Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Cesar Chavez

Dallas Progress has a new post up about the city's plan to widen Cesar Chavez, aka the extension of Central Expressway through downtown. Regarding the basics there really isn't much more to add, but ya know, being a downtown resident and professional urban designer, I might as well add a few points.

The basics of the plan is to turn the road where it is one-way to two-way. Problem is, it already is two-way. Its couplet is a block away on Pearl. One-way couplets were supposed to be the answer for more capacity. Apparently that isn't enough. Now we need to take those one-way couplets and make them two-way. I might be all for the idea if it meant using the existing right-of-way. Not doubling it.

Cesar Chavez is already four lanes wide. It should also be mentioned that it is virtually empty 90% of the time. Pearl, its couplet, is five. How much more capacity do we really need? I joke that the ideal "end" for downtown is all parks and "parkways," aka wide streets labeled boulevards with a sliver of useless but maintenance intensive grass down the middle. There will be no buildings and no people in downtown. They just add to the "traffic" and "congestion" problem.

Next, the wider road will take the buildable blocks from about 375 feet wide to 275 feet, while eliminating buildings along the way. While smaller blocks are generally more walkable, it does the opposite when they're surrounded by bigger streets, making the blocks virtually undevelopable.

Aren't we trying to get more people living downtown? Since when does taking away developable square footage for some misguided ideal for improved traffic flow, a means to the end as proposed in the Forward Dallas Comprehensive Plan and the Downtown 360 plan. These are plans, achieved and approved (or almost approved) through a supposedly public process and should guide all decision making. Why are we backing away from these policies for more of the same policies that gutted downtown to begin with?

Furthermore, Dallas is expected to double in population size. While population projections are notoriously hairy stuff, this is the number used as the vessel to float all public policy initiatives. Dallas is growing (either woohoo! or oh ish!). What are we going to do. Well the metroplex, physically can't get any broader. The market is at its edge, showing the value of the perimeter to be vastly overestimated. The value to be mined in development is all of the underdeveloped areas within the city boundaries and near urban cores, grayfields.

If the metroplex is going to double in population, certainly the city of Dallas will have to capture a large percentage of that growing population for tax-base in order to cover all of the infrastructure it hosts to support the entire metroplex as its fountainhead. The city is going to densify. We will 1) need all of the space we can get to maximize land use.

Furthermore, if we're going to double in population, we can't possibly double the amount of car-infrastructure. We can't even afford the amount we have now. Dallas will never be as drivable as it is today. It is all down hill from here. More people, less road space per capita. It is guaranteed. Let me repeat that:


Any efforts to do so, are futile and frankly a waste of money. Your money. Do you know how many Better Blocks, which build walkable centers of gravity for neighborhoods and empower small businesses by condensing people into captive areas (by creating interesting, walkable, safe areas), therefore bringing markets to small businesses that have trouble finding an audience, can be built for the $12 to 20 million this project is supposed to cost?

Angela needs to back away from this one. Supply-side solutions to traffic congestion has proven over and over again to fail (despite early successes). The only way to manage car-traffic is by decreasing the demand for it, built on ease and reduced cost of doing so.

Or perhaps better said, supply-side solutions focused SOLELY on cars increase the amount of cars on the road and decrease everything else, which by the way can fit and therefore move far more people. Expanding supply of car-space decreases overall mobility.

While stuck in traffic, haven't you ever ghasped "I wish all you people were off the road!" Well, the only way to get them off the road and have it all to yourself is thru a walkable city that is more transit-convenient.

The only way to ensure mobility in a future denser Dallas, is to focus all efforts on increased connectivity, walkability, bikability, and more logical, accessible, convenient transit service. By doing so, will make private investment in density that much more appealing. The density (and tax base) that we want (or supposedly want) needs walkability. It is the only way density survives.

The call for increased clarity is bunk. The driver of all that chaos and confusion is the ring of highways and the spaghetti on/off-ramps along, around, and among them. Adding pavement doesn't alleviate disorder. It adds to it. Want to create order. Do it within the pavement and right-of-way already out there.

Lastly, is this anyway to celebrate who Cesar Chavez was? Taking away choice of transportation while we're going to build 800-miles of bike lanes, an affordable form of transportation supportive of the 1- to 3-mile commutes between downtown and the goldmine that is the underdeveloped neighborhoods adjacent?