Thursday, April 19, 2012

Trinity Toll Road

There's a Facebook group up and running. If you're so inclined, it will be the place to find news about the Trinity Toll Road project. I'm with councilman Scott Griggs who rightly said a new highway doesn't alleviate demand for traffic, but adds to it. Instead, we need to be reducing car-based transportation demand. Meanwhile, TxDOT shows their ignorance via supply-side thinking:

The Horseshoe bridges will help some, but the capacity is still a problem, said TxDOT district engineer Bill Hale.

Unfortunately, "capacity" is not a sexy sales slogan. Neither is "we need lanes."

Perhaps we should sympathize with TxDOT transportation planners/engineers. They're like drug warriors, fighting a crusade that cannot be won. At least, not the way they're fighting it. Another tragedy/folly of our time. What's the definition of insanity again?

Besides simply being wrong, there is the bigger issue about funding. And that is where details become a little more hazy and hard to come by. The way I understand it, NTTA identified a funding gap, in that the projected tolls won't pay for the road (nor, of course, the long-term upkeep and maintenance). Which says to me, either they're not pricing the road in order to do so (which should give us 1) a clue to the real cost of roads and 2) there isn't the demand for the road in the first place).

And that the city has to decide how to cover the funding gap, likely through additional bond packages and/or various other concoctions of public-private partnerships. Though, I am utterly clueless where any private investors would think they're going to get a return if NTTA doesn't think they'll get their part. It certainly won't be in property valuations.

If we really wanted to "right-price" roads so that they can pay for themselves, while appropriately leavening the demand side of the equation, we'd toll the existing highways before adding more capacity. By ratcheting down the dial of demand on automobile use and public infrastructure we reposition real estate markets to favor proximity, and thereby density. By favoring density and proximity (and restoring the logic to the fundamental impulse of cities), we create a real engine for qualitative development of property, ie investment. This is where the real gains are if you have any stake in Dallas property.

From a conservative/libertarian perspective, you should be against the reckless public spending.

From a liberal perspective, you should be against more road capacity and the environmental implications.

From a local Dallasite perspective and want the city to fulfill its potential as a "world class" city, you should favor reducing road capacity and empowering increased local interconnectivity and the resultant densification.

From a property/investor/stakeholder perspective with a stake in Dallas real estate, you should oppose it for all of the above reasons, primarily the shift in the demand of real estate market to relocalize, recentered on Dallas driving up property values and therefore densification, instead of neverending sprawl.

From a taxpayer standpoint, you should be appalled at the city taking on more infrastructure burden while exasperating the diminishing tax base that favors the dependent suburbs instead of the host city.

As a HUMAN, you ought to support legitimate choice in transportation mode and route, rather than coercion into cars and onto freeways. As I've said before, and Gil Penalosa echoed in his ppt to City Hall, equitable transportation is a human rights issue. Crazy coincidence, since it costs $7,500 per year to own and operate a car, the majority of which leaves the local economy, it's also an economic development issue.

There are, of course other aspects and implications to the issue. The first is what it does to the Trinity River Park Plan. As I've mentioned a million times, the quality and success of a park is only as good as the connections to it. When those connections become barriers (as regional infrastructure invariably does), it undermines the investment in the park in the first place. When the Trinity River Park was pitched to the city (perhaps under the guise of highway spending), it was compared to Central Park. Central Park is also not divided from the city by a highway.

There is also the issue (which everyone is focusing on, we, without fail, also always seem to focus on the least relevant issue at hand) is alignment. The new Federal Highway Admin report added a fifth option to the other four route alignments, that of no new highway at all. And that should be the real debate, whether to build it at all or not. Alignment is irrelevant. Why? Because the Dallas side of the Trinity is already a lost cause. Despite all of the Trinity Trust and CityDesign Studio's efforts, the Dallas side of the Trinity will never be worth anything. The Design District has potential, but its value derives from proximity to Oak Lawn, Parkland, and the Trinity Strand.

At least we've abandoned the idea, of running each direction down each side of the Trinity. West Dallas and Oak Lawn can be spared, perhaps even with a promenade along the Trinity and direct interface with the park.

This fight can be our Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses moment. The issue isn't specific, because as I said, the Dallas side of the Trinity is lost. The real issue is the culture and (maybe) corruption that believes government spending on evermore road capacity does anything positive beyond gut the tax base of the city of Dallas while adding increased burden upon the city of Dallas in favor of a parasitic form of regionalism.

We have to halt and reverse the inertia and entropy inherent in building infrastructure that scatters and instead build networks of choice, that empower people and infuse intelligence into the system. That bring people together rather than divide. This is the time where we have to remember (or learn for the first time) what cities are for, improving quality of life and opportunity for all, via social and economic exchange. And thereafter, once we define purpose we have a guiding light for building the interconnections towards that purpose.

What is the purpose of our city? Well, it seems it is nothing more than moving cars. With little other higher regard. We should be moving towards increased independence and interdependence of the many municipalities of the DFW metroplex. Not increased dependence. By doing so, we are effectively choking the host organism, slowly but surely sapping the life-giving property of desirability from it, and eventually killing it.