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.|
|Woodall Rogers east of Pearl and north of the Arts District.|
|Woodall Rogers and the new deck park.|
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.|
|Elm and Olive looking east.|
|Main Street just before Ceasar Chavez, looking east.|
|Main Street just west of Central Expressway looking east.|
|Commerce and Ceasar Chavez looking east.|
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.|
|Looking at the edge of the Camden Farmers Market, Canton and Good-Latimer looking west.|
|Camden Farmers Market, Canton and Good-Latimer looking southwest.|
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.|
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.|
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.|
|Market and Elm, looking north.|
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.|
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 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.