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Sapping Street Life in Dallas, Ordinance by Ordinance

10:33 AM EDT on March 18, 2011

A lot of what occupies our attention, on this blog and in our cities, are the big projects: rail, bus rapid transit, highways.

Many times, though, it's little policies that chip away at the vibrancy of city streets. Network blog Bike Friendly Oak Cliff has put together a nice list of silly ordinances that head off quality public spaces in Dallas, preventing streets and sidewalks from being comfortable places for gathering.

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For example, the city charges businesses a $1,000 fee to use awnings:

First of all, it gets hot in Dallas … putting a heavy cost on cooling a sidewalk is inhumane and akin to saying “it will cost you extra to install air-conditioning.” That cost may seem nominal, but remember, if a business has two sides, and multiple windows, you start looking at an annual fee of $4,000 … that’s a big chunk for a small business that’s selling $2 cups of coffee.

Here's another head-scratcher -- the city prohibits any activity that would cause a crowd to form on the sidewalk:

One of the things I love about cities like New Orleans is that at any given moment, someone might break into tap dancing on the sidewalk, or a ragtag group of musicians will trumpet out a hot jazz classic. People stop and form a circle, and for a moment everyone enjoys a small slice of street entertainment that brings the sidewalk to life. Afterward, a hat gets passed around and those interested can drop a dollar in. It’s simple, small, but memorable, and is the mark of a great city. It should be encouraged, not outlawed.

Further, the city of Dallas prohibits merchants from displaying their products on the sidewalk:

Now imagine that amazing street that you’ve been to in New York, Paris, or San Francisco. You’re walking along it, and stroll past a bookstore that has a small cart out front with a number of classic beatnick novels. Next, you stroll along and see the art shop with rolled up copies of impressionist classics and maybe the shop purveyor is out painting beside the shop. Beyond that, the baker has a beautiful arrangement of artisian baguettes just below his window. These small items are invitations that keep you strolling and invite you into the shop to discover. You can find this in cities around the world … in Dallas, it’s outlawed.

Other legal stinkers from the Big D include the prohibition of placing flowers on the sidewalks and a hefty fee for sidewalk cafes.

Thinking of Dallas doesn't exactly conjure up images of street musicians playing to sidewalk cafe diners and strolling pedestrians. Thanks to Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, however, for reminding us that, with a few simple changes, it could.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Tucson Bike Lawyer takes a look at the shameful driving record of a Republican mayoral candidate. Bike Portland outlines the keys to transportation health equity. And the Transport Politic attempts to decode conservative objections to high-speed rail.

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