Tuesday, May 24, 2011

360 Chapter Four, Section Two & Three

Key to any vibrant urban area is the street scene. Section two dissects the current and gives it suggestions for the future, though since it has been suburbanized for the last sixty years or so, it is a bigger task than the planners can overcome, but at least the majority of the suggestions are sound.

The first page is encouraging as MIG acknowledges that fundamental changes would be needed to accommodate more than just cars. To do this, they introduce a new street classification, or a hierarchy. From the plan:

Our roadways have been designed over recent decades to primarily accommodate automobile traffic, parking garage access and loading activities. These are all important functions for the city center. However, Downtown’s future livelihood also depends on the ability to re-craft the streets as places where pedestrian activity is promoted and all kinds of other functions – from transit use and bicycle riding to daily commerce and special events – can take place. It is also dependent on the ability for each street to be designed in a context-sensitive manner; that is, to allow for the street design to best respond to the surrounding environment of buildings, sidewalks and open spaces, not to just facilitate cars passing through. In a bustling urban environment, this concept is key.

In response to this shift in thinking about Downtown’s circulation framework, each roadway is designated with a new classification, emphasizing the unique activity and relative importance or prominence of the street. Each street type presents a balanced approach to the design and function of the public realm, emphasizing various modes depending on context and street purpose.


The hierarchy is as follows: streetcar boulevard, district connector, neighborhood street, special use overlay and passage.

Streetcar boulevard is as it sounds, giving its recommendations to make streetcar travel convenient, with either a median or curb loading. However, the historic is ignored, where the streetcar would drop passengers of in the middle of the street and car traffic would stop. MATA does it now on McKinney, so there is a precedent.

District connector is the one that bothers me the most. Elm, Commerce, Griffin, Pearl and Ceasar Chavez with portion of Field, Houston, Ross and Young are given as examples. The first descriptor in the plan says it all.

Provide primary automobile connections between districts inside the loop and extend linkages outside the loop and to the freeway system.

Why? Why does it have to be the primary auto? A good street grid distributes the traffic all across the street grid, thereby reducing the burden from a select few streets to the entire thing. As some bloggers have noted, the plans slogan of bold ideas are a little less bold because the freeway system is ignored. Because the very nature of freeway exits and entrances, certain streets have to have more traffic than others, simply because they are the ones that connect to the freeway system. Were the freeways built as originally devised (and therefore less destructive to cities), they would have stopped at the cities edge, leaving the street grid intact. Any attempt at urban rejuvenation must address this, and the district connector does not. In essence, it condones it, despite what the final points say.

• Improve physical and psychological connections between districts on either side of the street through consistent treatment, enhanced design, and public art installations;
• Carry vehicular through-traffic to access freeways and adjacent districts and neighborhoods;
• Accommodate multiple modes including bus, streetcar, bike lane, pedestrian and automobile as needed;  and
• Incorporate innovative treatments to accommodate alternative modes at key intersections.

This will do nothing to mitigate the autos on these streets. Cars are the antithesis of all things urban, and streets that do not limit their role while simultaneously encouraging others do not belong in an urban area.

The third level, neighborhood streets, are what all streets in downtown should strive to become and mimic. Compare the first point of this street type to the prior.

Emphasize bicycle and pedestrian mobility;

Note that a street can emphasize the above, while accommodating the car. It just we are so used to streets doing the opposite, and it is hard to imagine another way in this part of the country.

The specifics listed on page 54  (the document can be loaded here) are nice, but pretty standard. The only one that I don't like is the call for medians to break up more than four contiguous lanes. Making a wide street wider is not pedestrian-friendly. Giving it a diet is. And they called for more on-street parking. That's an idea we can all get behind, unless you are a traffic engineer.

The second part of this transformative strategy is open space. I've always said, streets and parks go together. Perhaps they were joined together because the parks, like the streets, are grouped in a hierarchy: district park, neighborhood park, historic/cultural park, plaza/pocket park and passage.

For district, they see it as a regional park that hosts events, attracts users from wider distances, are within the "heart" of a district and are two acres or more. The neighborhood parks have features that serve immediate users, are more focused on daily needs and not events, supports families and pets, have different vendors and are an acre or smaller.

MIG lists virtually two identical parks, Main Street Gardens and the-under-construction Belo Gardens, into these two separate rankings (see for yourself here). Were it not for the event hosting, Main Street gardens would fit either category. MSG is 1.75 acres. Belo is 1.5. A common critique of planning is that they try to give order and separation to things that don't need it. This may fit that bill.

The other three categories are almost self-explanatory. JFK's assignation site at Dealey Plaza qualifies it to be historic, Aston Park is a near non-developable site on a sliver of land at Pacific and Harwood, so that makes it a pocket park, and Stone Street is a former street, now plaza that people pass through, making it a passage.

The planners insist that public space must be functional, comfortable, accessible and memorable. To achieve that they list several bullet-points for each goal, like keeping the intended users in mind, compatibility with the surrounding environment and creating a sense of place. Once again, like the streets, I can get behind most of it, even if they are somewhat generic.

The third tranformative strategy, ensuring great urban design, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and sorely wrong in much of downtown Dallas.

After acknowledging the past as a boon for urban design, and the subsequent decades declined its quality, the planners offer guidelines for private development. These are: reinforce the relationship between the street and building edge, respect surroundings with context-sensitive design, contribute to a positive, memorable urban experience and support a sustainable built environment.

Page 64 through 71 show the specifics, governing things like setbacks, building height and orientation, access and circulation, ground floor design for various buildings, above ground guidelines, brief parking (further discussion in the fifth section), character and signage.

While I have a few minor concerns (advocating at least 90% lot coverage instead of what should be near 100%), most are worthwhile. I recommend the read, though critiquing or even listing them all here would be beyond the attention span of most readers.

The big issue is that there is nothing that gives these teeth. Hunt Tower violates near every one, yet was approved by the City. The big problem is that downtown has a lack of zoning. If a form-based code were adopted with these as the guidelines, then there would be progress. But since there isn't, downtown will continue to see development from the good and bad urban developers. All the plan has to say is this:

These guidelines comprise strong recommendations for how individual property owners and developers should develop their land and buildings so that they are supportive of the Downtown vision. They should be used as the basis for voluntary design review of all Downtown development projects, either through a Peer Review Committee or similar mechanism.

I'm sorry, but this is Dallas. The developers run the show. There needs to be more in the way of teeth or incentives to get this to work the way the planners envision.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

360 Chapter Four, Section One

Perhaps my favorite section, the part with the most vision, ideas and concrete changes. It is also the longest of the five sections. It hearkens back to the five transformative strategies of the previous section.

It begins with the transit and TOD strategy and acknowledges that downtown is the center of the regional transportation network. With accolades given to the car infrastructure, the planners insist that transit must play a bigger role and give their ideas. The majority is fluff praise and generics, but one part did stick out.

Within Downtown, current and anticipated rail bottlenecks at either end of the Pacific Transit Mall continue to drive the need for a second alignment, commonly referred to as “D2.” Due to the heavy transit traffic in place in the northern parts of Downtown along the transit mall, D2 is seen as an opportunity to expand light rail capacity and connect major destinations in the southern half of the loop. A study prepared in 2008 examined 17 possible alignments for such a line. An examination of engineering feasibility, cost and development potential led a committee to select four preferred alternatives, most of which include a significant underground portion due to geologic, mobility and infrastructure concerns.

A new southern alignment alternative was added in 2009 to serve the new Omni Convention Center Hotel, currently under construction just north of the Dallas Convention Center. A decision on a specific alignment, however, is likely years away due to budget constraints, political and economic interests, and ongoing planning considerations in part driven by Downtown Dallas 360.
This does seem a bit inaccurate, but I am glad they at least realized that DART planners are working on the new alignment. I also found the last part a bit self-serving. I know the DART planner working on D2. He wasn't putting the plan on hold waiting to see what they said in the downtown plan. What put the plan on hold was the lack of funds from a decline in sales tax due to the economic dip. Plus I can assure you, the likelihood of this plan (funded by the business community) recommending a different alignment from the convention center hotel, that the city recommended at the urging of the business community is low.

They put a map showing the alignment potentials for the second downtown line. The map really bothers me and after spending a large amount of time figuring out how to get the graphic (with help from my wife), I finally did.




The main problem is the routing. First, they omitted two lines from DART's planning process, the subway on Commerce and the City Hall option. Then they added two lines that serve Union Station. This is what helps to give planners a bad name. Had MIG consulted with DART's planners, they would have realized the engineers have said a route that serves Union Station is impossible within any reasonable cost constraint.

Now don't get me wrong, I like the idea of Union serving as the focal point, but the current rail bridges or an underground line there are very hard to do. Because this area was at the edge of the Trinity when Union was built, the topography doesn't work for a subway right below the surface. That would mean one that is at least eight stories below ground. That is costly for one and makes transfers a more time consuming process for two.

If we have an elevated that runs off the current line, that likely requires the remaking of the entire rail bridge at worst and it have to run through Ferris Plaza, the oldest park in downtown, before coming to an at-grade route along Young, though likely after Market Street to avoid the close intersections in that part of town. The engineers like this option the worst, and that is why it didn't make DART's list of finalists. It also ignores the more trafficked parts of downtown, which would then require virtually everyone riding the Green and Orange Lines to have to make a transfer anyway. Most ot the office concentration is above Commerce and many riders, near if not over a majority, make a transfer at the West End triangle (West End Station, West Transfer Center and Rosa Parks).

So if it doesn't make sense from an engineering standpoint, and it requires needless transfers that the others don't, why was it recommended? My bet is the landowners near Union Station. They are big players within the business community. They have a voice.

From here, the multiple modes are listed and they begin with light rail. While I disagree from a philosophical perspective, I don't disagree that Dallas and the region have established light rail as the regional backbone (had it been done the right way, it would have been an urban transportation system that connects to the region via commuter rail, like New York or Boston's systems). It rightly says that D2 is a unique opportunity rarely seen downtown and should be done right. One reason that Union was recommended is that it is the only multi-modal hub in the region and should be connected with DFW Airport.

Huh? Just what is the definition of multi-modal? At the West End triangle, there is a meeting of four light rail lines, dozens of bus routes and a parking lot adjacent. AT DFW, there will be a rail line, shuttle bus, parking lots and airplanes. Cityplace is a meeting between three light rail lines, several buses and the MATA Streetcar. Soon, so will St. Paul. On smaller scales, every rail station is a multi-modal hub that meets at least one line with usually several bus stops.

But the bigger issue I have is why does Union need to be "connected" to DFW? I doubt people will take Amtrak (1 line daily) to Union, then board a light rail train to DFW. Those that are out of the region will fly to DFW and transfer there and those within will take the Orange to the airport, regardless of its connectivity to Union.

If the second line were to route to Union, rather than under the West End triangle, ridership is lessened. West End Station sees the same amount of boardings and departures as the other downtown stations combined. Most are heading off to the bus transfer center. That doesn't change when D2 comes online. So riders who now have one transfer at West End would have to transfer at Union, then transfer again at West End. Now imagine if they already have to make a transfer to get to the Green and soon to be Orange Line.

There are three simplified things that need to be done for transit to be successful. In a timely manner, you must A) take people from where they are, B) take people where they need to go and C) minimize transfers. The line to Union doesn't do the first two and violates the third.

This "multi-modal" reason seems contrived, more like it was used as cover for pleasing the major landowners in that area. Pardon me if I seem skeptical, but this is Dallas. Why does development potential always trump the existing urban fabric?

They make the same mistake again when talking about streetcars.

• Develop the streetcar network in a radial pattern from points within the loop based on proposed “Desire Lines” (see Complete Transit Network figure on page 42) to augment and connect to light rail lines and stations, increasing ridership potential;
• Target development potential along corridors with ample vacant land, surface parking or recent or proposed development activity; and
• Link key destinations such as Union Station, West End,
Main Street
, Farmers Market and the Arts District to surrounding in-town neighborhoods.

I'd rather the streetcar network follow a grid pattern, rather than radial. There's a growing body of research that suggests this more effectively and efficiently covers the area in question, regardless of size. At least when looking at the map, the overall appearance is one that resembles a grid.

But once again, rather than serve existing areas that are built up, they put emphasis on vacant lots. At least the good news is that if streetcars did connect the existing areas, there would be vacant spaces in between.

And buses get a mention, but more as a secondary role.

Buses should be used to augment the rail system and provide direct access to areas underserved by rail. Some bus routes should be removed with the completion of the light rail and streetcar network, particularly along
Main Street
. As the complete transit network is developed, bus transit should be examined to determine its most effective role. For example, a streamlined system of buses to serve longer-distance destinations not located near a rail station may still be an effective part of the multi-modal system, providing cost-savings and increased flexibility for changing demographic or event-related needs.

Serious consideration should also be given to the possibility of using rubber tire trolley circulators as a more affordable precursor or place holder for streetcars in the short-term. With appropriate branding and visibility such a trolley system could serve effectively as an interim measure to tie existing destinations together, although lacking the promise of streetcar to attract new development. This would enable the transportation benefits of a complete circulator network to be enjoyed even before a complete and significantly more expensive streetcar system could be realized.

Of course buses that are redundant will be removed. I can't even understand why that was included. If they would have said "as buses are removed from service when rail opens," that would have been one thing, but it comes off as trite to me, as if they presented this as some ground-breaking idea, when in fact it has been done everywhere rail has been introduced, modern era or not.

As for Main Street, that has already been done too, before the plan was released, though I do lament the fact that for the first time since 1873 (no, that is not a typo), Main Street does not have local transit service. All that remains are a few express buses from outlying areas.

And the bit about buses being used in areas without a rail station nearby...? Duh? I am short on that one too. If an area doesn't have a rail station or a streetcar nearby, then shouldn't the logical choice for service be a bus?

But perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is the idea of using a temporary shuttle before a streetcar. These have been tried before, and failed miserably. No one rode them, which is why they aren't around. Every so often, the idea is revived, and predictably, it is tried, and as the numbers come in, eventually abandoned. I really don't know if a streetcar would work in downtown for the cooridors they have proposed. I suspect some will and I have my doubts on others, but I do know the quickest way to kill a streetcar project is run a shuttle bus out there. Then when no one rides, the detractors say no one rides, so we shouldn't build this project.

And assuming people did ride them, the detractors would then ask why would we build a much more expensive streetcar network?

The planners then go on to say that for transit to be successful, three goals should be set: two blocks of transit, avoid redundancy and transfer points.

Two blocks of transit is a goal that would require a rail line every four blocks. By advocating D2 on Young, this would help achieve this goal for the southern section of town. The streetcar lines are positioned the same way. Not a bad goal, but not really based on any substative planning ideas I know. It also ignores buses, since this goal is already accomplished.

Redundancy
By spreading out rail transit to serve different users and in building in route flexibility, a complete rail network will avoid redundancy. In addition to tremendous cost savings by using streetcar or light rail along a particular corridor, but typically not both, potential passengers will benefit from a more complete system with additional transfer opportunities. By ensuring accessible, nearby alternative routes through Downtown, service can be maintained if a particular track encounters a disruption.

I put the whole section here because they miss the mark again. Light rail and streetcars do different things, yet MIG is treating it as the same. Case in point, making regional travelers transfer at Union only to transfer again at West End because there will be a streetcar there. NO, NO, NO.

Light rail also has more capacity than streetcars and therefore, you want your light rail lines to serve the more dense land uses. A rail line on Commerce would be next to literally millions of square feet of office, thousands of residential units, hundreds of hotel rooms and lots of civic attractions makes more sense than one on Young, which would run by Union, the convention center hotel, City Hall and the Farmers Market. If pedestrian improvements are made between Young and Commerce, then it might make the idea more palpable to me, but only if it serves the West Transfer Center first.

To gain maximum efficiency, transfers must be seamless and coordinated. Convenient transfers from light rail stations to the streetcar network can effectively extend the reach of the regional transit system by providing the crucial “last mile” connection to the ultimate destination. Fare structures and collection, operational frequency, and physical connectivity are essential to successfully attract riders and “convert” automobile drivers into transit riders. Furthermore, key transfer locations at critical junctions will help concentrate transit ridership and boost surrounding development potential. As the transit system matures and becomes more complex, the desirability of having a transit station hub that provides access to most, if not all, destinations will become increasingly important in order to ensure legibility and convenience in the transit system.

Yes transfer points are important, but minimizing them is more important. I agree with everything. However, the bit about key transfer locations seems shoehorned in to justify the Union Station idea. I have news for the planners, in a good transit system, there will never be one point that provides access to most destinations. Most directions maybe, but never destinations. There will always be a need for transfers and the better transit systems are the ones that minimizes them.

The odd thing is that be trying to make Union Station the transfer point, they needlessly increase transfers for most every rider except those at Union. As it stands right now, they only people that would qualify are the Hyatt and Lawrence hotel guests and the workers at Belo and the Dallas Morning News.

If I live in a southeast suburb, I would not likely commute on the Green Line, circle downtown towards Union, make a transfer, circle back through downtown and walk to my location. A train going through downtown can take almost as long as the trip from the terminus station to downtown. That means a trip that could be doubled, not including the transfer wait time.

But it is becoming apparent to me that MIG is not a transportation expert. At the surface level, everything sounds great, but a little digging reveals that most of the transportation section is at best flawed.

Finally, to capitalize on transit investment and encourage TOD's, the planners recommend making areas around rail stations and streetcar stops more pedestrian friendly. To do so, they suggest a Public Improvement Investment Area, complete with a funding source similar to a TIF zone. The improvements suggested are to widen sidewalks, district specific furniture and signage, adding intersection bulbouts and enhanced crosswalk and enhanced lighting.

For get developers to follow along, they advocate for reduced parking requirements, a streamlined approval process for sidewalk dining, a TIF waiver of five years, prioritized assistance from the public sector for worthy projects and public infrastructure investments.

Since this chapter is the longest, my next post will continue from the next transformative strategy, Vibrant Streets and Public Spaces.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why is Rail Different than Highways?

Taken from the transportation blog at the Dallas Morning News, which in turn was taken from the D Magazine blog (will someone take it from this blog?), David Linienger, DART's Chief Financial Officer, is quoted as saying DART may begin to charge people who do not live in the service area an extra charge to use their trains, most likely from a parking fee.

There are several reasons for this. 1) DART is having financial issues. Sales tax is the largest contributor to DART's coffers. When the economy crashes, sales tax follows. 2) Population growth has been slow in the service area, as Allen, Frisco and McKinney have been attracting the people Plano, Richardson and Carrollton used to get. Meanwhile, the system has been expanding. 3) The out-of-service-area residents are using the system, predominantly the end-of-line stations. 4) These residents aren't paying the sales tax where they live.

This is a sticky issue, and one that isn't in DART's full control. I don't like the way that most of American cities fund and build transit. Using DART as an example, the system is set up for cities to decide if they want to be in the system. What if had done that for highways? Suppose three cities in a linear row get to decide. City A and C want the highway but B doesn't. What happens? Well, that is what is going on with transit. Individual cities are deciding regional solutions. This puts DART in a position to ponder whether people who live in the same region, but different cities, pay a different rate.

Suppose the numbers work and it is in DART's best interest to charge non-residents. Surely some of those people who used to ride would now drive. Has anything been accomplished from a regional perspective? A lot of planning is about reducing vehicle use and their negative externalities. In doing what benefits themselves, the folks at DART would be doing the opposite. That's the big issue with a city-by-city approach to transit.

As for the proposal, I have a mixed view. I like that they are trying to recover some costs by folks that aren't paying into the system with their sales tax, but are using the system (though they are paying something, through the farebox). Some say that commuters who use the system to come into the DART service area pay a sales tax at some point, but they would regardless of if they used the system. If thy take the train and go out for lunch, would they not do the same thing if they drove? But the largest portion of income spent that is subject to the sales tax is still spent at home leaving DART out.

Also, if they do implement it through a parking charge, I can support that because parking is not free. In our modern Americam society, it is subsidized to the point of free for the user. But someone still owns the land. If parking more accurately reflected the market, then these would be non-issues. There's also a chance folks would catch a bus to the station. In the end, that reduces car trips too. I just don't know how common that would be.

What I would like to see is a fare based on the distance, similar to Washington D.C.'s system. In essence, this would accomplish the same thing, although folks who lived in Plano and work downtown would pay the same as those who lived outside the service area. There is something similar in place on the TRE. They operate on the honor system just as DART rail does, so it is doable. I just wonder if the political will is there.

As a downtown resident, my most common destination from ST. Paul Station is Cityplace and Mockingbird Station. I pay the same fare for a ride that is two-four stations away as these end-of-line users who pass 13 stations to get to their home station. DART's cost are less to transport me than it is to transport them. So in essence, my fare is subsidizing theirs.

But I don't like the idea from a regional perspective. There's no doubt that this proposal will reduce transit trips and increase car trips. How much remains to be seen. It also will reduce ridership, which is against their primary purpose.

At this stage, I am tentatively for the proposal, with the ability to rescind my support should it not meet the cost-benefit requirements. In America, there is no other case study to judge its merits. Aside from the distance-based fare, this may be the best idea to get revenues in line with costs.

Monday, May 2, 2011

360 The Third Installment

A Downtown of Districts. This section opens up by defining the districts, both within and adjacent to downtown. The core districts within downtown are the obvious, like Main Street or the Arts, and some that I hadn't heard before, like Thanksgiving Commercial Center. This is a good example that some districts are nothing more than arbitrary lines. True districts, like Main or the West End exist within a common fabric. The rest of downtown is a motley collection of fortress office buildings, parking lots and leftover pre-WWII structures, lacking any true identity. I think this was a more political decision than a planning one.

Each district is identified, described and recommendations given for future development. I'm worried that just going through them will be monotonous, so I'll try to give my take on the district recommendations.

First up, for the Arts District (on the northern part of downtown), MIG foresees a streetcar along Ross with streetscape improvements, adding art and exhibits along Flora, reconstructing Harwood in the same manner as Flora and a redesign of Pearl to be more pedestrian-friendly.

This is the district I am the most ambivalent about. I just don't see anything making this area vibrant. I like the Pearl Street idea, but more out of principle of making the street less auto-centric, rather than adding life to the Arts District. It won't add life, the design of the area is just wrong. It will be a benefit to downtown, but it will make little difference to the Arts District. People will still go to the shows and people will still not go when there are no shows. Until there is more inclusivity in the design, that will never change.

Thanksgiving Commercial Center is next, the area roughly between the Main Street District and the Arts. The area is generally composed of fortress office buildings. To improve this district, streetscape improvements along Ervay, Harwood and Pearl, ensuring a stop along the McKinney Avenue Streetcar extension near the St. Paul light rail station, encourage conversion of the ground floor of the office buildings to retail and reduce the size of the park planned on the block by St. Paul and Live Oak to accommodate development are advocated.

These are all solid, if obvious. I don't think any transit planner would run a streetcar by a rail station and not have a stop. I don't think any non-transit planner would do that either. Streetscape improvements are a good idea. Ervay and Harwood, aside from the one-way, are quite pedestrian-friendly. I like the idea of reducing the park down. In fact, I think that park is redundant with Main Street Gardens two bocks away and Aston Park directly adjacent.

My only beef with these are the conversion of the office buildings first floor to retail. That sounds nice, but it overlooks the land-use equation. This is a solidly 9-5 area. There is already ground-floor retail in some areas. It is possible and in some cases probable that adding more would reinforce the existing retail, but what is there is sparsely used outside of business hours. Adding more uses aside from office would make the ground-floor conversion palpable. As it is, most non-business hour uses are well outside this area, making ground-floor retail a want rather than a possibility. The skywalks and tunnels pose a problem for this as well, since there is retail on these levels.

In Dallas' most urban and dynamic area, the Main Street District, more retail is wanted, as well as a streetcar connection Deep Ellum and the Trinity River, adding a branding campaign, streamlining parking, recruiting and retaining retail, converting the Grand Hotel from vacant to used and creating a Gateway at Lamar Street.

Retail will come when retail is warranted. This is something that occasionally bugs me about planners. Work on the stuff that needs changing. 20 years ago, retail was wanted, but there was no market. The area was also dead. There were abandoned office buildings, holes in the landscape with surface parking and an auto-oriented street. Incentives were offered to convert the buildings to residential, a surface lot was converted to a plaza, another was built into a residential tower over a garage, a lane was taken away and given to make the sidewalks wider,  vehicle choke points were added at certain locations. Retail has come in some areas as the district has changed. Planners added residential and made a pedestrian-friendly street. Retail followed. You don't have to plan for retail. You have to leave space for it and in that regard, you have to plan for it. Otherwise, it will come when there is demand for it. As it stands now, there is not a lack of retail space.

I like the streetcar, but I think they made a slight mistake in that they just want to connect districts. That is fine, but transit doesn't work quite that way. I just don't see a demand for rides to the Trinity River. Deep Ellum, yes. Connection to Uptown and Oak Cliff, were existing or planned streetcar connections are make sense, as there are destinations and origins there now and will be in the future. A river, even with its planned recreation elements, won't likely create the demand for ridership.

The Grand is 1) already in the works and 2) contingent upon the private market. I advocate the developers and the Improvement District working together, but nothing is enforceable. That is one common criticism of the planning profession.

This set of recommendations seem to be nothing more than window dressing. Main Street District, of all areas in downtown, is the least in need of help and it shows.

In the Farmers Market, the planners envision a park along Pearl, calming of traffic and improving the pedestrian realm along Ceasar Chavez, developing an image or brand for the area, working with the Bridge, Dallas's homeless shelter, for safety issues and integrating a light rail stop on the next rail line in downtown.

A key part that seems to have been excluded is the West Village-type development just north of the market. I know it will be discussed in the small area plan, but that would seem to be a key recommendation for this area. I wonder if that is where they envision the park. As for the rail line, that is out of their hands. DART is working on it, but as par for the course, this plan seems to be lacking in the transportation department.

The Civic Center, on the south end, is where most government buildings are. The recommendations are to increase the connection to the Main Street District from City Hall Plaza, pursue the reuse of the Butler Brothers Building, redesign City Hall Plaza to be more vibrant, create a new residential development at Wood and Ervay and enhance Ervay with streetscape improvements.

Once again, hard to argue with these, though I do feel some are out of the planners control. Aside from incentives, there isn't much to make the Butler Brothers or a new residential building happen. The plaza remake has already been acted upon. Streetscape improvements are great, but the underlying land uses are what makes an area vibrant, and sadly, like the Arts District, this areas has poor uses and design for an urban area.

Speaking of poor areas, the Union/Reunion area is next. A land swap near Reunion for development, a deck park between the Houston and Jefferson Street viaducts, TOD near Union and a pedestrian promenade and streetcar stop on the Houston Viaduct are what the planners see as making this district vibrant.

While this all sounds fine, this area is detailed in later sections. I'll discuss it there as well. Just remember that I am not high on the plans or this area.

The final district is the West End, the second best urban district in downtown. For this area, the planners want a mixed-use development on a surface lot at Lamar and Ross, the reuse the West End Marketplace, a park at Market and Corbin, streetcars and enhance paving at Lamar and Ross, special events and an update and rebranding of the image.

Once again, it is hard to argue with these recommendations. The good news, aside from the mixed-use development, this is all within planners and decision makers control.

I do take a bit of exception with the adaptive reuse of the West End Marketplace, a former tourist-oriented structure that was a bit of a mall in function. The planners want to:

Re-tenant the West End Marketplace with complementary uses such a (typo in the original document, should be as) museum, hotel, or as a business incubator with strong ties to El Centro Community College, Bank of America, and the nearby Environmental Protection Agency office in Fountain Place to encourage innovative, creative/green economy business start-ups and partnerships.

I like the idea of not making this an indoor mall. I could see a hotel, but this too big for most any museum (and this isn't in the Arts District, where Dallas likes their museums :p). As for the incubator, it seems like they just named area tenants. For the EPA to have any use or connection with this building, they would need to cross the six-lane-and-median Griffin Street, otherwise known as the most car-oriented street in downtown. I think residential or hotel would be the better bet.

From here, the surrounding districts are analyzed in the same manner, though their descriptions are shorter. I'll try to be as brief.
For Victory, they want TOD's at DART stations and streetcar stops, to convert Houston street to the "front door" rather than the alley it is now and infill next to the new Museum near downtown.

In Uptown, the planners want walkable, transit oriented neighborhoods, improved walkability on select streets, workforce housing and links to the various bike trails.

On the northeast, in the Baylor District, the recommendations are to strengthen connections to the Arts District, new housing for working class (specifically between Deep Ellum Station and Central Expressway), enhance pedestrian connection to Baylor from Baylor Station, enhance links to the bike trails and reconfigure the Ross/San Jacinto intersection.

In Deep Ellum, cultivating artistic base, improve the pedestrian experience on Elm, Main, Commerce and Malcolm X, maintain a small property development style, bringing mixed-income residential, extend the freeway lighting and artwork and connect to bike trails are the planners recommendations.

At the Cedars, on the south side of downtown, the area needs to improve Ervay and add a streetcar, better use and market Heritage Village, higher intensity housing near Interstate-30, provide a fruit cart mix of housing, become an incubator for small business and enhance the connections along Belleview.

In the Southside, long considered the Cedars until this plan, planners advise a streetscape improvement along Lamar, decked development over I-30, streetcar along Lamar and enhanced connectivity along Belleview and Corinth.

On the west side, there's Riverfront and Design Districts, these are really the same area with no real distinction, so I will cover it as one too. MIG proposes native landscaping on industrial sites, access to the Jefferson/Houston deck park, redesigning Riverfront as a multi-modal street, a streetcar connecting the area to Victory Station and encourage cottage industry with live-work sites.

Nothing really jumped out at me in these districts, neither good nor bad. Some seem solid, streetscape improvements, adding active fronts toward the street and increasing housing options and ranges. Others, like the deck park and streetcar lines everywhere might be out of reach.

I am so glad this section is over. It seemed the most tedious and likely boring, though there was a lot of good information in there. I am looking forward to the next section, which will contain the teeth of the plan.