Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dallas Does Deep Ellum

On the front page of Saturday's Dallas Morning News, the electronic version here, was an update to the upgrade of Elm Street in Deep Ellum. In 2006, as part of a massive bond package, street upgrades were promised for Elm Street opposite of downtown. The idea was to reconvert Elm Street back to two-way operation and upgrade the sidewalks, of which some are over a century old.

From the article:
Now, the city is planning a new streetscape to make Elm Street in Deep Ellum an attractive two-lane road with two-way traffic instead of one way toward downtown. The aim is to slow it down, make it pedestrian- and bike-friendly and draw more business.

Overall, good news here. I am surprised the idea is to make it only two lanes. I thought for sure some one in the transportation department would get a hold of this and predict traffic Armageddon if the reduction of 3-5 lanes one way turned into two total lanes.

While the quote is completely accurate, that the proposal will slow traffic and make the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, does everything in Dallas have the goal of attracting more business? Such is the lot of a Sunbelt city.

Continuing on:
The streetscaping would run from Exposition Avenue to Good-Latimer Expressway. Early plans are for wide sidewalks with restaurant patios, trees, benches and bike racks; parallel parking; marked pedestrian crossings; and bikes sharing the two lanes of traffic.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, on-street parking is key to a positive pedestrian experience. There is no mention of whether that is for both sides or just one, like in a lot of downtown streets. My guess is for both, since the tone of the makeover seems to invite the improvements needed for a "complete street."

However, all is not well.
Eventually, the Central Business District-Fair Park Link will carry commuters around Deep Ellum between Gaston Avenue and Interstate 30. A portion is in place near Baylor University Medical Center, but the rest won't be completed until funding is available, city officials said.
A route called the Central Business District-Fair Park Link will be completed as funding becomes available to move commuters around Deep Ellum between Gaston Avenue and Interstate 30. The route:
•A portion has been completed between Gaston and Hall Street on the north side of the DART Green Line station.
•From Hall, it will run along the north side of the Green Line past Baylor University Medical Center and across the tracks to Exposition Avenue.
•It will continue along Exposition to Second Avenue, where new ramps will connect it to I-30.

Here's the visual,-96.778007&spn=0.007811,0.02105&z=16

The CBD-Fair Park Link is the street labeled Worth on the map. The new section will run to Exposition, about the length of the current section, before linking with Expo and presumably expanding of that street.

That will create a barrier between Deep Ellum and East Dallas, Baylor and Expo Park. Instead of a seamless transition between districts and neighborhoods, there is a four to six lane roadway creating an obvious dividing line full of a high number of vehicles speeding through the area. Now, the rail line (being an old frieght railroad) and subsequent land use has already created a de facto barrier, but are we really interested in making it bigger.

Part of me has a hard time believing this route is needed. If you are coming from the outlying areas on I-30, I doubt you would exit a mile and a half early to roam through local streets that is the same distance. According to Google maps, the trip is twice as long. If anything, this should be used for local purposes, and I just don't think that will be how it is designed.

There also should be some changes for this route in downtown. Pacific is a weird street, in that is is three lanes east, one west. That works for people leaving downtown in the afternoon, but not any other time. Before it reaches the heart of downtown, Pacific becomes a one-way eastbound.

I just don't think that roadway is needed or necessary but, since it isn't funded yet, the current issue of an improved Elm is just that, an improvement and the CBD Fair Park link is esoteric. Mentions of an eventual redo of Commerce next is also a positive and seems more likely to happen than the CBD-Fair Park "Link."

The article mentions the ideas are just for Deep Ellum and not downtown. This just proves that Dallas officials are not serious about making downtown a destination. As long as streets like Elm, Commerce, Ervay and Akard are one-way, then the pedestrian experience will never be what it could. They are committed to making places outside of downtown, like Deep Ellum, pedestrian friendly, but seem committed to keeping downtown a commuter destination for the outlying and mostly suburban residents.

However, if we are committed to making the CBD a vibrant urban downtown, rather than a usiness district, then things like Elm's makeover don't need to stop at the boundary. They need to come in too.

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