape — and they’re off to a blazing start. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the group, A New Dallas, has launched a political action committee to support City Council candidates who back their vision for removing the urban highway and opening up land for development. The PAC has quickly amassed an impressive $225,000.

The May City Council election is shaping up to be the key moment. Thanks to term limits, there are open seats in six of the city’s 14 districts. If highway teardown supporters can win four of those six spots, they will have the majority they need on City Council to move ahead with the demolition, opening up 240 acres of the center city to walkable urban development.

“We’ve built a real coalition that wants to see some different ways of thinking about the city,” said Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner and co-founder of the PAC who writes the Street Smart column at D Magazine (his pieces appear on Streetsblog Texas). “Our goal was $200,000 for the first year and we blew right through that the first week.”

The PAC’s leaders also include former state senator John Carona, church organizer George Battle III, and Wick Allison, co-founder of D Magazine. They have hired Matt Tranchin, who led Obama for America’s North Texas operation in 2008, to lead the PAC, Kennedy reports.

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Dallas Highway Revolt Might Actually Defeat the Trinity Toll Road

A successful highway revolt in Dallas? It’s looking like a distinct possibility as supporters of the Trinity Toll Road project continue to defect, leaving a lonely few against a growing coalition opposed to the highway.

The $1.5 billion Trinity Toll road, given the watercolor treatment. Image: Army Corps of Engineers via Dallas Morning News

The $1.5 billion Trinity Toll road, given the gauzy watercolor treatment. Image: Army Corps of Engineers via Dallas Morning News

The last few months have dealt a number of setbacks to the proposed $1.5 billion road, which would slice through the city from West Dallas to Oak Cliff, severing downtown from the Trinity River. In mid-November, Dallas area leaders gave up on trying to appeal to the state for financial support for the project. A week later, the Dallas Morning News wondered whether the embattled project would need to take a “time out.”

“In politics when you start asking everybody to stop for a second and let’s take a breather and nobody get too worked up and can’t we just talk about this for a little while — you’re losing,” wrote the paper’s Rudolph Bush, who noted the only high profile supporter remaining is city Mayor Mike Rawlings, and that may not be enough to carry it forward, since Dallas has a weak mayor system.

The project is still supported by some of the deep-pocketed shot-callers in the city’s business and development elite, but they have tended not to be very vocal. That’s not the case with the opposition, which seems to have the momentum. People living in nearby areas like Oak Cliff don’t want to see the quality of life in their neighborhoods subordinated to suburban driving convenience. And so, what used to feel like a total longshot might actually happen — Dallas might shelve a highway to retain the strength and cohesion of its neighborhoods.

Yesterday, the two sides of the debate squared off in a forum at a school in Oak Cliff. “Toll road debate draws hundreds of opponents, but few supporters,” went the headline in the Morning News. Today, former mayor Laura Miller came out against the highway in the paper, saying the road “should not be built at all.”

I spoke to Patrick Kennedy, a local planner who’s played a leading role in the highway opposition. He said his group is focused on organizing around what could be the deciding factor: City Council elections coming up in May. Right now highway opponents only have four votes out of 14 on the council, and they need eight if they hope to decisively kill the project. But with six council members who support the Trinity Toll Road being term-limited out of office, the elections to replace them could seal the highway’s fate.

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The Dallas Trinity Parkway Plan Horrifies Even Its Earliest Champions

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don't you think? Image from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August

Every river needs a nine-lane highway running alongside it to enhance its scenic qualities, don’t you think? This gauzy rendering comes from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers briefing presented to the Dallas City Council last August.

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

The Trinity Parkway is a proposed nine-mile, six-lane urban highway (with tolls) that would run along the Trinity River through the heart of Dallas. Proponents claim that it is needed to relieve crushing regional traffic congestion that they expect will only worsen over time. But planning documents suggest that the $1.5 billion project would have only very limited impact on congestion and would be susceptible to flood damage.

A growing chorus of city leaders is asking whether the highway is really compatible with a Dallas that is experiencing major urban revitalization driven in part by expansion of public transportation and quality of life improvements that would be hampered by a vast new highway.

This project has been justified in part by forecasts of rapid growth in traffic in the project area in the decades to come. In most parts of the project area, however, planners are anticipating far greater growth in driving between now and 2035 than actually took place between 2007 and 2012, the most recent years for which traffic data are publicly available. Indeed, traffic actually declined between 2007 and 2012 at eight of 12 specific locations affected by the route where officials forecast traffic to increase by 2035.

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

Would you trust these models to tell you where to build a highway? Image: U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group

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Talking Headways Podcast: Crown Prince of Fresh Air

podcast icon logoWhat would you think of a city planner, out ruffling feathers with his bold ideas about density and urbanism — who commutes to work an hour each way from his ranch way outside the city? Ironic — or hypocritical? That’s the question we wrestle with in our discussion of Brad Buchanan, the head honcho at Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development.

And then we head from Denver to Dallas, where MPO chief Michael Morris has unilaterally declared that the plan to convert I-345 into a boulevard is going nowhere. Trouble is, he doesn’t actually have the authority to say that, and his facts are wrong. But by asserting it, will he make it true?

Say your piece in the comments. And subscribe to this podcast on iTunesStitcher, or our RSS feed.

StreetFilms
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Parking Craters: Scourge of American Downtowns

Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt popularized the term “parking crater,” defined simply as “a depression in the middle of an urban area formed by the absence of buildings.”

Various types of “meteors” left behind parking craters in the 20th century — sprawl subsidies,  highway building, the erosion of manufacturing. Whatever the cause, parking craters destroy sections of downtowns and make the environment inhospitable and unattractive. In these areas, there is virtually no street life. In warm weather the asphalt makes the air more oppressive. It’s hell on earth. It’s a parking crater.

In this Streetfilm we talk to advocates in Cleveland, Dallas, Hartford, and Houston about the parking craters in their downtowns — several of which have been contenders in Streetsblog’s annual Parking Madness tournament — and how these awful craters came to be.

A final note: If this Streetfilm is well received, we intend to do a follow-up film looking at the flip side — cities that have undone their parking craters by adopting better policies.