Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kids and Cities

Touching on an earlier post about re-energized cities, I ran across this piece from Grist which is the idea that kids are safer (a subjective term if there is one) in cities than the exurbs. Before I go on, I want to point out that I do not know the methodology of this study, but it does mirror other things I have read elsewhere.

In essence, because parents and kids are so tied to cars in the far-flung areas, these kids are in far more danger of perishing in a car accident than any other stereotypical city danger. Motor Vehicles (MV) present the greatest likelihood of death to our children than anything else. But don't take my word for it. In infants, MV deaths were the cause of less than 1% of all deaths, but that may be due to the great number of natural dangers facing a child so early in life. In toddlers, MV's are number one at 11 percent of all deaths. In kids, it is still number one, but the percentage is higher at 20 percent. In pre- and early teens, still number one and a bit higher percentage of 21 percent. And finally, older teens see the number cause of death from the same category, but a whooping 40 percent of all teen deaths are at the hands of the car.

In both teen cases, suicide is a greater cause of death than homicide, which might be another factor in the case against the car. Since teens are experiencing a greater independent streak at that age, not having easy mobility is the same as being under house arrest. Some researchers have found higher rates in rural versus urban, and higher in suburban than urban, but others have found no such link. However, the number one factor in teen suicide is depression. My opinion, based a little on research, a little reasoning and a little instinct, is that suburbs, not just because of the car, offer little to stimulate the growing senses of teens. If everything looks the same and you have to have a car to pass through it, which means dependence on parents, that does nothing for the independent-minded teen. This helps set in a depression, which in turn increases the chance of a suicide.

Now this study does nothing to assuage the other concerns of the parent who chooses the suburb over the city, such as better schools, bigger yards or more space. Just as the rational person can make the claim that cities are safer, you can also make the claim that parents do more for kids than schools can, for example.

But the underlying theme may be, just as with the downtown business post, that the generations following the baby boomers, and specifically, Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennial's, are fundamentally changing how America lives. Cities and their planners may find that an increasing amount of families will be heading back to the city. Those that prepare now will be better off than those who don't.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Goes Out to All you Amateur Planners

First, hope everyone had a merry Christmas and may 2011 be prosperous and healthy.

Second, ran across this piece from one of the blogs I follow. Anyone who has every considered planning has likely played some version of Sim City at one time or another. Me personally, I have played all four (I ignore Societies and pretend Maxis didn't offer that one), with my personal triumph coming from from the Rush Hour expansion of Sim City 4.

While I won't get into most of the critiques the post made, such as the lack of mixed use and the one entrance per property, I do wish to touch on the transit points.

Sim City is lacking in transit options. Capital expenditures and physical infrastructure are represented and done ok. However, virtually everything else is not. I have always wished for a video/computer game that would be strictly transit. They make/made an Airport Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon and Roller Coaster Tycoon but nothing that would allow to choose modes, routes, frequency times, etc for a city or regional transit system. In Sim City, you plop bus stops and the routes are just there, or basically, one bus stop equals one route, so that each connecting bus stop is a route. I suppose if you use your imagination you can assume there are transfers there, but that is really the whole point. I don't want to use my imagination, I want to actually do it.

This I think leads to expert amateur planners as can be witnessed on forums like this. You have the internet wizard, who can cut, copy and paste with the best of them, but has no real comprehension of what that means. You have the guys who say "I don't understand why they just don't do x", when as usual, there is always a good reason why, or the guys who just don't have a good understanding of how transit works, such as the one where "DART should run past two A.M. so people who leave the bars don't have to drive." Perhaps, somewhere down the way, they built a city that carries 100,000 people on its transit system and therefore they know how it works.

Or perhaps Sim City isn't the reason and it is like near every other aspect of our society where the average person knows it all anyway. Either way, I still want my transit simulator.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Could transit help the Rangers win the World Series?

Thanks to my mom (in-law) for finding this one.

If you believe the pundits, Cliff Lee would have had the Rangers competing for championship titles for the next few years. However, in a move that shocked the baseball world, he spurned more expensive contract offers from the Rangers and New York Yankees to sign with Philadelphia Phillies. Turns out, the money and competing for championships weren't the only reason.

In the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Bud Grant wrote of Kristen Lee, Cliff's wife, and her desire to be in Philadelphia. Select quotes from his story.

"Kristen Lee wanted her husband to return to the Phillies because of "how easy it is to get from point A to point B" in Philadelphia, she was quoted as saying by the Philadelphia Inquirer."


"'Even in Dallas," Kristen Lee was quoted, "[from] where we were staying, it was hard to get to the ballpark.'"

"Kristen Lee's fondness for transit isn't limited to commuter rail.
She's also happy to be a 11/2-hour train ride away from road games in New York or Washington.
"We liked the easy travel on a train for our kids to other cities," Kristen Lee was quoted."

This isn't just a sports issue here. It is going to effect cities in the future. As I have posted before, the younger generation is fundamentally changing how we live. The baby boomers and their parents set up the suburban model. Gen X on down is rethinking that idea. (Should point out, baby boomers becoming empty nesters and moving to the city is also reinvigorating cities)

It also serves a different point. Both of the Lee's are from small town Arkansas. It is from these places you often here the every one wants a house and car, no one wants to live in a dense area. Simply put, that isn't true. Some may want the typical offering. However, others don't.

What should be noted here is the need for some form of balance. Areas that offer one type of living arrangement may be great at some point, but it will never be sustainable in the long run. Single-family cities will find folks leaving when parents watch the kids take off and then leave themselves as they become empty-nesters. Those cities that offer a balance of urban and suburban will have a better advantage in the long run.

Perhaps if Arlington were one of those cities offering balance, they would also have a World-Series-winning team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Are companies and firms moving downtown?

Yes, according to the Wall Street Journal. Using data from REIS, they point out that the vacancy rate for downtowns nationally is 14.9%, roughly the same rate as in 2005. Meanwhile the current vacancy rate of 19% is 2.3% higher than its 2005 counterpart. Similarly, since the beginning of the year, suburbs have lost 16 million square feet of space, compared to 119,000 square feet for downtowns. They also cited some real world examples in Detroit and Houston of companies relocating from their suburbs to the downtown area.

So what does it mean? Is it just a consequence of the current economic climate? Is it a trend of the younger generation wanting a more urban lifestyle? Is it a sign of downtowns reemergence as the center of the region? Is it that the firms who are downtown happen to be better off than suburban companies? Is it just a coincidence?

In my opinion, it may be some of it all. Obviously, when cities reinvest in the cores, there are bound to be upsides to it, though to be certain some expenditures have greater benefits to the public than others and not every investment will see an improvement in the payoff. Investing in transit will likely see a better return than convention center hotels. But overall, this has had some return in making the downtown area more appealing.

And certainly firms that office downtown are more recession proof. It is the clustering effect. If I am a law firm, I want to be near the courts. Law firms certainly have need for support services, which want to be near their clients. Since all levels of government and not just the courts, happen to be a major if not the biggest employer downtown, that helps keep every downtown stable.

But I think the biggest factor happens to be the younger generation, those that seek a more vibrant, car-less, healthier, environmentally-friendlier, culturally-filled lifestyle. They are what is known as the creative class. These folks are generally more educated and are vacating the suburbs for urban areas at a much greater rate than the rest of the population.

One thing that wasn't made clear is what is the definition of downtown? To use Dallas as an example, everything within the freeway loop is considered downtown. But the actual dense, urban area, primarily Uptown, extends much further than that. Uptown has had a low office vacancy rate. While it is not as urban as the stereotypical downtown, it is far more so than the standard suburb. I'm sure this example plays out all over the country. When that happens, it turns more into a city vs. suburb contest, rather than downtown vs. suburb.

Will this trend line continue? I doubt it. While I do see the downtown portion to continue, I just have a hard time believing the suburban office market will be continuing a downward trend. At worst it stabilizes. But, the likelihood is that American cities will start to achieve some balance between suburban living and urban. That in and of itself may be the best news of all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Green Line Critique

It's been a week since I rode the Green Line, as well as read a weeks worth of news, saw the system wok firsthand, and seen the effects. While I would say the overall effect is positive, there re several things that could use improvement, both in the control of DART and outside.

I am going to post several links that will build the basis for this entry. The Dallas Morning News did several stories, one the day before opening, which in its own right was a large negative critique, one from a columnist, which is largely a fluff piece, and one the day after chronicling the events. Perhaps the most referenced piece will be this one from the transport politic, which shares many of the same critiques I have, as can be seen from the Skyscraper Page message board, of which you can find my points as FoUTASportscaster.

I don't fully blame DART for this, but my number one gripe about the DART rail system is that it is built in old freight right-of-way and/or near freeways. The one exception is the Blue Line in South Dallas on Lancaster, as it is in the median of a major street, right next to destinations. The Blue Line north is on old freight railroad, as is the Red Line south and the two Green Line segments. The Red Line north is under a freeway for the first three miles and on old ROW after that.

The other major point is the historical formation of the city has affected the modern transit system. Back in the day the railroad made or broke cities. Dallas didn't take off until the Houston & Texas Central and Texas & Pacific Railroads came into town. Then roads followed the railroads. Highways followed the roads. Interstates and freeways followed the highways. As an example, using the T&P alignment, old Bankhead Highway followed roughly the T&P route. Highway 80 followed the road. Finally, Highway 80 turned into Interstate 20 in between cities and around, with highway 80 turning into Business Loop 20. Sometimes, one became the other, as Central Expressway in North Dallas was built on the old H&TC railroad.

Now, what that means is that when the old rail lines are converted to light rail lines, they largely are near freeways. That limits a lot of ridership potential. Rail works best when it goes in the middle of places. The most active stretch of the current DART Line is downtown, which it runs in the middle. The second densest section is the Blue Line south, which it runs in street median, with usable land on either side.

This following of existing ROW ignores already built up and dense neighborhoods. Uptown is probably the best candidate for rail service, yet it has a streetcar and a decent but not great connection to an existing station. If there were two stations in or under McKinney Avenue, they would rank in the top ten in boardings.

For many reasons, such as cost, FTA requirements, disruptions, local politics and regional politics, DART did what they had to do. Building in old railroad ROW is cheaper than a new alignment, a la the upcoming Orange Line in Las Colinas. The FTA's funding formula favored lines that offered commute time savings, hence a commuter type system. Building in the median of streets disrupts various properties. Local political example abound, but the best is the Blue Line's northern alignment. DART planners favored an option to run through East Dallas that would have 600% more riders than the second alignment, which was built. Since DART cannot construct a line without the local jurisdictions approval, the City Council effectively put the kibosh on that route since some residential neighborhoods didn't want it. Now we are stuck with what we have, a line that carries less than 10,000 riders a day. Finally, I don't think it is a stretch to say that the reader can easily imagine the regional politics of city vs. city and "where's my rail line when they already have one."

Dallas has not done much to encourage rail ridership. While many of the suburbs have approved transit supportive zoning, Dallas has not. The only real regulation that has much effect on the built environment is that within a quarter mile radius of a DART Station, developers and property owners have to provide ten percent less parking than required otherwise. While that is nice, it isn't urban at all. In a story reference in the Dallas Observer's Unfair Park, a club in Deep Ellum would have to provide 34 spaces to open, rather than the normal 38. That makes little differences to the smaller scale projects, which is precisely what builds urban environments, which in turn is what precisely builds your transit ridership.

These urban systems generate tremendously more ridership in any measurement than its commuter or suburban counterparts. Yet, DART has designed a commuter system, using the most expensive urban rail technology. This system is designed primarily for one function, get people to and from downtown. Since downtown is composed of mostly office workers, it becomes a commuter system.

When you build a rail system in the manner that Dallas has, you have to rely on transfers, whether that comes from buses, walking, cycling and even cars in a park-n-ride. The problem with that approach is that transfers lower ridership. This is the result of increased time and uncertainty. In many cases, unless you live or work directly on a rail line, which is generally the case, there are two transfers that are needed. For the time-strapped or transit-uncertain commuter, this is a killer.

Now one of the ways to help minimize the above deficiencies is through new supportive developments. There are two problems for Dallas. The first, as noted, is the lack of development controls. Since there aren't even basic TOD type zoning around rail stations, depending on supportive development seems a bit too enthusiastic. Mockingbird Station is an accident. It still has suburban parking requirements. There were little suburban building codes before, which is part of the reason the developer chose that site. Most of the sites around the existing stations will require a zoning change for any type of urban development.

The second problem is that developers may not get it right. Park Lane is another great example. It is closer to being a transit adjacent development. The only part riders can see from the rail line is the parking garage. If they do know it is there, they have to cross busy Park Lane and hike up a grassy hill to get into the development. There is very little, if any, increase in ridership because of it.

It is no surprise that in the DART system, the Green Line's projections show it will be the most ridden line. Currently, the highest ridden segment of the current lines is the Red Line north, followed by the Blue Line south, Red Line south and Blue Line north. The northern section of the Green Line will likely be number two, since, like the Red Line, it follows a highly congested freeway. At a close third, if not tied for second is the Pleasant Grove section of the Green Line. The highly-ridden buses in that area were converted into rail feeders to go into the new line. The 165, which was a semi-express bus that was discontinued since it was a duplicate service carried 4,000 riders a day. They are now rail riders. The big question is, will the new Green Line, operating as a system with the rest of the lines, attract choice riders, those who have access to other modes? For the reasons listed in this entry, I don't think there will be too many.

For the record, I do like the Green Line. It improves the reach of the region for me. But, since I live downtown, I don't suffer the same fate as everyone else. I can easily reach the station, have one less transfer, if any at all, and a lot more immediate destinations since it is the hub. With a few design changes, that could have been the case for more people outside of downtown. That in a nutshell is why Dallas, as the largest Light Rail operator in the country, has the lowest ridership per mile of any other mid-major operator in the country, and that is a shame.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Green Line Opening

The family and I went to Super Saturday, which was the preview in advance of the new DART Green Line opening. I'll do a more in depth critque of the line later.

But first, pictures from the day. First up, whole new track north of Victory.

 DART claims that each station is different, and in a sense, that is true. However, it is usually just differences in the columns and floor tile. Here is Burbank Station, just outside the headquarters of Southwest Airlines, complete with ad space.

 The view of the other side.

Large portions of the Green Line are elevated, leading to some very nice views of the surrounding areas.

Bachman Station. Note the different columns and floor tile. This will also be the junction for the Orange Line and current terminus of said line. Eventually, it will make its way west toward Las Colinas and DFW Airport.

Royal Lane, again with different columns and floor. This is an elevated station, requiring elevators to meet disability requirements.

Trinity Mills, rather non-descript. Come June, if things go well, the A-Train, which is the commuter line from Denton County, will terminate here. Initially, it will run to Lewisville. In a couple of years, it will end in downtown Denton.

This is the end of the line, North Carrollton/Frankford Station. Otherwise, it is like every other DART station, but with different columns and floors.

The only portion of the line that is depressed, though not completely underground, is the stretch that runs under Mockingbird Street.

Finally, this was taken the following Monday. What is shows is a three car train. This wasn't an uncommon site before DART added a middle section to its cars (the section where the white line dips is the new section). This is the first time a three car train has been seen with the new sections. The other nice thing, the cars were full. DART expects 30,000 trips on the Green Line after its first year. The Red Line, the current leader, sees less than 27,000 per weekday, eight years after it was completed in its current form.

Finally, here's a map of the system. This was actually designed by a friend of mine. An extreme improvement over the previous system map. It will also change again in 2012, when the Orange and Blue Lines are extended.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Another Link

It seems that when I bring up a point, I find some bit to back it up. This time around, it is about the traffic engineer. In a previous post, I linked a story about how the Florida DOT won't make an urban street with a State Highway designation urban friendly in Miami.

This link comes from a former traffic engineer. I find myself taking this at face value (I have no idea who the guy is and if is is truly a traffic engineer). But it does make the same points I did, with a couple exceptions.

The first, they are doing what they are doing in their version of safety, primarily car users. Though, it would appear the author came to a revelation that planners have argued for a while. The "safer" streets generally have more accidents.

This has everything to do with the anomaly of human behavior. We tend to slow down, look more and overall drive better when we feel unsafe. Real world example happens here in downtown all the time. You can tell a visitor from a worker by how they drive. Visitors tend to be slower and looking around more while those that drive here frequently go faster, text or run lights.

Which leads to the second, that math-based applications for human behavior is prone to failure. On a very general level, math is useful. Modelling traffic patterns is no more than several mathematical equations based over a geography divided into zones. Still, in every region, the model has to be calibrated, meaning the original equations do not fit well and have to be modified to fit real world observations.

Yet, traffic engineers will float these formulas out there as if it is physics and say we need X across all spectrum's. This is bad for our streets and bad for our urban cities. What's good for suburban Long Island isn't for downtown Dallas. What works for Arlington, doesn't for Oakland. Yet, for decades now, traffic engineers have used these math formulas, usually derived from regression analysis and applied them unilaterally across the board.

Ironically, there are places that are taking spaces for cars only and making them for everybody. New York, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Portland have all taken highways or major routes away from cars and usually turned them into "complete streets" or pedestrian ways. Each time, traffic engineers warned of increased congestion and traffic nightmares. Each time, that proved to be false. Apparently, they have no mathematical formula for decreased space. But, if they were to use a standard linear regression analysis, they'd have to observe it in the real world, which is precisely what they work towards not seeing happen. What little has actually happened, is so small that the statistical margin of error would make the formula irrelevant

Monday, November 15, 2010

Several Quick Links

Several stories have come out in the last two weeks that I have been meaning to post and discuss, so I'll knock them out here.

First up, we look at the car ownership rates of one of the youngest driving generations, or perhaps more specifically, the declining rate. There have been these stories for years now, usually in the form of demographers or planners predicting the future. This one is a bit different, in that it comes from people who care, the car companies.

The cause are quite numerous, from personal reasons (environmental conscientiousness, social networks, time), to social (economic slowdown, cities investments in transit and urban areas, convenience) but the underlying point is still the same, if car companies are focused on this, planners should be too. Cities that are adequately prepared for the car-lite/free lifestyle will be ahead in the game.

New York has always avoided the population fate of its peers, but don't be surprised to see other NE cities stabilize/gain population. Conversely, cities like Dallas and Los Angeles that are building extensive systems to offer that lifestyle in car dominant areas will also be winners of this population segment.

Of course, this coincides with the youngsters parents moving back to the city as well as staying in place, a well documented phenomenon for a few years now. This is important for two reasons. One, cities need to provide for a variety of lifestyles, not just the boomers or Gen Y. Second, do we really want the largest elderly generation (as well as the largest current generation) behind the wheel for everything with their deteriorating physical skills?

The next link comes from USA Today. I read the paper version and immediately thought of the planning ramifications. In essence, for the first time in...perhaps ever Americans are buying smaller houses. The median size house has dropped 200 square feet since its peak in 2007. Again the reasons are varied and even the same as before, but one thing isn't clear. Is this a response to the current economic situation or a longer term trend? Certainly this is unheard of in prior recessions, but none have been as severe either.

Personally, I hope the trend continues. These types of houses are more costly to serve from a civic standpoint. Take a piece of paper and draw one-inch square. then draw a line connecting those squares. Do the same again, but this time draw squares with only 3/4 inch sides. The line connecting them can be a number of infrastructure types/services, water, sewer, roads, postal, fire, police, etc. Obviously, the longer line means a greater cost. It is more expensive to serve low-density areas, primarily because the tax revenues generated do not cover the costs of more infrastructure. This may help balance civic budgets in coming years.

Finally, I post this link from the Miami Herald to back up an earlier point on parking. This concerns Brickell Avenue in Miami, which according to the article is one of the densest places in Florida. Planners residents and city officials want this road to become what is termed a "complete street" where cars, pedestrians, transit, cyclists, etc. all can use the space equally.

However, the State Department of Transportation, composed largely of traffic engineers, is making the street an auto-oriented one, to get as many cars through as fast as possible. It is common place to see pedestrians dodge oncoming cars and see cut-through's in the bushy median.

It hearkens back to something I have said consistently, if Americans do indeed love our cars, it is similar to an arranged marriage. People tend to do what is convenient. When we build for cars, we all of a sudden love them. We will never divorce our cars if we keep following a traffic manual designed for maximum car use at the expense of any other mode.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Map of Historic Streetcar Lines in Dallas

Here's a map transposed onto Google Maps showing all lines in Dallas. This isn't an accurate map at one point in time, since some lines were laid and then ripped out before others were laid, but it does show a comprehensive map from start to finish.

Amazing what we once had.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dowtown Dallas Parking, a Pictorial Tour

To highlight my points from the second to last post, I took several pictures around downtown.

First, this is Ceasar Chavez Parkway. It is eight lanes in both directions. Yet, not one of those lanes are dedicated to on-street parking.
The second is a stretch of Jackson between Harwood and Pearl. There are 11 curb cuts, greatly diminishing the on-street parking quantity.
The next is one of the 11 curb cuts, though it is no longer in use. Though there are meters in this picture, it is far more common for an unused curb cut to be meter-less.
This is a garage curb cut just outside my residential building. The curb cut takes the space of 4.5 on-street spaces. Also in the picture is a truck. It is notable because the picture was taken before 9 am. It is illegally parked.
Here is a stretch of Elm. It is just a block away from the heart of downtown and between almost 3 million square feet of office space. Yet, the view from the street is one of desolation. Note the lack of any parking meters.
The following series is the retail section of my argument. The first is Chase, CVS and Jason's Deli on Main Street. A prime place for metered, convenient parking, yet you'll see the no parking signs all up and down this section.
Next up is a 7-11 on Commerce. However, it is more important for people to turn left than park and spend money.
If you forgot your anniversary and you want to stop by the Flagship Neiman Marcus to get your significant other a gift, well you'll have to drive into the garage, pay, take the elevator down, cross the street and go in, because you can't drive up to the meter, drop in some change and go in.

Are you on your way home, but want to stop by and get a bite to eat? Unless you do it outside of rush hour, you are out of luck. Go to your home outside the downtown area and spend money on Italian.
What about the downtown grocery store? Nope, even on little-used Jackson Street, you can not stop on the street and get what you need. The ironic thing is that the city at the behest of downtown stakeholders subsidized the grocer at the tune of $1 million over two years.
Continuing the theme of don't stop by during rush hour, the donut shop on Elm Street might be particularly keen on attracting the morning customer. Sadly, the parking meters out front are not. The clothing shops hours might be dictated by the availability of convenient parking, meaning shorter than they might otherwise be.
And finally, downtown is chock full of "no parking from here to corner" signs. I guess the idea is that having the corner available makes it easier on traffic. I can certainly understand outbound, ie easier turning right, but in bound makes no sense, like the one in the picture. Either way though, I feel it is at least one wasted space on each corner.
Also, compare the last picture with the fifth picture. Even though they have the same amount of pedestrians (0), this one looks like there's more activity, thanks to the parked cars.

Finally, a look back at the Stockyards, which does allow cars until the corner.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Stockyards, a Small Urban Oasis

The wife and I took a visit to the Fort Worth Stockyards yesterday, and proof that I am not a constant complainer, only an urban elitist, I was pleasantly surprised. The Stockyards are a collection of near-turn-of-the-century buildings on or near Exchange Avenue just north of downtown. It receives a lot of hype as a popular and family-friendly urban area.

My wife, almost 8-month old son and I rode the TRE from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth, then caught the Fort Worth Transportation Authority's # 1 bus to the Stockyards. We've taken the TRE often, but rarely Fort Worth's buses. This bus, especially considering it was a Saturday, was well-ridden.

We departed on Main Street just south of Exchange. There were some nice urban buildings, but nothing outstanding until exactly one block south of Exchange. We were hungry and my wife had a destination in mind, a place called Love Shack Burgers. I was mildly surprised that it wasn't a building.
In essence, this was a place where an old building was demolished, and rather than making it a parking lot, the property owners added a shack where the food was cooked and another for restrooms. A couple of small decks were added to make for seating and a stage was added at the far end for live music.
It was nice to see that although an important piece of the urban fabric had been removed, there was a cheap and inexpensive way to integrate the property back into the urban fabric. On the Dallas side, it would be a parking lot and start to degrade the urban fabric.

The street scenes were quite lively. There were all types of people, old and young, families and couples and friends and strangers. All different types of ethnicities were present as well as different types. By that I mean folks like bikers, cowboys, tourists and yuppies. In its basic form, it does what a true urban environment does. Everyone from all walks of life getting along.
The physical design was still well done. What I mean by still is that in a lot of these types of neighborhoods built before the car, changes happen to make it accommodate the car. On Main Street, before entering the Stockyards from downtown, the street looks like a lot do in car-oriented areas. However, on Exchange and the Stockyards section of Main, it looks like a pedestrian area. The lanes are narrower, the street is made of brick instead of concrete and the lanes aren't clearly marked. Now keep in mind, the same amount of cars fit into the street. But instead of encouraging them to get through as fast as possible, they encourage all types of transportation, not just one.

The parking issue was also encouraging. Instead of vast amounts of surface parking, there was ample amounts of on-street parking. Other off-street parking was available at the edges. The parking didn't destroy the urban fabric, at least at the center. A lot of the points I made in the previous post were followed and made the area attractive.

I'd also be remiss to point out that auto congestion was high, yet the area was still active and vibrant. This defies the logic that if there is high congestion, the area will decline. These types generally advocate bigger and wider roads to promote vitality, when it these projects that eventually destroy it.

Note the long line of cars on both sides of Exchange, yet there are still just as many people out strolling. This exemplifies a balanced system in an urban environment. As soon as this proportion changes and favors the car, the other aspect, people, fade as the streets feel less comfortable.

The adaptive reuse was well done too. As near as I can tell, a former train depot for loading livestock has been converted to an outdoor pedestrian mall with a variety of shops.
In fact, that was well done throughout the entire district. Unlike Deep Ellum in Dallas, which has the same feel, but entirely different use, the Stockyards different uses keep it active. There were stores typical of what you'd see in Deep Ellum, but so much more. Typical old time stores such as antiques and trinket shops were present, but others such as tattoo parlors and bars. Again, it was this mix of uses that kept the scene vibrant.

Not all was well. There were parts, unlike Love Shack Burgers, where the replacement building didn't quite go over. You can tell the architect tried to fit the building, a hotel, into the existing urban area using the same building materials. However, the buildings physical design does not fit in well. There are too many setbacks, unimportant landscape and no interaction. 
It is obvious in the above picture that the hotel does not fit in with the surrounding areas of the other pictures, even though the hotel is directly adjacent to them.

The irony is that had it been in reverse, the buildings materials didn't fit in, but the design did, it would flow well. This is an all too common occurrence that architects do in redevelopment projects. These in turn degrade the overall quality of the urban environment, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another concern is can this place stay vibrant. The positive is that the actual stockyards anchor the area. There was a rodeo there during our visit. That activity alone helps attract visitors. The area itself as it is arranged is attractive as well. In fact, urban areas in the Sunbelt are an attractive area in and of themselves, since they are a novelty in a car-oriented oasis.

However, beside retail and the livestock attraction, there are very little other uses. There are old residential houses on the far outskirts that do count (proof that suburban development can be walkable), but within there is none. There are a smattering of offices here and there, but not many. This may be something planners will have to address in the not-so-distant future.

One other thing that was really well done was the extreme amount of street furniture. There were several benches, trash cans, shade and other street furniture that made the street scene friendly and inviting for pedestrians. There are even some made for little ones.
This may have been a shameless attempt to post a picture of family, but it illustrates well the basic premise of an attractive urban environment.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Downtown Dallas parking

Inevitably, every five years or so, the City of Dallas commissions a downtown master plan study. Always, it focuses on the latest in planning at that time, more office, greater car access, more residential units, more street scenes, etc. Also just as inevitable, the study ignores the effects of parking, perhaps the most important aspect of any urban study. Arguably, no other aspect has a greater impact on urban form than parking.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I have done my own parking inventory. To the defense of those prior plans, doing a parking inventory is difficult. I have been doing since the start of summer. It is not complete, and likely will never be complete. Counting public spaces is the easiest for access. Many public buildings have their own spaces, some of which are easier to enter than others. Even more difficult, a lot of government buildings are shut to all but those who have access cards. And since downtown is in constant flux, surface numbers are constantly changing.

Even the count itself might be off, but only by a little. Counting spaces over and over again is monotonous and ripe for miscounting. However, any errors I have made are minimal.

I chronicled everything onto Google maps. Since it isn't quite a GIS capable application, I had to separate them into different land uses. While the information contains more than just parking, it isn't anything that isn't already known somewhere else. At least the parking information is likely to be unique. If anyone has it, it is unknown to me and to several others who would know where to find that info.

First, here's surface parking, which contain over 22,000 spaces.
Surface 1
Surface 2
Surface 3
Surface 4
Next up, garage spaces, which contain the most spaces in downtown at just shy of 30,000.

Office spaces is the third highest space holder at just shy of 10,000.

Government and similar institutions comprise 5,500 spaces.

With new residential development comes new residential parking, or roughly 4,000 spaces.

And finally a grouping of the other land uses add another 4,000 spaces. And yes, in Dallas, even the parks have parking, or more accurately, they are underground garages with green space on top.
Parks and Plazas
Retail and Misc.
And perhaps the most overlooked part of any parking system, and arguably the most important is on-street parking. Since it isn't Google Maps friendly, I have nothing to post. It is in Excel format. There are less than 2,500 spaces in the 1.3 sq mile downtown area. When you analyze the locations, you see that the major streets have surprisingly little. More on that later.

Now to the commentary. There is an over abundance of surface parking, the antithesis of an urban area. The dead zones created by surface parking is incredible. In many ways, they create a de facto boundary, clearly delineating one zone from another. It is no accident that the vibrant areas tend to be without surface parking in large numbers. But make no mistake, even small amounts can have bad effects. Large amounts are disastrous.

In order to get to healthy proportions in downtown, that number needs to be one-third of its current total. The positive news from such an over supply is that redevelopment is easy on a surface lot. However, given the tract record of urban development in Dallas, it doesn't mean it will be a good addition to the urban environment. Without any comprehensive guidelines on what is good versus bad, downtown will see just as many bad addition like Hunt Towers and the Commerce side of the Merc as we will of the good development like Third Rail Lofts and One Arts Plaza. Seeing the poor development of the south side of Uptown around Lower McKinney, I won't hold my breath.

Garages, like development, can be hit or miss. Depending upon design, they can be conducive to the urban area or just as easily rip it apart. The garage catty corner from the new Main Street Garden park is a great example of a bad one. At the street level, it is pitiful. There is nothing that engages the pedestrian and makes the entire block feel longer to traverse than should be in a good urban area. There is no mix of uses, unless you count the car wash in the interior or the dry cleaners at the skywalk level (I don't). Like surface parking, this garage creates an artificial boundary, signifying the end of the Main Street District.

Meanwhile, at Main and Akard, just a few blocks away sits another public garage, although you'd never know it. At the ground level is a CVS, Jason's Deli and the vehicular entrance, the only indication there is a garage there. Above the car park are residential units. If you were to look up at the garage section, you'd see the design was coherent with the rest of the buildings. In other words, it looks like a building, not a monolithic garage.

The final component of a public parking plan are the on-street spaces. No other parking in the automobile age is as vital to an urban are than on-street for many reasons. The convenience of quickly finding a space is important for retailers and shoppers. Stopping, heading in the store, purchasing you product and leaving is the bread and butter of on-street parking that simply isn't there for off-street except in the most immediate spaces. Even still is hard to beat the pulling up to the curb when you have to pull into the lot and pay.

The second benefit is extended to pedestrians. On-street parking provides a buffer between cars and sidewalk-users. It isn't comfortable walking next to several one-ton machines going on at 40 miles-an-hour.

A final primary benefit comes in the aesthetic. A street full of parked cars appear to have more activity than streets without. And in a common theme of urban areas, activity begets more activity.

In downtown Dallas, on-street parking is too scarce. Were I in charge, I could easily double the amount of street parking. They are rare for two main reasons. For every property that wants vehicular access, a curb cut is needed. When you add a curb cut, you have to eliminate at least two meters. And that's just for one entry point. It is more common to have multiple entry points, which eliminates several spaces. In the eastern end of downtown, there are several small property owners who have surface lots, even adjacent to another small surface lot. Each has its own curb cut which means on-street parking is rare in that part of town.

Heck, were I a surface parking lot operator, I would try to have as many curb cuts as possible. That way you are more likely to park and give me money in my lot than park on the street. There are many lots that have entrances every few feet. In some instances, these entrances are no longer in use and have spaces on the private side, but the street still has no meter. Sadly these practices just encourages nobody to park at all downtown, leaving the area empty.

The other big player in a lack of street parking is the traffic engineer. Their ilk are primarily concerned with one thing, moving as many cars as possible in as little time as possible. There are several streets where on-street parking has been removed from one side. And, at a time when there are the most car users, the remaining on-street parking is outlawed.

Think about that for a minute. In rush hour, where there are the most cars and some drivers need a convenient place to quickly park, the spaces don't allow parking. The City actually has a policy that encourages people to NOT spend money downtown. Need a gallon of milk? Well don't stop at the convenient 7-11 on Commerce Street on your way home to the suburbs. Spend your money there, not in downtown Dallas.

These traffic engineers want to keep adding lanes, while simultaneously leaving these lanes free from anything but moving cars. Very few retailers are going to go anywhere without some convenient parking spaces for prospective customers. Streets like Pearl or Griffin, which have six to seven lanes have very little meters.

Until this relationship between encouraging off-street parking and discouraging on-street is fixed, the urban area will continue to suffer. While other people, like Donald Shoup, can effectively worry about pricing, Dallas is not there yet because there is not an ample supply of it. You can't price something right until you have an ample amount of it.

Which brings us back to the plans. None of the downtown Dallas plans have really addressed this issue, including the current plan. You want to encourage retail, you need to give them convenient parking. In an urban area, you can't depend solely upon pedestrian traffic, just as you can't depend solely on auto traffic. You need a mix. It is hard to get that without on-street parking. You want to encourage more street activity, more residential and more visitors, on-street is an added component of that. Any plan that wants those occurrences, but doesn't address the parking issue will ultimately come up short in accomplishing those goals.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Freeway mitigation

The Dallas Morning News published an interesting story about the efforts to mitigate the strangling effects of the ring of freeways around downtown. In essence, it acknowledges that freeways, particularly elevated ones, diminish the urban quality of life (though conversely, it is essential to the suburban quality).

It detailed the mitigation effects, like the Woodall Rogers deck park over the sunken portion of that freeway, cleanup and landscaping under the elevated that crosses Ross, landscaped rocks by the new train line and painted columns and fancy shapes painted into the elevated beams near Deep Ellum.

This elicits several reactions from me, but the first is always why must we accommodate the car as is? Several cities have removed freeways for various reasons and several more are in the planning stages of removal. Why can't Dallas join them?

I'm not advocating removing all freeways, but it makes sense to remove the stubs and subsections within the urban core. If I had it my way, Woodall Rogers and I-345 that connected U.S. 75 with I-45 would be built at-grade and require cars to slow down. If they are through traffic, they would then route on the outer loops, fulfilling their original purpose.

But back to the mitigation effects. Aside from the park, which has other issues I may delve into at some other point, none of those fulfill any urban requirement. A good urban area doesn't have places you just pass through. All components add something to where the whole functions at a much greater rate than the sum of its parts. Very few people go to an area to look at its landscaping. People do go to a restaurant to eat its food, pass by a shop to by its and purchase its wares or a park to recreate. The better the public space, the more activity it brings, the a public space it becomes, the more activity, and so on.

Jane Jacobs, in her seminal piece, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, describes the effect much better than I can, but essentially, the dead spaces magnify the dead zone, as those on the periphery of the "active" zone are performing less than optimal. A good urban area is one where boundaries are arbitrary. One urban area ends right where another begins and the definitions vary between people. Freeways are an absolute boundary. No one questions were downtown ends and the other areas begin.

So, as per usual Dallas, instead of working for optimal, they are working to maintain the status quo, only a little better. Aside from the limited deck park, the rest is purely lipstick on a pig. The freeways are still dividing the neighborhoods, still creating dead zones and still holding back cohesive urban development. Downtown will always be separated from Deep Ellum, Uptown, The Cedars and The Trinity.

From an aesthetic standpoint, it is better to do something rather than nothing. But, in my mind, this is trying to put out a house fire with a bucket. It is better than nothing, but in the end, it makes little difference.

Finally, I see a lot of ironies here. The same people who are acknowledging the boundaries the freeway makes were the same ones who said that the Trinity River tollroad would be a divider in the park. Either they have had a change of heart or this is politics as usual. I know which one I pick.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Main Street Gardens

As some may or may not know, my planning style is in provide for the basics. City's need to give their citizens the basics to thrive. Stuff like roads, quality transit, attractive urban areas and public safety can all be done with a basic approach. Parks are no exception.

Central Park is a good example of a basic park. Yes it has ponds, zoos, equestrian centers and such, but its design is of a basic nature. The attractions are the basic need to provide the amenity. It isn't a futuristic design with over-the-top gadgets. It evokes a sense of nature with its simplistic and basic design.

It has been close to a year since Dallas unveiled its first downtown park designed with residents in mind. There are several plazas and other "open spaces" but none that fit the park mindset. Main Street Gardens, in a very typical Dallas way, is an over-the top style park.

When the park first opened, I was blown away and in some respects, bitter about the extravagance. They built a cafe for the park that offers "an organic take on street food." Which is nice, except Dallas barely has any street food at all. And, that sounded like a very expensive proposition. My thought was starting with street food and working from there.

There a "tot lot" with a small assortment of play gear, none of it traditional.

My first thought was back to the basics. Where was the swing set? Why is there no slide? Instead, there is a ball attached to a post with spring tension that goes up and down. There is a jungle-gym-style contraption, that doesn't quite add the adventure I remember as a kid. Also included is a triangle shaped devise with rock climbing holds. A set of three arches made out of poles is up to the kids imagination, since I don't quite know what it would be used for and finally, one of the things I actually liked from the beginning, a merry-go-round style swing, where a kid sits in a pod and spins round and round. Below is my son in one.
The park was part of a small controversy where the metal during the day would get so hot that kids couldn't touch it or they would burn themselves. Again, this goes beyond the basic as it is modernist design at the expense of actual usage.

The main open section, in keeping with modernist design, is angular, as you can see in the first picture. It looks attractive, to some, but outside of passive use, can be a pain. For example, if someone wants to play football or soccer, one part of the field is larger than the other, which can lead to arbitrary boundaries and makes playing a bit more difficult. The only sport that is triangular (though this part is actually trapezoidal) is baseball, which won't be played here.

There is a dog park, which we rarely go to, since it has a concrete floor rather than grass. I know it couldn't be grass because the concentration of dogs would make it dirt instead. But, when a dog pees, the puddle stays. Some does go into the drain, but a lot of it stays. You can imagine that solid waste is easily left behind. Our dogs have had to have baths after playing in there the small amount of times they have been. Instead we go to the much larger one down the street.

A water feature complements the over the top look. There is a (surprise) triangular basin with jets of water and granite blocks at the wide end and the water trickles down to the point. It has been a popular feature and one where I have started to come around on. However, the ironic bit, in keeping with Dallas going beyond the basics, was that after the budget crisis started, this fountain was only going to be active for two hours a day, since they couldn't afford to keep it going more than that. The improvement district stepped in and is footing the bill beyond that.
There is a seating area that is beyond basic too. Instead of an awning with chairs, there is an LED lined L-shaped shade provider that is more for looks than actual use. The shade is minimal during the day, violating a basic provision. In fact, the designer called this art, rather than a seating area.

There is a lot of unused space, simply dedicated to landscaping. While that in and of itself is not a bad thing, the design is bland and comes up short of being a quality space. It seems to fit more in line with an arboretum rather than a public park. In my opinion, it adds insult to injury, since a large portion of this unused space was on the site of three historic, occupied buildings that was claimed through eminent domain. I'd rather have the buildings, which added to the street life, than the unused and unneeded shrug and bush area.

One thing I believed was well thought out, but needs a sign to tell its significance is this.
The southeast corner of the park was the sight of the Grand Hotel's parking garage. This sign was on that garage and now is being reused within the park. I like the connection to its historic past. Similarly, on the northeast corner is an information booth that details the changes of that area since it was first developed. Since that is the location of the unused open space I mentioned, it seems the only part of that park that is for public consumption.

While the tone of this post might seem a bit critical, I must say I am turning around a bit. Some of my fears have been unfounded. The cafe is way better than I thought. While typically the city has tried to steer expensive eateries to downtown, this hasn't been that. Five bucks can get you a nice meal. The tot lot is often busy. The water feature is popular, when it is on. And the best part of all, there are lots of people in the park at all hours of the day.

Some of the critiques remain, like the park's layout, the dog run and the unused green space. However, I am beginning to like Main Street Gardens more overall. Yes, it went beyond the basic, but it does have a good amount of varied land uses around. That is perhaps the most important aspect of an active public park. In this case, immediately adjacent is 1.5 million square feet of office, 498 residential units, a 130 room hotel (the one my aunt, uncle and Tutu (grandmother) stayed at for my wedding), a university consortium, a municipal courtroom - soon to be law school, a 2,000 space garage, 7-11, parking lot primed for development and two vacant buildings. One of the buildings is slated for residential conversion while there are no plans for the other at this time.

It is this varied land use that make the park attractive. Use at all hours of the day give it a sense of safety and attractiveness, since people like to watch other people. It has filled that role of quality public space, based on its location more than anything, that Dallas lacks. I hope these mixed-use principles will be applied on a broader scale in downtown and surrounding areas. Then Dallas will truly elevate its urban core into a true urban area.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review - My Kind of Transit

Darrin Nordahl's book, My Kind of Transit is a critique of American transit systems. The basic premise of the book, which I found to be overly simplistic, is that riding transit should be an experience in and of itself.

He came to this conclusion when on a trip to Hong Kong. He found that the trips he made on the city's transit vehicles were as interesting as the destinations. This led him to the conclusion that the banality of American systems is caused by the lack of an experience. Every system is similar in that the base system is based on cost. Small design changes, such as no tint, open air possibilities and seating at the front so passengers can see where they are going, can increase transit attractiveness.

The book is primarily chapters of case study comparisons, such as the monorails of Las Vegas and Seattle, shuttles in Santa Barbara and Phoenix and elevated rail lines in New York and Chicago. Using some of the methods described above, Nordahl explained why some systems are more revered and used than others. At he end, he gives suggestions to increase the transit experience.

Overall, I thought the premise was solid, if not 100% convincing. The ideas were portrayed more as a tourist, rather than an everyday user, which is the predominant user of a system, the primary theme of making it an experience seems to appeal more to a new user, rather than existing ones. Folks who use the system everyday are less concerned with the journey, since it is their routine. There may be merit in making it an experience to attract new users, who are then able to become regular users.

The read was easy. However, a basic knowledge of transit might be needed as a base of understanding before partaking in this one, since the ideas discussed have little to do with planning or running a transit agency or routes. Someone can do everything Nordahl suggests but if the routes don't connect people to where they want to go from where they are, it is still a moot point.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Money, Land Use and Transportation.

Every so often when someone asks me where I live, they are surprised when I say downtown. Frequently I hear "Isn't that expensive?" My reply is when you compare rents, yes it is more expensive, but when you add in everything else, like transportation or utilities, it becomes cheaper.

There are also environmental and health benefits to living in denser areas. When you walk and take transit more, you burn more calories and get more exercise while burning less fossil fuels.

On you can enter your address and see the average transportation costs per household of that area and CO2 emissions. It also gives a regional average below it.

At Main and Akard Streets in the center of downtown Dallas, the average transportation cost is $569 and CO2 emissions are .19 metric tons.The regional average is $836 and .7. That is a savings of near $267 and quite a bit lower CO2.

At UTA in Arlington near where I used to live, the cost is $802 and .39 metric tons.

Now,compare that to my rural roots in a farming community outside of Midland, Texas. On average, they spend over $1,000 for transportation per household and pollute more, 1.1 metric tons a month.

For a comparison, the most urban alpha urban city in the country, New York. Per household in Manhattan, the spend $288 per month on transportation. A monthly pass on the MTA is just over $100.

On, when a region is entered, you can see two graphs comparing housing costs and housing + transportation costs. The housing alone shows those that are under and over 30% of total income. The second shows the over and under for the two costs combined at 45% of total income. In the more urban areas where walking is allowed, the graphs don't change.

However, in the suburban areas, large portions are under 30% housing, but over 45% housing and transportation, illustrating how the higher costs of transportation negate the lower housing costs.

So yes, I do pay more in rent. But, without a car payment, insurance, gas, maintenance, etc for a second car, that is would need if I lived in the suburbs, I think it is a wash at best. Now imagine if that was available on a much larger scale to many more. Many thousands would be able to have a greater disposable income, have a greater health (lowering overall health care costs for everyone) and pollute less.

While I don't think it is for everyone, it should be available for more than just a few percentage points of the population.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dallas Mayor and Budget

Big issue in Dallas lately has been the budget for the next fiscal year. Since the end of 2008, Dallas has had to trim over $300 million from a roughly $2.2 billion budget. Slashed the hardest were the typical "non-essential" services of parks, libraries, arts and street maintenance (planning departments also don't fare well in these situations). This year's proposed budget would cut another $130 million. For libraries, the cuts were so severe, they would be open only 44 hours a week and would have no money to purchase new materials. Imagine a library not having a single new book for an entire year.

Some on the city council wanted to raise the tax rate to find new revenue for the parks and libraries as well as street maintenance.

There are those who will say you can trim the waste of government efficiency, but that is small potatoes. Somehow, the general public has been able to paint all government as inefficient. Could there be savings? Yes, I am certain. Would it be this big windfall? Likely not. Contrary to what proponents of down-sizing and privatization say, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Certain things can be handled by the private sector, some can not. Would you like the police or fire departments to charge for their services? Also, finding inefficiencies aren't so easy either. Is centralization the best option? For some things yes. Transit agencies administer best when they are clustered. Fire Departments do not. Finding a balance is key. Water departments have been privatized recently. The public now pays quite a bit more because the private sector wants a profit, not a cost coverage.

Back to Dallas. The mayor is a Republican contemplating a senate run. Opponents would trounce him if he raised taxes. He has been fighting it. Here's a quote form an op-ed piece he wrote for the Dallas Morning News. "Families are dealing with reduced income, lack of jobs and uncertainty about the future. They are forced to tighten their belts. The last thing they need is City Hall demanding more money. We must tighten our belts, too."

Nevermind that townhall meetings consistently played the same message of a small tax increase is okay. The mayor counters that by saying those against haven't had time to come to these things. The council members opposed to a tax increase are all in the wealthier part of town. More than the working mom, they do have the ability to go to these things. If you choose not to participate, then that is your fault. If more people participated in government, I am convinced there would be these problems across the country.

He also says, "...the tax-hike supporters took a different approach. They never bothered to find cuts or savings to try to balance the budget. Their default position to fund add-ons? More of your money. They suggested raising no new savings or revenue to avoid raising taxes."

That isn't true either. They budget has been slashed vigorously the last two years. And I would hardly call parks, libraries and streets add-ons. This is why I dislike the mayor. That is a bold-faced lie. There is no way he doesn't know that is untrue.

Finally, I'd like to point out the hypocrisy here. When he first took office in 2007, he virulently defended a toll road in the floodway. I was opposed and helped in the campaign to defeat it. We lost in a close election. That road's cost? Over $2 billion. He also worked to pass a convention center hotel last year, completely city-owned. The cost? Near $600 billion (the previous most-expensive CCH was $289 million). So, on the one hand, we have a mayor who says we must tighten our belt and cut city services But on the other, we have a mayor who defends expensive civic projects, that also happen to benefit his donors. Four of the top five donors to the mayor were somehow connected to the convention center hotel now under construction. He hasn't rescinded is position on the toll road, so that leads me to believe that he isn't so much concerned about Dallas as he is a campaign run. Not everything is as black and white as the mayor would have you believe.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Downtown's Ills (Long)

An interesting piece by You Plus Media talks about several issues I have railed on for years. First, the tunnel system developed in Dallas during the 60's through 80's saps street life away from the surface and directs it underground. Second, downtown needs more basic retail services. Third, one-way streets destroy urban continuity. I'll address each point individually.

NOTE: This was longer than I expected and hope to keep future posts a bit more concise.

The tunnels
Here's a pictorial tour.

There is nothing more reviled to me than the tunnel system (which includes skywalks) for several reasons. This will be an issue I touch on often. They were originally billed as a pedestrian amenity for downtown. It separates the pedestrian from the noise, pollution and weather of the street and put them underground where there is air conditioning and restaurants and shops. Sounds pleasant. However, in retrospect, the flaws keep them from living up to this. Plus, this is a covert concession to the car, which without would keep the streets less polluted and noisy.

The tunnels are connected to the office buildings (primarily). This means the supposed "public" space is nothing more than a private realm open to the public, much like a mall. When an office building closes, they don't want the average Joe to have access to their property, so the tunnel closes when business is concluded, usually 6-7 pm. As downtown moves from an office park to an urban area, which includes residents, visitors, shoppers and office workers, the flaw of having this public space closed means a lack of options.

There are 6,000 residents downtown and less than 6,000 hotel rooms available (that doesn't include other folks, like transit patrons making transfers, folks passing by and even the homeless, which have money to send and need to shop and eat too). Compare that to roughly 130,000 workers and it is easy to see which segment has the greatest revenue potential for retail and restaurants. When those are closed underground, it means the other segments have no options, since the retail that was at street level is now underground. Since the street is truly a public space, the shops can decide their own hours based on their own business model. Underground, they can not. They are bound by the office hours and, since it is only the office workers with the access, usually things are closed after the lunch rush.

Since the office workers are the prime segment, areas where the tunnels and streets overlap are empty and vacant at the surface, while underground is busy at rush times and vacancy is low. This keeps the streets empty at all times. This emptiness also contributes to the idea that downtown is unsafe.

Reverting back to the private sphere, this also brings up a dilemma that Dallas is facing. The tunnel system is city-owned under public right-of-way, and privately owned under the buildings. But what happens when a building becomes vacant, as has happened several times? The link is broken. When that happens at the street, the sidewalk is still available and the only drawback is the lack of activity a functioning building would contribute. Underneath however, the pedestrian has to rise back to the "polluted, noisy and hot" street to finish the journey.

When glancing at the map, it is apparent that the tunnels, with their dog leg sections aren't the fastest way to a destination. That coupled with the trip to the basement means short trips down the street aren't short. The dog leg turns also add confusion to a trip. "Do I make a left or right? Is this the correct way? This doesn't look familiar?" Unless someone knows it, it is very disorienting.

The weather is perhaps the best argument and the hardest to counter. However, that is not a detriment to street life. Unless Fort Worth has drastically different weather patterns, their tunnelless downtown is quite busy at all hours. They have a lower resident, employment and transit base than Dallas, yet an exponentially active street life. There are ways to mitigate the weather, like shade trees and benches that contribute to an active street life without destroying it like the tunnel system does. Fort Worth shows if you make an urban area attractive people will come...and walk.


Much of the retail "problem" could be solved with the relocation of the tunnel businesses from underground to the surface. The division actually means fewer options for both spheres, since the streets lose business to the tunnels and the streets operate after tunnel hours (New York leaders fight a stratified pedestrian experience, with its much higher residential and employment density for this reason). In the tunnels are an assortment of retail enterprises, like restaurants (fast food, casual dining, and fine dining), convenience stores, shoe shine shops, banks, boutiques, post offices, pharmacy, dry cleaners and gift shops. These would solve the basic problem that exists for current residents and visitors. Where there no division, all businesses would serve all segments all the time.

But it also brings the chicken and egg problem. Do residents need these services or do these services need residents? I lean to the second, simply because residents are moving into downtown without some basic services. Before the latest round of residential openings, downtown had one of the highest occupancy rates for rental units in the region. I tend to think the main issue is lack of residential options. More buildings mean more people and a greater market for those basic residential services. Yes, there are probably some folks who avoid moving downtown or left after one 6 month lease because of the lack, but the high occupancy rate tends to make me believe there is a big demand for urban living.

One way streets

Another '50's planning idea, as a concession to car travel at the expense of everything else, is the one-way street system. Designed to get people in and out of downtown as fast as possible, the one-way system was started in New York and spread rapidly across the country. Planners find themselves at odds with traffic engineers frequently and this is a great example. TE's use formulas and cite their success in moving large amounts of cars. Planners, however, cringe at what they do to the urban environment.

Here's a rapid fire list of some of their effects.
1) Confusion
2) Lowered economic activity
3) Poor pedestrian experience
4) Poor access
5) Lower transit performance

The first is self-explanatory and a real-life example is seen in the video.

The second deals with timing. People tend to take the same route to work. They also tend to do their shopping after work. If you have two one-way streets that serve as the commute, the afternoon outbound street will see higher activity than the inbound, whereas a couple of two-way streets will see activity on both of them.

The third in a way ties into the second and the first. Regardless of posted speed limits, folks will drive their comfort level. In essence, the design of streets will dictate speed. One-way streets tend to be wide and straight, a formula for high speed. The higher the speed, the lower comfort for the pedestrian. No one wants to walk next to a freeway as an example. Mitigations, like on-street parking buffers, can help, but slower speeds in an urban area are preferable.

Also, the faster a car travels, the lower the line-of-sight for the driver is. This is important because it reduces pedestrian safety, lowers economic activity by lowering driver's familiarity with the shops and increases confusion.

Fourth, poor access to properties happens. Example, to walk to pick up my son from daycare, I exit out the door go east, north, east and north again for five blocks and I am there. Were I to drive to the same destination, I would have to go west, south, north, west and north again for 11 blocks. This lowers access to properties and in turn, value and urban convenience. But it does move more traffic faster.

Finally, transit suffers under one-ways. Obviously, a bus can't go against one-way flows but also, by encouraging more cars to go faster, you encourage less transit use. Ample evidence shows that an attractive area will attract activity. The transportation system determines that activity. Encouraging cars means city's get car usage. Encouraging alternate modes like walking and transit means those will be utilized. Two-streets encourage the latter.