Wednesday, June 12, 2013

All the King's Cars and All the King's Scribes

Time for a fisking.  Perhaps if only because the entire thing is written with the shockingly unprofessional, patronizing tone of someone imbued with the confidence of being the mouthpiece of autocracy (journalism!). So bear with me a moment as we unscroll the King's edict and graffiti on his hand maiden's calligraphy.
Let me tell you about this blogger I pay attention to and what he calls his “recurring fantasy” about tearing out a major freeway that goes right through the center of town.This guy writes a bit about transportation and has an eye for other community affairs I follow, like politics, city hall and development. In recent months he’s referenced highway tear-outs in other major cities, and wonders why it can’t happen here, especially since TxDOT is now studying options for improving, fixing or replacing this stretch of road.The freeway, he says, is an artificial barrier that chokes off the edge of downtown and divides the city. The freeway in question is North Central Expressway in Richardson, and the writer is Mark Steger. He would like to see Central disappear and replaced with a “boulevard that’s people-scaled” and a grand central park that would invite development alongside.
We're not espousing tearing out freeways in the suburbs because the suburbs are built on the logic of the freeway.  They are dependent upon them, structured around them, and the growth is adapted to them.  This is why we bothered to dig up the Presidential memorandum quoting President Eisenhower.  There is a key distinction between intra-city highways and inner-city highways.  As Jane Jacobs wrote, big infrastructure is for going to big places.  You take the highway TO Dallas from points yonder.  You take city streets TO your job, to the store, to small destinations from small destinations like your home.  You don't take highways THROUGH cities, which end up being destructive to the fine-grained networks and urban fabric of social and economic connections of streets and blocks.
I’m sympathetic with the impulse, since it’s hard to love a freeway, especially this freeway. I live about a half-mile away, and the traffic translates into a constant low-level white noise that rivals the crickets in my backyard. I see the poor souls stuck in rush hour traffic there every morning on my way to the DART station to hop a train heading downtown. There is nothing aesthetically pleasing about the businesses lining the service roads.
The aesthetically displeasing buildings along the freeway frontage roads are a direct outgrowth of the highway.  The form follows the function of the street and that function is dangerous and repellent to people, thus the need to barricade buildings away from the freeway with distance and parking.  Unfortunately, when you build highways and get highway side development the tax revenue of a typical suburban style development (let's say a walmart) is about 1/10th of that of a typical walkable, urban mixed-use development.  So here's the equation, low tax base, low density, but more tax burden by way of infrastructure to support the low density.  It's an equation doomed to fail.

Could this possibly be why cities are systematically pulling out freeways?  Or that Vancouver, Paris, and London prevented freeways from entering the city.  They won't stand for suburbanites taking advantage and thus destroying the goose that lays the golden egg.  That city fabric that everyone loves and generates wealth.  Please do remember that cities have existed throughout the history of civilization as the platform for improving and advancing quality of life.  As Lewis Mumford wrote, highways make for anti-city.  His words make sense theoretically since traffic engineers one and only goal is to move cars, which means defeat congestion.  Unfortunately, it's difficult to share laughs, and love, and ideas, and money when we're all in cars.  Cities are built to bring people together.  That's the definition of city.  Endless points of convergence which we call intersections.
Walking beneath the freeway, I can sense the soot and heat radiating from the 200,000-plus vehicles that grind past every day. The pounding manages to pound one thing into your brain: This is not a road for my neighborhood, nor should I expect it to be. We happen to live along a torrent of regional traffic. It’s not pretty, but neither are airports or landfills or many other facts of urban life. Dallas-area drivers spend an average of 28 minutes or so getting to work. About a quarter of the workforce has a higher pain threshold, and spends more than an hour on the road one way. This translates into freeway demand.
The freeway demand is self-fulfilling specifically because of the freeway system subsidizes sprawling, car-dependent real estate markets.  It was perfectly logical for people to move out of Dallas.  That's the problem.  Only, it's never getting any cheaper, for 1) citizens to drive, operate, and maintain cars and 2) cities and DOTs to maintain the fiscally destructive car-based infrastructure.  Considering we have the highest car commuter rates, thus car-dependence, in the country of major cities, we can reasonably infer that this is not by choice.  We are arguing for increased choice in the way people live and what they spend money on.

However, he does make an incredibly strong argument against having highways in the city, given that a quarter of the workforce spends an hour in the car.  Is that worth it?  For people to spend 
And for that reason my neighborhood freeway isn’t going anywhere. Steger allows as much when he refers to his tear-out campaign as a “Quixotic dream.”
At least, he avers, TxDOT’s exercise in collecting community input can raise the issue of how the next- generation Central Expressway can be more a good neighbor and less of what Steger calls a “road-widening, community-dividing, downtown-killing, multi-billion dollar TxDOT construction project.”
Want to know why so few people show up to these community input sessions and are disillusioned with the entire "public process" charade?  Because they're bullshit when it's about 9 options of the exact same thing. 

Should not city building by self-determined? 

Furthermore, I consider quixotic to be a compliment when juxtaposed within the context of tories suggesting self-government is but a dream.  Yes, we're trying to insert a real level of democratic input and dialogue to an autocratic, anti-city process about what we want our city to be, and even less so determined not by Dallas citizens.
TxDOT’s meetings to collect community input will be next week in Allen and Richardson. I may see you there.
Ah, the public commons in process at a motorside lodge or some such.  I'm truly shocked a journalistic entity would employ somebody that doesn't understand why DART ridership stagnates while we make driving the most convenient possible form of transportation.  But it is they who also put out that atrocious, shallow series on sprawl last year.  
So what’s the timeline for something as potentially massive as a big fix for North Central Expressway, from Richardson to McKinney? If it involved something that I’d recommend — a big dig, like the LBJ project, that puts added lanes below ground and includes sound-reflecting walls — the project probably would not be built in my driving lifetime. The LBJ re-do took two decades-plus to get going.
No. Let's look at a different timeline.  The construction and maintenance is irrelevant (aside from the fact that as long as we have them they are purely a money sink forcing people into cars as they disperse the real estate market away from them, further apart from each other and into cars.

Any talk of building a new highway is thinking 40 years into the future.  So the real question is what kind of city does Dallas want to be in 2050?  What kind will it have to be?  Once again keeping in mind that car-dependent and coerced movement is a tax on both the citizens and the public agencies that serve them.
The idea to make North Central Expressway disappear is not the only freeway pipe dream in the vicinity. 
Yeah, give me that aura of authority veiling the insecurity.
There’s a similar notion to make IH-345 vanish from downtown Dallas. This is the freeway that you end up on if you take North Central Expressway south to I-30.
No. It's not similar as I've pointed out that highways are incompatible with inner cities, but systemically fundamental to places like Richardson.
The background is this: TxDOT has a stressed-out, mile-long stretch of elevated freeway on its hands, and it’s nearing the end of its design life. The design is not one that would be approved today for pounding traffic. It’s just not sturdy enough, from the placement of the columns beneath the structure to the way the decking isn’t bolted down to the cross beams.
Yes, this is why it shouldn't be misaligning city streets causing the assymetric column structure.
TxDOT has been burning through money on upkeep. Just monitoring the bridge for cracks and wear costs about $100,000 a year. Repairs themselves have been between a quarter-million and half-million a year.That led TxDOT to plan a bridge repair or replacement project and a comment-gathering period from the public. Hence the idea arose to get rid of the freeway altogether.
Nope.  We started the work on this two years prior if you haven't noticed.
That’s not going to happen, no more than North Central Expressway will disappear from Richardson. IH-345 is part of the interstate highway system. It serves an average of 170,000 vehicles a day, with a morning traffic pattern that’s similar to the south-to-north rush up Stemmons Freeway in the morning. Southern Dallas and Dallas County commute north past dowtown, you see, filling up I-345, just like Collin County commutes south, filling up Central Expressway. It’s the pattern of our city’s commerce.
First, a pattern that is there because it has been constructed that way around the freeways.  One that also shifted most of the middle class tax base, white and black further away in each direction, but have fun playing that overly simplistic race card.  Forcing the poor to own cars and spend half their income just to get to jobs at highway side drive-thrus.  Second, this plan brings investment and jobs closer to south Dallas, so the commute isn't so long and makes walkable, transit-oriented housing more affordable than the over-inflated prices in the very few walkable places in this city, precisely because of this kind of cheerleading pending up the demand for walkable neighborhoods.

Cheonggyecheon moved the exact same amount of people.  It was replaced with two lanes of surface streets and a park.  Instead of those cars, they now get 500,000 pedestrian visitors per week.  Again, what kind of city do you want?
The surface streets would not absorb the daily migration of that workforce without degrading neighborhoods by transplanting congestion there.
Au contraire.  The majority of the traffic isn't coming anywhere near these surface streets.  The long haul freight and regional traffic re-routes around the city precisely why the perimeter highways were built.  Then, streets like Peak/Haskell, Good Latimer, Cesar Chavez, and Pearl (among others) could be cleaned up from the horrible, spaghetti of streets they've become because of the arterial/highway system, acting as legitimate north-south boulevards.

And no, it wouldn't degrade the neighborhoods that actually need the life since sapped by big roads taking it away from them.  (note: one sentence graph just for the DMN)

Traffic is not a problem when it's properly tamed.  Hence, why we distinguish good congestion from bad congestion.  Champs Elysees moves 80,000 cars.  It also moves 500,000 pedestrians.  Traffic drives value.  Businesses need traffic.  But it needs to be of all forms and calmed.

What we're proposing filters traffic through here rather than funneling it.  Filtering traffic allows for positive things like retail to cluster and other synergistic value-added uses, while dispersing bad things like too many cars in one place that delete quality of place.  Mmmmmm, soot, noise, and exhaust.  Hence, why the grid is important.  It provides choice and self-organization.

Several boulevards handling half the traffic is far better for investment and the city of Dallas.  It would only degrade the neighborhoods (already degraded) if designed by your buddies strictly for high speed traffic rather than with other priorities in mind, like economic development, vibrancy, and quality of life...the kind of things "world class cities" make a compromise for.  But it takes a brain to realize the auxiliary effects of underlying systemics.
The TxDOT Bridge Division has authorized about $44 million for work to beef up IH-345. It will easily cost twice that much and perhaps multiples. Expect the money to materialize and the work to start as early as next summer.
The opening of Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas has stirred the imagination for bridging the walls to development that freeways represent to communities. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a green covering for North Central Expressway in Richardson, and swingin’ hot spots and civic attractions along side?
Incorrect.  Because the real estate values around the highway in Richardson won't pay for the cost of such construction.  Fortunately, we have the wave of millennials trying to get into cities, the demand of which our current infrastructure is slowing to tiny pockets rather than a coherent, interconnected city.
And surely, you say, there are superior ways to handle traffic demand in the IH-345 corridor and still invite neighborhood development. A big dig there, perhaps?
Start time-lining this thing with history as your guide.
I'll prefer to use the history of urban morphology that I'm a student of rather than the history of TxDOT.  Again, anti-city vs. city.
It was in the mid-1990s that the city and TxDOT cooperated with what they called the Major Transportation Investment Study to try to solve center-city freeway congestion, focused on the Stemmons Corridor. One conclusion was to add capacity to address south-to-north demand by building a Trinity toll road. Now 15 years later, there’s no money for the project and the hurdle of clearance needed for a road between the levees. The only part of the MTIS that’s going forward is the I-30 and I-35 bridge replacement work over the Trinity. Crumbling bridges tend to get noticed and fixed.
Except in the cases where crumbling elevated freeways were determined to be a liability, like New York and Milwaukee, and Seoul.  As for the rest of this passage, are we pretending any of that is a good thing, particularly when predicating it with the infrastructure burden / tax base equation we're basing our entire idea off of?  Good work.  You keep making our case.
Where things stand now, I can’t see where community leaders would support decreasing, rather than increasing, north-south freeway capacity by taking IH-345 out of service — certainly not to chase a real estate play for a few east-west streets between downtown and Deep Ellum. A much larger economy is at stake.
Community leaders eh?  Who would those be?  I don't think your buddies at TxDOT qualify.  This should be determined by a debate at city council.

And larger economies?  You mean like the city of Dallas and its ability to sustain itself, which is the engine of the entire system?  As for regional traffic and interstate commerce, that can do just fine routing around the city.  That freight also doesn't pay its own way, mind.
So let’s say parts of the community get behind the alternative concept of a buried IH-345, based on the idea that it would be aesthetically pleasing and neighborhood friendly. 
Part of the community IS already behind it.  And growing.  Business leaders, neighborhood groups, you name it.
A billion dollars in today’s money might not be too far off the mark, considering that major drainage issues would need to be addressed. But that’s today’s money. Don’t figure a project of that magnitude would get under way inside of 20 years, so you’d want to triple the cost, at least. 
Now we're just making up straw men.  Our plan doesn't cost $1 billion.  Rather, more like $65 million.  Of which, it pays for itself times 65 in property tax revenue alone.  Of which, we can deal with the drainage issues much more easily without having to work around the spaghetti of streets currently in place.  Hey, the revenue could even pay for the drainage issues further east by Baylor.
And imagine making the argument to the Texas Transportation Commission that a below-ground freeway is a critical need. Not. I don’t know where the money comes from for a project like that in a state that’s pushing the big projects into toll financing. I don’t know how you’d toll a subterranean IH-345. Don’t bet on this happening.
Not!
It’s probably a much safer bet to put odds on the start date for refurbishing the IH-345 bridge that’s there now. Remember, substandard bridges tend to get fixed. I think Oct. 16, 2014, is a good bet for this work commencing.
Ahh, there it is, stating the inevitability of TxDOT's plan via sources.  Unfortunately, this emperor has no clothes.  But lots of debt.