Monday, August 11, 2014

First Priority of Public Sector: Public Safety or Fast Cars?

This is the big joker.  If you've ever played Spades, which is the greatest card game ever invented -- because theoretically you always have a playable hand, every card matters, and there is just something about the synergieeeees between you and your teammate when you get on the same wavelength as you shift tactics mid-hand -- the big joker trumps all.  That is, of course, if your opponents aren't playing towards a nil bid or saddling you with bags.

OK that was a tangent.  The real point being is that "congestion" and "level of service" are used as trump cards for any and all argument over how to design and build cities.  We must widen all roads because god forbid you might have to wait in traffic for another minute on your morning commute because we've effectively told you via our infrastructure that it's the logical thing to do, to live outside the city, take your property taxes with you, and commute in daily, expecting free flowing traffic.  Because those outsiders are more important than residents.  So goes the logic.  Or at least the illogic and the resultant inertia that 'who could've ever predicted?' Well, Lewis Mumford predicted exactly that.  In 1961.  Yet, we're still ignoring him being exactly correct.

With that said, uptown Dallas is the hottest real estate submarket in North Texas.  Population density is pouring in as developers can't get buildings out of the ground fast enough to keep up with demand.  It's important to note the history of uptown.  It was once the thriving middle class African American neighborhood until the 70s and 80s, our Harlem so to speak for a geographical analogy, when suburbanized infrastructure ripped apart the social and economic fabric, which of course led to neighborhood decay, and then the S&L banks bought up huge swaths of State Thomas neighborhood expecting to build bank high-rises.  That all went kerplooey along with the banks themselves and the neighborhood sat as broken crockery, a house here a house there.  Huge fields sat within the historic street and block structure.

Long story short, developers saw an opportunity to deliver legitimate urban housing near where most people worked, downtown.  They had to fight the city to maintain the historic scale of streets.  They won and then uptown was born.  It's value expanding beyond the borders of State Thomas to CityPlace, now down towards Lower McKinney and Victory and eventually even across the dam that is Central Expressway to East Dallas.

However, it's important to note that other than State Thomas maintaining the historic street and block structure, the demand for uptown real estate is larely demographically driven.  Not place or infrastructurally induced.  We now see urban density conflicting with the suburbanized infrastructure that was imposed upon the original neighborhood.  The conflict is increasing demand for pedestrian activity and fast moving traffic.  The cars move fast, dangerously so, because the streets allow them to.  Nay, practically invite them to.

I took a ride around with a DPD patrol officer recently, asking him to show me all of the problem areas as he sees them from public safety standpoint.  This was after I spent a day walking around with a radar gun shooting average speeds.  He showed me the spots where he typically sits to catch speeders.  All of his spots converged with those same places where I observed speeds tipping past 35 mph, the speed at which pedestrians start dying when they're hit.  One of those spots, seems to be particularly problematic.  To wit, reddit:

So I'm walking my dog this morning and two Audi R8s come roaring down the street in front of my house around 8:00am. Two seconds later, there is a huge BOOM at the end of block. Myself and a few others go down wall someone calls the police. The black R8 had run a red light at the end of the block and had been t-boned by a Prius headed West. It appeared that the silver R8 was un-damaged, but shortly after I snapped the first pic, the driver of the silver car jumped in his car and drove off. First thing we checked was for injuries, but miraculously everyone appeared to be ok. The police did not show up for 45 minutes which is where things got interesting.
At the crash scene are 4 males 19-20 years old at best driving cars that cost well over 6 figures each. They have managed to total one and almost kill some people in the process. Instead of keeping quiet and waiting for the police to arrive, they start running their mouths and insulting some witnesses who had seen the accident and at one point trying to start a fight with a couple guys who had also seen the accident and called them out for racing. One witness had seen them hide a red cooler right after the accident. When the police arrived, he showed them the hiding spot where the found a bunch of liquor. Again, at this point you'd think logic would somehow step into the heads of these clearly busted drivers before the situation gets worse. Nope. At least 6 officers are now on the scene and two of suspects are yelling insults/threats at witnesses and flipping them off while one of the other suspects sits in wet grass in handcuffs...also running his mouth. At a couple points we heard officers tell them to shut their "punk mouths." You always here these crazy stories of entitled rich shitheads, but this is the first I've ever witnessed firsthand to such a degree.

Some redditors seem to agree:

I used to live right there! I saw three different accidents at that light, every single one there was a really expensive car that got smashed. Always heard lots of screeching brakes from midnight to 3 on the weekends too.

As does twitter:

  1. We have already had one guy end up dead in our fence. It's only a matter of time before someone plows into a group of peds.
  2. McKinney Ave is just as bad, I live at McKinney & Oak Grove and that stop light is used as a drag strip.

There are even pics.

Perhaps it's only my experience, but whenever I've witnessed drag racing around town, it's always on one-way streets:  Elm, Commerce, Carlisle, McKinney.  Perhaps, the risk averse personality types that are drawn to this kind of behavior, find driving in a lane of oncoming traffic a bridge too far.

Fortunately, this particular incident wasn't nearly as tragic as it could've been, as jmckee's tweets suggest.  But why is it even happening here in the first place?  What are our priorities?  If it was really public safety, would we even allow streets to be design in the middle of neighborhoods encouraging people to drive at unsafe speeds?  It's all about the rules of game we're playing.  Maybe the joker of congestion and traffic flow is actually the little joker and we have a bigger trump card.  The one where we prioritize public safety, economic development, and improved quality of life.  If and when we do, the traffic will take care of itself.  So why let it be the trump card?