Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Open Letter to Mayor Mike Rawlings

Mike,
Mikey!

What's up?  Cool.  Chillin'? Me too bro.

So, we're going to build another highway, huh?  I didn't really think we'd end up anywhere else.  I even posted as much on your facebook page (since we're friends like that, right? right.) that I'm rather indifferent to the Trinity Toll Road.  The access from downtown to the hypothetical Trinity River Park will involve some form of human chutes n' ladders.  The real estate on this side of the river is far too encumbered to actually be desirable enough for growth.  A new highway won't exactly improve or ruin that.  You can't have less than zero, amirite?

However, it's more of the principle of the matter that is both bothersome and factually incorrect.  If growth is what we're focused on, then that is growth the highway may/might trigger regionally, ie outside of the city of Dallas boundaries.  If we're thinking that could induce investment in South Dallas, what kind of investment might that be?  More gas stations and XXX shops, the eventual highest and best use of highway frontage property?  South Dallas needs less car dependence and more empowerment via legitimate street networks, transit, and walkable infrastructure.  More highway capacity simply adds more drivers and more dependence upon the car.  It is South Dallas that will feel that pain the most.

If congestion relief is the goal, then shouldn't we be tolling existing roads first?  Ya know, working demand levers rather than new supply which has been proven over and over again to only be a temporary solution before inducing more traffic?  We could even focus particularly on passers by, a pigovian tax of sorts that generates revenue on traffic generating polution in Dallas but simply passing through.

Considering the budgetary woes this city, like all public agencies across the country are facing, profligate spending doesn't seem to be the best direction.  Particularly when it is founded on conventional wisdom from the 1960s through 1980s.  It was pretty illuminating when you said that other North Texas cities will capitalize on mistakes that Dallas makes.  So we're competing against Waco and Waxahachie, now?  Hardly world class, innit?  Meanwhile, the cities at the top of the global competition food chain are removing freeways.  And you know what?  They're inducing growth that way, back to the hearts of cities, by removing a structural impediment to livability and desirability while cutting the umbilical cord dependent places use to take advantage of host cities, like parasites.  Cities are funny adaptable things.

The Trinity Toll Road issue is/was never about alignment.  It's about whether to add new highway capacity or not as part of a broader direction of the city.  Forward, into the 21st century, where transportation is accessible, equitable, and choice of route/mode available to one and all?  Or stuck spinning on dubs in the '80s?

So how about a deal, eh?  We set a policy of no new highway capacity.  Don't worry.  You can still have the Trinity Toll Road.  Instead, it forces us to think critically.  No more rushed decisions and money throwing exercises like feces against a wall.  They say creativity doesn't begin until zeros start falling off of budgets.  I find that to be a pretty empowering principle, don't you?

So he're what I'm proposing...in exchange for building the Trinity Toll Road, we remove IH-345 from downtown, opening up 240-acres of development between downtown Dallas and East Dallas, the largest contiguous area of historic grid and urban fabric unencumbered by freeways.  Not coincidentally, it's the area of the metroplex with the most unmet potential specifically because of the innercity freeways sapping desirability/livability/demand and shipping it out to the bleeding Oklahoman edge of the metroplex.

I'm serious.  We've run the numbers and they're solid.  Market-based even unlike most planning.  Given the returns on investments from similar projects in San Fran, Portland, and Seoul, we're probably even too conservative and estimating $4 billion in private investment, 25,000 new residents, and 10,000 new jobs in downtown.  All for about $65 million in demo and grid reconstruction.  Crazy right?  But those are the exponential returns possible when you understand how cities react, respond, and adapt.  And guess what! I bet we could even get feds and private partners to kick in that amount given the opportunity to score prime real estate.

Every new development project in and around downtown takes serious public partnership that the City can't maintain or persist on participating in financially forever.  The reason is demand is too low and land costs too high.  This unhealthy imbalance is precisely because of the freeways.  If we remove this section of highway, we flood the market with cheap land while removing the primary obstacle to high quality walkable urban development immediately adjacent to downtown.

It's a no brainer.  Don't believe me?  Check out the presentation.  You can even skip to slide 50 and bypass all the theoretical mumbo jumbo, cuz you're the mayor and all that.

Deal?  Deal.