Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oh, You Think So Professor?

So City Councilperson Linda Koop says someday that you will be able to live in downtown without a car. I was unaware one couldn't. But, not many are as pazzo as yours truly:

Linda Koop, the transportation guru of the Dallas City Council, said that citizens should expect Dallas to look a little more like Toronto in a decade.
In a decade? That happens the moment transportation designs and decisions come from a local level. Not from TxDOT. Toronto has as broad and diverse of a transportation network as any on the continent, from trains, to light rail, to streetcars, to ferries...all interconnected. Their biggest problem is that their highway and train lines were based on a busy industrial waterfront that is, uh, not so busy today and hence converted into high rise residential...disconnected from downtown; downtown disconnected from its waterfront.

Furthermore, we are approaching Urban Design similarly to how Detroit has. Fortunately, we have a broader economy that can support dips in certain markets. However, we think similarly that "All we need is a STADIUM, or a Calatrava Bridge, or an Opera House, or a Convention Center Hotel." None of which actually cure any ills and all of which are linked by highways incidentally, subsidizing the suburbs' use of the City's expense. They are efforts at memorability when we forgot to achieve livability.

--see my post on "The Challenge of Downtown Dallas" for discussion of the hierarchy of Viability, Livability, and Memorability of Cities."

Furthermore, despite the broad array of transportation alternatives in Toronto, as a percentage of public expense per capita, Toronto spends less than half of what Detroit does. That's being smart about transportation and how you spend taxpayer dollars. We need to focus on return on investment...and highways are a horrendous investment.

--Also, see: "The Conservative Case for Mass Transit." --

It would be nice to have such problems. Step 1) utilize stimulus money to build Oak Cliff modern street car line and the Ross Ave street car line. Step 2) incrementally reduce the impact of the highway stranglehold on downtown.

Speaking with a former councilwoman the other day, we discussed the lengthy lawsuit over the Woodall Rogers/Pearl St clover leaf between the City and TxDOT. I was completely ignorant of this case and I'm not sure of my point, but wouldn't it be an interesting twist of fate if we utilized the much maligned powers of condemnation on freeways as a matter of public safety?

Historically, cities utilized the power of eminent domain to tear apart urban fabric and stable communities, but often leaning towards the poor side of the economic spectrum. "These people were living in squalor. Let's help them by kicking them out of their homes, away from their personal and economic bonds, and into Corbusien Wonderlands."

--see the book Root Shock.

Now I'm all for trying to help bad situations, but this false paternalism in the name of highway building and corrupt construction contracts with little real value is the reason eminent domain is so thoroughly vilified. Defenders of it need to acknowledge the past mistakes and set limitations for its utilization; one of which being, again public health. However, abstractions such as these create the room for worms and lawyers to wiggle around.

So, how about this for the public safety argument: 50,ooo people a year die in highway related accidents - several times that are injured or maimed, but that, of course, is good for the gdp healthcare industry. Highways affect birth rates and infant health within certain distances of highways, even in affluent areas. Oh, and cities are organic manifestations of human's meeting their needs and improving quality of life and highways rip that supportive tissue apart.

Condemn them.

Return the land to the city.

Build real neighborhoods. Truly functioning, robust, and diverse neighborhoods are organic; built expressions of humanity reaching for its potential.

These efforts have been wildly successful at the Embarcadero in San Fran, the Beer Line in Milwaukee, and Portland's riverfront. Now Baltimore, OKC, and New Orleans are contemplating similar measures.

Hell, Dallas sees itself as a world class city. A real world class city, Paris, is redesigning their transportation network to match a more functional and natural order. Maintaining freeways at the Peripherique, using this as a hub for inter-city travel, but removing all freeways into the city from points along this perimeter, where roads turn into boulevards to enter the city fabric humanely and delicately. It's called context sensitive design.

The designers credo: "DO NO HARM."