Thursday, June 20, 2013

345: The Burial

I don't believe in this option.  It's what some good folk in Austin are proposing for 35 through their downtown.  It makes sense for them given their highway situation.  Their challenge is upfront cost.  Ours at is reduced capacity.

However, as I often point out, reduced capacity is actually the strength.  1) It reduces long-term maintenance and upkeep costs for an indebted TxDOT and broke taxpayer coffers, and 2) reducing highway capacity improves stagnating DART ridership and instills an incentive in the real estate markets towards proximity.  And proximity equals efficiency.  Unless you think spending on gas, cars, insurance, and roads, et al., is a good investment for every single trip you make.  It's not.  Car dependence is a tax.

Before I get back to making the case against the burial option, let's show the plan:

The frontage roads parallel 345 as it goes up and over the interchanges and dives into the ground at a suitable slope for highways.  Fortunately, it looks like it will be able to get enough clearance to be underground by the time it meets Ross to the north and Canton to the south, both critically important connections to bookend this plan.

However, as the tunnel continues on its current alignment, just well below ground, the frontage roads shift to accommodate the grid and create developable parcels.  One of the major problems 345 caused is in its curvilinear alignment made for slivers of parcels that would be undevelopable even if there wasn't an elevated freeway running past them.  The frontage roads then pull together to create a boulevard, on that already exists.  You know it as Good Latimer.  Until it crosses Elm, Main, and Commerce heading from North to South, where the boulevard splits again to return to frontage roads.  However, rather than make for more sharp angles, the south bound frontage road would remain on the Good Latimer alignment until it can meet 35 in South Dallas/Cedars area.

The other big change is that Routh, instead of becoming Good Latimer which the frontage roads turn into, would run roughly parallel until it became Cesar Chavez.  Like the intention of the tear-out plan, this also cleans up and improves the North-South connections which have been turned into convoluted spaghetti because of the elevated 345.

As for economic development, let's look at a comparison table.

The burial obviously costs quite a bit more.  The numbers I arrived at were pretty close to TxDOT's "just gonna toss out a cool $1B to scare you away" number.  And yes, that does scare me away.  Hence, my preference for the tear-out.

The burial also only recaptures 27 less acres of state right-of-way than the tear-out.  The land recapture was one of the primary initial impetus for the tear-out study, that land in downtown was "upside-down."  Demand was too low and land costs too high.  So flip both with a tear-out.

You'll notice there is quite a range in leveraged private investment for the 345 burial.  If you're familiar with our proforma for the tear-out, you'll recall that we ran 9 scenarios which mixed and matched FARs (Floor Area Ratio, which is leasable/salable floor space divided by land area, i.e. density) and land prices of various areas around the city such as Knox Street (mostly low-rise), West Village and its on-going developments (mix of low, mid- and high-rise), and LoMac Crescent area.

For the tear-out, we felt comfortable going with the most aggressive scenario that put mostly CityPlace/West Village densities to LoMac land prices because there would no longer be a highway between this land and downtown, there would be high quality public parks and squares as centerpieces for each sub-district, and it would be the quickest, safest, and most expedient area in relation to the jobs of downtown and the amenities of Deep Ellum.

However, I am not as confident in pursuing the most aggressive financial scenario with the burial.  Instead, the low end of the leveraged private investment above is more of a middle ground between all of the scenarios.  The high end of the range is to show apples to apples with the tear-out.  Even then, it only leverages about half of the private investment because there is only half the land.  I think the lower number is more accurate because the land is just not as connected (1) and by not removing highway capacity, we're not suitably shifting the quantitative, macro-real estate market (2).

Another point to notice is that the costs for TxDOT's nine solutions, which I'm showing as $40-400 million are complete guesses on my part between structural reinforcement and complete facility rebuild.  You might as well put a question mark there since TxDOT is yet to publish any findings or estimates.


As I mentioned, the challenge of the tear-out is reduced capacity.  Something traffic engineers can't fathom.  This is also why their profession is systematically being thoroughly discredited.  Oh, and they ruin cities.  That isn't helping their cause.

I put the burial scenario together because a number of responses to the tear-out suggested, "what about the easier option?"  Which is odd, considering that the "easier" option is more than 10x as expensive and given the proposed air rights I'm suggesting for development above, will require some incredibly complex engineering.  It's only "easier" because it doesn't involve reducing capacity and blowing the mind of the autocratic process of highway building as if it's some kind of greater public good.  Odd, that a public good is what is wrecking American cities.

Instead, I want to make the case that less capacity is what is needed, not more.

Where shall we start?  How about density.  It is city policy to pursue and increase density in the name of tax base and all of the benefits density allows.

However, as the chart above shows, density decreases as highway capacity increases.  The more highway capacity, the easier it is to drive far and fast, effectively instilling a subsidy to live further apart.  Highways are a nudge pushing everything apart, diminishing spatial and energy efficiency.

How about highway capacity at the city level:

If Kansas City wasn't completely crazy, Dallas would be number 1.  Wait, being number one is bad?!  Yes.  Above is showing highway capacity for city proper.  Dallas is a city of 1.2 million, with a large number below poverty line trying to support the infrastructure and amenities of a region of 6.5 million.  And growing.  As Dallas is not capturing nearly enough of the regional growth, precisely because the highway system pushes growth outward rather than inward.

Do you think those cities to the right with very low highway capacity per capita are inefficient?  Not at all.

How about highway capacity per capita for the entire DFW metropolitan area:

As you see above, most of the metro areas in the country exist on a very consistent ratio of infrastructure to tax base, aka population.  You'll notice a few things.  First are the three off on their own to the right.  These are (R to L) NY (under median), LA (over median), and Chicago (way under median highway capacity - but they replace highways with elevated rail lines, which can be just as destructive and fragmenting).

The other outliers you'll notice are DFW, Houston, St Louis, and Kansas City are way above the American metropolitan area median for highway capacity.  In other words, these four metro areas have way too many highways, probably much more than they can afford to maintain for the long-term.

Besides the potential inability to maintain our infrastructure, what's the big deal?  The big deal is coerced car-dependence:

Shown above are commuting rates for the 20 largest US Metros by all forms not in private automobiles.  DFW and Detroit are the two lowest at around 4%, or put another way 96% of trips are by car.  Such numbers are indicative that these rates are NOT by choice, but by necessity.  It just seems like choice because all other forms of travel are so incredibly inefficient and undesirable.  They are this way because of the highway and arterial system which makes everything else (both real estate relationships and other forms of travel) fragmented and inefficient.

So our car dependence is coerced.  What of it?  We have to battle congestion, no?

Groups like TxDOT and TTI, both of which are invested in building evermore and ever bigger roads, use big, scary numbers like the entire country wastes $110 billion in congestion costs.  Wow, big number.  Remember, that's nationwide.  However, if Dallas households were able to cut car ownership by about 30%, that's nearly $4 billion each year which would stay in the local economy.  

The chart above shows all of the implications of traffic engineering induced car-dependence added together. These costs such as car ownership, operations, crashes, parking, etc etc. is 17x that of the mysterious bogeyman of congestion.  Or, $2.04 Trillion.   That's not a knife.  THAT'S A KNIFE.  

There is another point to be made about congestion.  And that congestion is actually the sign of a good thing.  It means people are trying to come together to enact social and economic exchange.  The city is the machine for bringing people together.  Fighting congestion kills the city's ability to do so, to function as a city.  Instead, we have to understand the difference between good congestion and bad congestion.  Bad congestion is when everybody is forced into cars.  It should be fought.  Except Traffic Engineering response to bad congestion is to put everyone into cars while degrading the physical environment and making walkability impossible.  The answer is demand.  Getting people out of cars and making that possible.

Lastly, more highway capacity means we drive more:

Above shows how more infrastructure means more driving.

This is why owning and operating a car is now estimated at $9,000 per year nationwide.  For people of South Dallas who have wondered how they would get to their jobs in North Dallas with a tear-out of 345, what the tear-out does is brings jobs and investment closer to South Dallas and makes the city less car dependent and less wasteful.  Nobody should HAVE to own a car to participate in the economy, to get to a job, to shop.

However, as long as we kowtow to the autocracy of debt-ridden, highway-building, anti-city transportation planners, we won't have a choice in how we get around, nor how our city looks and adapts long into the future.  And that's the real point, instilling choice and restoring power to the cities.