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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.

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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.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Escobar’s Escalator

Did you go to the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia, last week? Neither did your hosts Jeff Wood and I, but we sure found a lot to say about it anyway on this week’s Talking Headways podcast. Medellín’s remarkable urban transformation — undertaken in the midst of war — has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately for making the city’s transportation infrastructure more equitable.

But first, we talked to our very own Angie Schmitt about the Parking Madness tournament. Did she know Rochester was a winner from the moment she laid eyes on that stunning parking crater? You’ll have to listen to find out.

And finally we turn to Dallas, where local activists are pressuring officials to tear down a 1.4-mile stretch of I-345 to make room for 245 acres of new development downtown. If it happens, it would be a tremendous win for smart urban development over Eisenhower-era car-centrism.

The other big news this week is that Talking Headways podcast is now available on Stitcher! So if you’re not an iTunes person, you’ve got a way to subscribe. But if you are an iTunes person, by all means! Or you can follow the RSS feed. And as always, the comments section is wide open for all the witty remarks we should have made but didn’t think to.

Oh, and despite the fact that we said, “See you next week” at the end out of habit, Jeff will be traveling so we actually won’t be taping a podcast next week. So take that opportunity to catch up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in two weeks.

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Parking Madness Elite Eight Matchup: Dallas vs. Jacksonville

We’re on to round two of Parking Madness, our search for the worst parking crater in North America. And I have to say, the parking craters in this match do seem to have descended to a new level of horribleness.

Dallas and Jacksonville are both such overachieving parking cities, it’s almost a shame they meet so soon. But them’s the breaks. Let’s see which is worse. The winner of this match will go onto the final four competition for the Golden Crater.

First, here’s Dallas:

original

We swapped out the picture we used in the last round for one that our readers assure us is more up to date. There has been a little bit of infill development since the last one was taken. But the area can’t attract unsubsidized private development, according to Patrick Kennedy of Walkable Dallas-Fort Worth, because it’s been so blighted by I-345, which you can see on right edge of the photo. Kennedy has been one of the loudest advocates for tearing down the freeway.

Now, let’s look at Jacksonville:

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Parking Madness: Newark vs. Dallas

We’re halfway through the first round of the 2014 Parking Madness tournament, with Kansas City, Detroit, Chicago, and Jacksonville having advanced to the next round.

Today’s matchup pairs two very different cities with the same problem: parking craters. A reader submitted the following definition yesterday: park-ing cra-ter (noun) is “ugly, and an inefficient use of space in a downtown area.” So which city has screwed up its downtown worse?

Let’s start out by surveying the damage in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city:

newark

This location includes a lot of surface parking near the Prudential Center, the hockey and basketball arena that opened in 2007. It’s also near Newark Penn Station, a major transit hub where intercity trains, commuter rail, light rail, and a multitude of bus routes converge, notes submitter Michael Klatsky. What a shame.

Now let’s see what Dallas has cooked up for us.

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Dallas Official: Without a Highway Teardown, Park Gets “Free Shade”

Getting officials on board with a highway teardown in Dallas is no easy task. Just ask Patrick Kennedy, a Dallas planner who has led the charge to remove IH-345, an elevated stump of a highway near central Dallas.

A Dallas official described this setting as a good place for athletic courts. Photo: Dallas Morning News

Last week, the Texas Department of Transportation dismissed the teardown proposal out of hand, refusing to even consider it in the range of alternatives being discussed for the aging viaduct.

Local officials, meanwhile, seem to think that won’t be an entirely bad thing for the park they’re planning nearby. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan recently told the Dallas Morning News that IH-345 might actually provide an amenity to park-goers.

“One nice thing about an elevated freeway is that it provides free shade, which is important, and you can do things like athletic courts that would be appropriate for underneath a freeway,” she said.

Kennedy and his supporters at A New Dallas have been arguing for years that tearing down the elevated highway stub is the best thing for the city. They argue that removing the highway would cost about as much as repairing it: around $100 million. But rather than saddling the city with an expensive maintenance liability, the teardown would open up enough space to support $4 billion worth of development, returning up to $100 million in property tax revenue annually to the city.

Despite the unfortunate comments by Jordan, a growing number of local leaders have been warming to the idea, Kennedy says. He’s not giving up just because TxDOT is being dismissive.

“This is just TxDOT issuing an administrative edict,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t mean we should not call them out for abandoning any pretext of a public process.”

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The Grassroots Campaign for a Highway Teardown in Dallas

Three years ago, Dallas-based planning consultant Patrick Kennedy and his friend, developer Brandon Hancock, started wondering why you couldn’t do a highway teardown in the Big D. They picked a highway: IH345, an elevated connector route between downtown and the Deep Ellum neighborhood. Then they thought, “Why not? Let’s do a study.” Between the two of them, they had the necessary expertise.

The vision: Restoring the street grid and filling the area with high-quality urban development could generate $100 million in revenue for the city annually, A New Dallas found. Image: A New Dallas

Current Conditions: The area around the elevated highway has not attracted a great deal of investment. The value of development per acre is just $81,000, which is less than typical sprawl conditions. Image: A New Dallas

On paper, the idea turned out to be pretty compelling. According to their analysis, real estate investment in the area is lacking, as tends to be the case with below or around elevated highways. They found that the combined value of development in this area is only about $20 million, or $81,000 per acre — less than than you would typically see in suburban sprawl far from a big city like Dallas.

If the highway were cleared, however, and the 245-acre area where it stands was developed as intensively as other urban sites in the city, it could generate $4 billion in new development over 15 years, Kennedy and Hancock found. That would return $100 million annually to the city of Dallas in property tax revenue.

The teardown would also be much cheaper than rebuilding or stabilizing the existing highway segment. Kennedy and Hancock estimate that it would cost about $55 to $60 million to tear down the highway, based on similar examples from around the country and the length of the highway segment. They also estimate it would cost another $11 million to restore the street grid. The Texas Department of Transportation hasn’t released cost estimates yet for any of its proposals to stabilize or rebuild the road, but it would likely be far more expensive.

Armed with that data, Kennedy and Hancock set about building support for their plan. They started an organization, A New Dallas, to inform the community about the idea, and developed a pretty compelling website. They’ve been hosting meetings with the Downtown Citizens Council, the Deep Ellum Foundation, Downtown Dallas Inc, a downtown business membership organization. Kennedy says the feedback they’ve received has been universally positive.

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Q&A With Jason Roberts, the Brains Behind “Better Blocks”

The Better Block project, founded less than 10 years ago in Dallas, Texas, is not only changing streets for the better — in many ways, it’s changing the urban planning process.

Jason Roberts (right) was working as an IT consultant in Dallas when he started wondering why a particular part of his neighborhood was in such bad shape. Image: Pegasus News

Better Block brings “pop-up,” temporary businesses into abandoned buildings, creates temporary bike lanes with chalk and cones, turns underused parking spaces into outdoor cafés, and generally celebrates the awesome potential of ordinary urban places. The strategy of using temporary installations — a prime example of “tactical urbanism” — allows people to reimagine their neighborhoods while circumventing time-consuming and potentially hostile regulatory and political processes.

At the CNU 21 conference in Salt Lake City, I had the chance to sit down with Better Block’s visionary founder, Jason Roberts. Here’s his inspiring call to action:

Angie Schmitt: What is the history of the Better Block project?

Jason Roberts: The Better Block project started in April 2010, in Dallas, Texas. I had a series of blighted buildings in my neighborhood and a street that was really wide. I started trying to figure out why they were boarded up.

I found out it was zoned for light industrial, it wasn’t zoned for retail. The original reason these buildings exist was no longer allowed.

We looked at the streets and said, “Why can’t we get bike infrastructure in the area?” At some point I said, “Couldn’t we make this into our dream block, the blocks that I love in European cities or other places I’ve seen that are filled with flower shops and bakeries and cafes and bike infrastructure and landscaping and people sitting outside and eating and drinking?” I got together with some friends and we decided to do a guerrilla installation.

It was really inspired not so much by New Urbanism because I hadn’t known much about this. I came from an artist background and I also was an IT consultant. Really, I was looking at what happened with Shepard Fairey and the street art movement. I loved how those things were sort of shocking the system. I was thinking, why can’t we apply those same ideas to a block?

The first project we ever did was very guerrilla. We didn’t get permits, we just painted bike lanes in the streets. We found props like old historic lighting. We put café seating out. We took away car lanes. We went into the vacant buildings, we talked the property owners, they let us use the space. We created our own coffee shops, flower shops. We turned an old car garage into a kids’ art gallery and we built fruit stands and things like that. And then we printed off the ordinances and zoning for the area that we were breaking and we put it in the window, to show these are all the things that aren’t allowed in our city.

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Final Four Parking Madness Matchup: Milwaukee vs. Dallas

We’re down to just four cities: Milwaukee, Dallas, Houston, and Tulsa. But only one can be the champion of Parking Madness, our hunt for the worst parking crater in an American downtown.

Today is a very exciting day, because we’re kicking off the Final Four with two venerable parking competitors: Milwaukee and Dallas.

Milwaukee has been holding strong through two contests — thanks, presumably, to the sheer expanse of its parking crater.

Reader “Aaron from Milwaukee” submitted this area, saying “the desert covers about a half mile south of I-794 to the Milwaukee River, and east of Milwaukee Street.”

This wasteland is part of Milwaukee’s Third Ward, not far from the lakefront. “It’s acres of parking over the former bustling wholesale food warehouse district, mostly serving eight or nine weekends and 10 full days each year associated with Summerfest and Milwaukee’s various ethnic ‘-fests,’” Aaron says.

Here’s a panned out view that shows this parking travesty’s position between the Third Ward and the lakefront.

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