Thursday, February 13, 2014

Disconnection? No, Reconnection.

A new elaboration of the common question "where does the traffic go?" has been bubbling up in the form of, "how does South Dallas get to their jobs in North Dallas?

When I hear these questions I always think to myself, "how does anybody get across Manhattan without Robert Moses's two proposed crosstown expressways," defeated by popular mandate?  Had Moses been successful at defeating Jane Jacobs, it would've undermined the value of opportunity and local economies in the area.  Some of the most loved neighborhoods in Manhattan would've been eradicated and the effects would've rippled throughout Manhattan as more room would be made for cars and parking, less for people, homes, and businesses.  All of which would now be in various locations around Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island.

The jobs wouldn't be nearby as economies and communities disperse into unsustainable fragments.
Now, for the moment, let's try to forget the underlying point that we think it's somehow OK that residents of South Dallas have to 1) own a car, and 2) must spend two hours in a car every day just to participate in the local economy.  Just give a read to Happy City for what effect this has on personal health, stress, families, and community.

It's no wonder why South Dallas has been hemorrhaging people in a place made so disconnected that it no longer has the advantage of proximity and urbanity.  Those with means to do so have already left.  With infrastructure that makes the entire region equally and very poorly connected only by automobile, why stay?

The infrastructure we design and build shapes the real estate market, the origins and the destinations.  They are ever-changing and adapting.  And right now, that infrastructure and its inherent inertia favor continued bleeding northward spillage.  That's why Dallas continues to lose jobs northward.

Or, as Chad Houser once told me, one of his kids in the Cafe Momentum organization spends 4 hours a day on various buses and transfers.  It is inhumane and it undermines opportunity to climb the socio-economic ladder.

We have to stop this inertia and entropy at its source and reorganize our city and our communities around more walkable infrastructure and more re-localized economies.  Only then can we empower all of our citizens.

Above is the planned 1967 highway map of Dallas.  Unfortunately for us, they've been far too successful at implementing all of this.  And now, TxDOT (and the Texas taxpayers) are on the hook for $35 billion in debt.  Who is to stop the bleeding?

Pay special attention in the map above to the dashed in proposed crosstown expressway.  Yeah, they were big in the 60's.  Freeway revolts around the country were successful in stopping many of these.  One in particular was stopped here in our fair city that would've been built through the Oak Lawn and southern edge of the Park Cities.  Imagine what would've become to those areas which were 1) the stability of these neighborhoods provided the dam that prevented a full 'Detroit-ing' of Dallas, and 2) became the starting point for the repopulation and re-urbanization of Dallas that we now call Uptown.  None of that would've happened and I wouldn't be typing this from my office in State-Thomas.

One of the latest TxDOT talking points I've heard is that 75 will become the busiest road in the country (as if this wasn't a distortion/dysfunction of their own creation).  Potentially busier than the 405 in LA, the current reigning champ of terrible decision-making, barely edging out Justin Bieber.

This soundbite sounds nice when trying to build bigger roads, but is ignorant of the only proven way to reduce congestion and increase opportunity.  By shortening trips we reduce the demand load throughout the road network and we get people out of cars.

I'm also hearing that the plan for 75 North of Dallas is for 27 lanes.  27!  Besides the absurdity of it on face, I'll give you a better reason why this is impossible, and we have to change course of policy and direction.  Widening to 27 lanes means acquiring all the properties on both sides, a billion $ investment alone, just to shutter and displace businesses.  If the point of transportation is to facilitate efficient social and economic exchange, what are we really doing here?

We have to stem the tide of inertia at its source, reversing the outward entropy decimating the city, and reorganize around more walkable, more sustainable, more empowering, and inclusive infrastructure networks for all.

Despite the growth in the sub-market of uptown, Dallas county is still hemorrhaging jobs and people outward.  primarily, northward into more sprawl.

Like the complexity of cities, there are no simple answers (besides continuing this destructive March of Folly).  Instead, there are many answers that in concert, solve an awful lot of problems, particularly, car dependence and job spillage out of the urban core.  The place that SHOULD be the most interconnected, the most walkable, the most empowering, and the most valuable.  Instead, we have half-filled high-rise office space in downtown getting 80% of market rate for rents.

First, by removing 345 as phase 1, then beginning to look at what to do with I-30, we're bringing jobs and investment back to downtown, re-centering the real estate center of gravity, and thus opportunity back to South Dallas.

Also, in the short-term, rather than continuing to funnel all cars into one constricted highway corridor (which, by the way doesn't move at rush hour anyway), we can improve several N-S connectors as high quality, multi-modal urban boulevards like Cesar Chavez, Good Latimer, Pearl, and the Peak/Haskell couplet.

Wouldn't it better honor Cesar Chavez if it was a safe, vibrant, highly desirable urban boulevard with a proliferation of small, local businesses lining the sidewalks than the horrific mess it is today?

Now, the third leg in the stool.  Below is the current DART rail map.  The green line from South Dallas runs in a roughly linear manner SE to NW.  To get to said jobs up 75, one would have to take the green line into downtown, change trains at the Pearl/Arts District station, and catch an orange or red train.  Depending upon exact origin and destination, you're still looking at 3 hour round trip minimums.

Under 345 there is this rail trivium, the third of which linking the red line to the green line is rarely used.

Why not utilize this and create a new line, if only during peak hours that directly link the green line up the parallel 75 corridor?

Highways can be stopped.  A better city can be built.  We just have to organize our collective will and abilities to do so.  Avoiding the problem isn't problem-solving.  It's not even acknowledging that there IS a problem.  And thus, South Dallas flounders.  I'm sorry, but I'm trying to do something about that.  Otherwise, maintaining and actively participating in the inertia undermines opportunity to the southern sector.