Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Park(ing) Day Dallas

This past Friday was Park(ing) Day, celebrated (or maybe exhibited) nationwide. Dallas participated. While I will post some pictures, the main point of the post isn't going to be about the event, but rather what lasting effects will the event have in Dallas.

Here was a cool little bonus. Unrelated to Park(ing) Day was a Green Expo at Main Street Gardens. It added a nice little bookend to Main Street.

Live music was a common theme for many of the parklets.

This is a shot down Main Street. I added this one to show the congestion on Main Street. This runs contrary to most public policy stances. The general idea is that places that are congested lose their desirability (think of the Yogi Berra saying, the place is so crowded, no one every goes there anymore). Yet, the reality shows the opposite. Yes, this is a one-time event, but it applies to permanent places.

Outside Pegasus Plaza. There is a lot of pedestrian activity here.

This was a live music-type parklet, but anyone on the street could join and do what they wanted. I liked this one a lot because it was representative of what a great urban areas should be.

This parklet was put together by the leasing office of the residential building I reside. They made a small croquet field.

I included this one, not because of any great idea or activity, but the poor urban design of the area. Notice how the others, taken up and down Main Street, are nice and shaded with pedestrian amenities. Going from east-to-west, when you cross Field St, you get to the One Main Place area. It is nice and concrete-ty, complete with a big setback, no shade and barren streetscape. I felt bad for the guys who got this space. Since it is hostile to pedestrians, none are here. Yet, all along Main, people were gathered in droves in the 90 degree heat. If you design it right, people will use it.

On Friday, Main Street was quite busy, but what about now? And what lasting effects will come of it? That is a little bit harder to answer. I was talking with the organizer of it a few days before and that was the question that came up. The more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized something.

Dallas is great at doing the temporary. The better block project that has been done in Oak Cliff, Deep Ellum and Ross, demonstration bike lanes and Park(ing) Day. But in the end, not much changes. Some things in Oak Cliff have, but that's because they are taking things in their own hands, not because of any systemic changes at City Hall.

In the end, I think these things serve one major lasting purpose. It does show that the younger generation is pushing for change in how our cities are built and operate. In the end, that may be the best thing of all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Basic Understanding of Walkability

When referencing Cedar Springs in this post, I noted how adding a median does nothing to address the urban deficiencies of the road itself.

Enter City of Ate, the food and restaurant blog of the Dallas Observer. The entry I link is not at all related to planning or urban design. However, in illustrating how much our cities indirectly affect us all, I quote this:

The roads around Kung Fu are awkward. Five different streets come together and there's construction in the middle of one. Sixth Street is another new bar just across the street and everyone plays Frogger trying to get back and forth between these spots. Not an ideal set up. We need some signs and stuff. Maybe a crossing guard with a whistle.

This problem does not exist in places lining streets that are urban, like McKinney St. in Uptown, Main St. in Downtown or Greenville Ave. in Lower Greenville.

It is this inate understanding that creates the either vibrant urban areas or dead spaces. If one were to ask the food critic what makes a street either a quality urban street or auto-oriented one, she may have a hard time verbalizing it. But instinctively, almost all of us knows what streets feel comfortable to be a pedestrian and which ones do not.

When I say almost, I have to wonder about a select few. Either Dallas City Officials do not understand, or they willfully put the desires of car drivers to go fast through the urban area over pedestrians to walk safely in their own neighborhood.

BTW, can I sue the writer for stealing my Frogger analogy?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Raw Deal between Publically-Built Stadiums and Taxpayers

While I have touched on the way taxpayers get the wrong end of the deal when it comes to stadiums financed by municipalities, I tend to focus more on the claims of economic and urban development. To add another dimension of the debate against publically-financed stadiums, Bloomberg published an article detailing the way federal tax dollars are shifted away from the general revenue fund and into the owner's pockets.

I highly recommend the read, even though it is a bit longer. Essentially, cities "own" the stadiums and can finance them with tax-exempt bonds but the owner uses the stadium for free, keeps most-to-all of the revenue, and the treasury misses out of the funds they would have otherwise seen. These bonds were meant for true public uses, like schools or roads, but have been corrupted for gain by the privileged few who can afford to own teams.

As a contrast, Bloomberg offered up Cowboys Stadium, which opened in 2009 and cost $1.2 billion, to the home of the Giants, MetLife Stadium, which opened this year at a cost of $1.6 billion. The local venue used $350 million in public bonds, to be paid for in local taxes. The New York version was completely financed by the private sector.

I won't go into any more, because I don't want to steal the thunder of the article, as well as the authors are able to concisely detail the financials better than I could.

Ultimately, it feels like I am beating a dead horse here. As I have stated many times, I have yet to see an independent analysis that states how stadiums are a great deal for anyone but the owners. This is just another drop in that bucket.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Pro-Alternate Transportation is not Anti-Car

It is generally my philosophy to link and have a discussion on topics that are local in value, for example, the Trinity Tollroad or discuss examples from across the country in relation to the Trinity Tollroad. Today I will make an exception because it is relevant to planning, planners and me personally.

I put it here to give an understanding of my philosophy, and hope that readers will keep this in mind when policies are put forth that may limit the automobile's reach.

Herb Caudill believes that planners are not anti-car and the supposed "war on cars" that planners have been accused of is not true. It is that cars and what they need, from a pure physical infrastructure point, are not an efficient use of resources.

The central fact about cars, from a planner's perspective, is that they take up space. Lots of space. And this matters because space in cities (a.k.a real estate) is scarce and therefore expensive.
Cars take up space when they're moving and they take up space when they're parked, and even though they can't be simultaneously moving and parked, you have to plan for both states and plan for peak demand; so you have to set aside some multiple of the real estate actually occupied by the car at any given time.

That's just a practical observation about the spatial geometry of cities that doesn't bow to my ideology or yours. And it would still remain true even if cars ran on nothing but recycled newspapers and emitted nothing but rainbows and unicorn tears.

In the past, our policy response has been to just set aside more and more space for cars: More freeways, more roads, more lanes on existing roads, more parking garages and surface lots. This approach hasn't worked, and there are two very practical reasons why:

First, you can never build enough. There's a phenomenon called "induced demand" that is very well understood by now. A new lane or a new freeway never reduces congestion in the long run: People respond to new capacity by driving more or by living or working in previously remote places, and you're very quickly back where you started and have to build still more. The same phenomenon applies to increases in the supply of parking. It's a game you can't win.

Second, when you do make more space for cars you quickly start to crowd out any other potential mode of transportation, especially walking. All those parking lots and freeways and roads spread everything else out so that the distances become too great for walking. And the more you optimize any given space for cars the more hostile that space is for pedestrians. Very quickly you get to the point where it becomes impossible—or prohibitively depressing—to get things done on foot.

I agree whole-heartedly about this. While he does say that externalities are excluded for this discussion, I would say that also has a huge effect in my reasoning. DFW as a region is a non-attainment area for ozone. The primary reason for the ozone is the exhaust from cars. To try and solve the ozone issue without addressing cars will never work. Any solution has to incorporate that aspect.

What the "war on cars" boils down to is those that are funded by the road lobby **coughcoughCatoInstitutecough** are working to find a way to keep doing what has always been done in the last 60-70 years. Folks in cars scoff at perceived anti-car policies, for example, tolling of freeways, not because the policy to pay for what you use is bad, but because they have always had free roads.

What planners get flack for is trying to shift the pendulum, which is so far towards cars at this moment, more toward the middle. I have often said, much to disbelieving ears, that I am not anti-car. I am pro-transportation-choice. There have been times where I could have taken something that wasn't a car, but didn't. Sadly, there have also been times where I didn't want to take the car but had no option. That's what we are out to fix.