Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dallas Freeway Division, a Pictorial Tour

Prior to the posts at the beginning of the month, I just assumed (you know what that means) that it was readily accepted that freeways were a divider. Certainly, even among the highway supporters, planners know this. And if you surround yourself with similar viewpoints, there is just no way of seeing the other side.

I was taken aback when Michael Lindenberger, the DMN transportation writer wrote the following on his blog page about my Trinity Parkway post:

2.  ”There are no counterpoints, no rebuttals, no yeah buts, freeways divide the urban landscape. There is a clear delineation between Downtown and Deep Ellum, Downtown and Uptown, Downtown and The Cedars, Downtown and the Industrial/Riverfront Blvd area. Even Knox-Henderson, a singularly defined neighborhood, is clearly divided between east (Henderson St) and west (Knox St).”

The toll road, he says will divide Dallas over again.

That’s a hard one to swallow if you ask me. I mean, the north and south fo the city are divided alright — but it’s the river and the vast, vacant floodway that does the dividing, not a new six-lane highway within that natural barrier.

Of course, the if his point is that the road will divide downtown from the recreational areas planned for the floodway, or from the river itself, he may be on firmer ground. (Turns out, that’s exactly the point he is making, as he makes clear in a more recent post. You can read it here to decide whether you buy it.)

Now he doesn't come right out and say I don't think that freeways divide Downtown from the rest of the urban core, but there is enough gray area in there that I decided to go out with my camera and snap photos of various angles and viewpoints to illuststrate why and how freeways divide urban areas.

The first batch of pictures are taken with an eye towards the macro-view. In the sky deck of Chase Tower, one can see until the horizons ends. It is a great way to see the freeways effects from the bird's eye view.
This bit of Central Expressway connects US-75 with I-45.
The wide swath of land needed for this freeway has negative effects on Deep Ellum on the left and Downtown on the right. This extended bit of land is not a pedestrian-friendly walk. Also notice how the much of the land directly next to the freeway is for parking, another attack on the comfort level of the pedestrian.
Woodall Rogers east of Pearl and north of the Arts District.
Once again, the freeway makes a clear delineation between both sides of its border. On the left is the Winspear Opera House. On the Woodall Rogers side of that building is a wall and loading dock. Next to the Winspear is the Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing Arts, where on Woodall Rogers side is another parking lot. Across the street from the school is a full block-sized parking lot, though it is in the development plan to be a tower I don't know the design or setbacks, but don't suspect it to open up to the freeway). On the Uptown side, it is more of the same.

Woodall Rogers and the new deck park.
I like this picture because it shows that at some level, someone in the City gets it. Why build such an expensive park, unless their is some extreme positive, or in this case, a positive to mitigate an negative?

I added this one to show the upclose view from above. It is hard to determine from a cursory glance that a freeway is under here. None of the other pictures can make that claim, because that is the first thing that is noticed when viewing them. Finding the freeway has been easy until this past one.

Knowing what I know, I could tell from the picture (the circular exit ramp at the lower right, the drive-through bank adjacent to the park in the middle toward the top, the blank wall of the Nasher Sculpture Center near the lower left and the garage entrance and surface devoted to the car at the DMA) that at the bare minimum, this spine was an auto-throughway of some kind. Design issues aside, this area doesn't "look" like something runs through it. Panning out a bit will reveal the end of the park and the resumption of the freeway, but at this point above, there are fewer negative spillovers.

At the pedestrian level, it is much worse. In some ways, having an identifier is human nature. One of the first places people look at in regional maps is Downtown, since it is the bullseye of the hub and spoke system or DFW airport, since it is so massive. How it is used from a personal perspective is much more important, though, while also much less identifiable. In some ways, this gets to one of my main critiques about Downtown Dallas. Is great from a distance, but once inside, there is a lot that is lacking, just a bunch of pieces shouting for attention without working with the other parts.

Under Central Expressway, just south of Elm Street looking north.
Were it not for Univision Center on the right or the Hart Furniture Building on the left, there would nothing even close to resembling an urban area from this viewpoint. All the columns, streets, overhead noise, etc. are pedestrian suppressors. Add the fact that this is only a pass through, since nothing here would actually generate any pedestrian activity, and it is no wonder pedestrians are a rare sight here.

Elm and Olive looking east.
A garage on the right, parking lots on the left and a freeway straight ahead. What is there to walk to? There are a smattering of one-two story buildings just past the garage, but nothing to compensate for the huge hole of nothing that the freeway, parking lots and garage generate. Therefore, pedestrians are not as common as they should be if this were a vibrant urban area.

Main Street just before Ceasar Chavez, looking east.
On this part of Main Street, the urban environment is a bit better than the previous picture. There are no huge swaths of open parking, the built environment goes to within a block of the freeway on both the Downtown and Deep Ellum sides and there is a good bit of on-street parking. So why is the area still devoid of human life? There is no critical mass of urban amenities like you will find further in (picture coming) on Main St. Instead, the freeway generates no pedestrian activity and the remaining sides don't have enough activity to overcome that difficiency.

Main Street just west of Central Expressway looking east.
If this picture doesn't make your feel uncomfortable, then you have nerves of steel. Both sides of Main Street have a freeway ramp, as opposed to one for both Elm and Commerce and none for Canton. I don't think I have to spend a lot of time on this topic because I don't think crossing freeway ramps is on any list of recreational activities.

Commerce and Ceasar Chavez looking east.
 Once again, there is development within a block of the freeway. But no people.

Also, have you noticed that in the last four pictures, it is hard to see the other side. That is crucial to a pedestrian experience. To the user, it is clear the end of the urban area is the freeway. To a user, it is clear that there are no people, signifying a do not enter sign to the brain.

Canton St looking east.
This one is more of the same. However, upon closer inspection, these buildings are built fairly close to the freeway. But, they aren't positive for the urban area, because...

Looking at the edge of the Camden Farmers Market, Canton and Good-Latimer looking west.

Camden Farmers Market, Canton and Good-Latimer looking southwest.
These pictures illustrate the back nature of designing by a freeway. Only one building looks inviting toward the street and from this corner. The rest are a blank walls, fences, garages or sparsely populated windows on the walls. Unless it is by car, very few would willingly approach this property from this vantage.

There was an attempt of some kind to mitigate some negatives of the freeway. A dog park was put under part of Central Expressway, hoping to help link Deep Ellum and Downtown.

Bark Park, under Central Expressway between Commerce and Canton.
If I take this one from the point of it is better than what was there and accept that this area will never be anything but a freeway, I like what was done. If I change that approach and say an urban area should be _____, then this area definately underwhelms.

Because the rest of the urban area still reflects being next to the freeway, this park is an island. The Camden apartments are right across, but as the pictures reflect, they don't open up to this area. Directly adjacent are streets on three sides and the back wall of a produce company.

Bark Park's west side.
Nothing says inviting like metal siding.

This park doesn't really link to its surroundings. Unlike what should happen in an urban area, this park and surrounding land uses feel like independent bits of their parts of the city, ignoring the other adjacent parts. This is directly attributable to the negative impacts of the freeway. Main and Market Streets are the exact opposite.

While this park is used, it is one of the lower attended dog parks in the City's park system. There are still negative aspects that freeways produce, noise, pollution and uneasiness the primary ones, that don't help boost use. The other sad fact is despite being in the middle of the Deep Ellum and Downtown border, very, very few actually walk here. Because the surrounding area is built more for the car, most drive, even those that live in the Camden property next door.

 Now take the pictures from above, showcasing the fragmented urban areas that the freeways spawned and compare them to the Main Street or Market Street corridors.

Main and St. Paul, looking west.
There is no obvious end to the Main Street District while inside it. In this picture, it seems to go on for a bit, while the end of the view corridor is bookended nicely by the Crowley/Sterrit complex at the far west side. For the first time in these pictures, we can actually see pedestrians. Here, unlike near the freeway, there is actually a reason for them to be here.

Market and Elm, looking north.
 Market Street shares many of the same pedestrian amenities as Main, which is also why they are the most walkable streets in downtown.

Now unlike the park scenario, there really is no building on either of these streets (at least the vibrant parts) that command attention. Each function well with the other, showcasing how the sun of the parts are really greater than the whole.

Now, I don't want this to sound like freeways are the only bad urban divider.

Dealey Plaza, looking west.
Here, the old rail bridge, which is currently used by DART trains, the Trinity Railway Express and Union Pacific freight trains, is clearly a divider between Downtown and the Riverfront area. I-35 is also in view in the picture, further dividing the areas. Dealey Plaza, thanks to a presidential assination, is the most visited spot in Dallas, but no spillover goes to Riverfront. The rail bridge and freeway see to that.

Ironically, it is fact that makes one of the negative aspects for the Trinity Parkway, dividing Downtown from the Trinity Park, a moot point. It is already divided. Anyone originating from Downtown going to the park is almost guaranteed to drive. Some may take transit in the form of a bus or future streetcar, but walking is all but guaranteed to be non-existent.

However, unlike freeways, other infrastructure investments, if designed right, don't have to be dividers.

West End Station at Market and Pacific, looking east.
I took this picture of West End Station because it is the most used station in the DART system. Roughly 20,000 trips are generated to and from this point. Yet, as the picture shows, both sides of the station work in concert with each other. The new residential building on the left opens up directly to the street and rail station, as well as Lamar and Ross Streets. On the right is a historic warehouse waiting to be renovated. But, unlike the transportation investments made toward freeways, this area is far from adversely affected. Instead of looking inward and putting their backs to the street, this area is the reverse.
I could have easily taken a picture of the streetcar line in Uptown and said the same thing. It helps unify both sides, which freeways by themselves can never do.

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