Wednesday, March 2, 2011

What Would You Do For a Klondike Bar?

I've detailed this many times on the blog, but since it is easier to type again than dig it up from archives I decided to bump this comment/question to its own post.

What is your long term vision for the freeway noose? If we got rid of the ring where would you connect to 75, 35, 30, Tollway,etc? We can't completely obliterate every mile of freeway in this city, but I've always imagined how to get rid of the ring around downtown.

Curious on how you envision it. Burying them, a la Boston among other places, would be nice, but with the FTA and TXDOT in financial limbo, I don't see that happening in our lifetime.

I respond:

It can only be done incrementally (and by incremental and long-term, I'm talking about a fifty year vision with various steps or checkpoints along the way), starting with the smallest improvements such as removing all cloverleaf on/off-ramps and recapturing that land for development.

I wouldn't bury them, I would replace them one at a time with boulevards, ideally all the way out to about Loop 12.

To imagine how this works, think about how the Tollway enters Downtown Dallas. First it is a sunken highway, then it rises and merges with Harry Hines and becomes a wide arterial. As it gets closer into Dallas it meets more and more of a grid allowing for diffusion of traffic and more options, choices, and routes. This allows for greater degree of adaptability, flexibility, and built-in "intelligence" in the system as it allows for every user to be smart and react to local conditions that may change minute-by-minute. Eventually this road is down to a narrow two-lane road in the middle of downtown.

My vision would be a similar scaling down of each highway as it enters the city but starting further and further out. For example, let's look at 30 coming into Dallas from the East. Once it hits the outer beltway 635 it can and should narrow, then once it hits loop 12, it should become a broad boulevard allowing more crossings and local connections, which increase in amount and density as it gets closer and closer to downtown.

While you might first think this reduces connectivity, it only reduces regional connectivity, but it increases local connectivity. It is important to link metropolitan economies such as Houston to Dallas via every linkage as possible (freeways, airports, high speed rail ahem), but these highways are antithetical to local economies and local connections that are the foundation for successful, efficient, beautiful cities.

This would open up hundreds and hundreds of acres for development, increased desirability and livability, and therefore increased tax base (while reducing tax burden) on the city.

If you say it makes it more inconvenient to get from Garland or Mesquite into downtown, so what? The negatives of this "convenience" outweigh the positives. There are always periods of discomfort and dislocation in change, which is why it is necessary to make these changes slowly and incrementally. And in turn, other forms of transportation emerge, such as rail start to become more convenient. Or neighborhood scaled businesses start to pop-up where the old freeway used to be because it is no longer car-centric but neighborhood-centric, better serving the nearby population.

If any of this sounds crazy, Vancouver was called crazy in the 60's for not allowing highways into their city. The approach to the city is similar to that I described above and I detailed in my visit report to Vancouver which I'll post at the end of this.

Also, Copenhagen was called crazy for removing cars from cities. What happened was more room for people, meaning more traffic was able to move by stores/shops/cafes (because they weren't in big metal beeping boxes) and the stores dependent upon passersby did better. That didn't stop the businesses from bitching and moaning about change.

People adapt. It is our second best skill behind complaining about having to do so. The key is in doing it so slowly that they don't know anything is changing while emphasizing the positive benefits each step along the way.

Here is my visit report to Vancouver where I describe the gradation of highway experience into the city:

I've written quite a bit more on IntraCity Freeways vs. InterCity Freeways if you're so inclined: