Monday, July 30, 2012

Orange Line and the Airport Connection

The first three stations of the Irving section of the Orange Line opened today and unlike Belo Gardens, I don't need to wait for it to be open a while to discuss it. Sadly, due to family commitments during the Saturday celebration and opening day today, the wait for my critique, which will be similar to that of the Green Line, will have to wait a few more days.

However, prompted by a discussion on Unfair Park, I want to discuss the anticipations of the DFW Airport Station's impact on Orange Line ridership. I want to temper what I think are unrealistic expectations.

The first evidence I want to introduce is from other transit systems.

New York's MTA is a national transit leader, with a total ridership over eight million for its metro system and almost 1 million for its commuter rail network, according to the American Public Transportation Association. Airtrain is a separate line connecting the airport to the metro system. There are two transfer stations connecting this line to the rest of the system, Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport  Station and Howard Beach-JFK Airport Station. The first sees 17,500 daily riders and the second had less than 3,000 daily trips, though the link is from 2009. All told, the roughly 20,000 trips at the airport connection stations (these aren't necessarily airport bound) are only a fraction of a percent of system riders.

Note, that the New York link is to a New York Times multimedia map that shows average daily ridership for every station in the system in 2009. I'm going to make a point later and will use that as a reference point.

Chicago's L carries over 700,000 passenger trips on its heavy rails, and over 300,000 on it commuter system, Metra. The O'Hare Station has about 10,000 rides and the Midway Station sees about 9,000. That's less than two percent of system ridership.

Boston's MBTA, which carries over 500,000 trips on its metro system, almost 250,000 on its light rail system and roughly 130,000 on its commuter rail, sees only 7,000 from its airport connection. That's only .7% of total rail ridership. If we add the Silver Line's airport stop, which is technically an upgraded bus route, round up and don't include its ridership to the system's total, it still only accounts for only 1.1% of the system total.

San Francisco and Oakland's BART system opened an extension to San Francisco International Airport in 2003. Ridership for that four-station segment is 35,000, which includes a connection to the Caltrain commuter line. The station itself sees 5,400 boardings daily. Out of a 380,000 total passenger trips, the airport station accounts for just 1.4 percent of the system.

Even using a system more similar to Dallas doesn't yield any measurable increase in passengers by connecting the system to an airport.

Portland's Max light rail network has as many lines as Dallas, less miles but more stations. The average daily ridership sits right near 125,000. The airport station adds 2,600 to the system, or two percent.

Seattle doesn't publish individual station numbers for its Link light rail system. But the airport station opened in July 2009, with the airport station opening at the end of that year. For the first two quarters, the system didn't have an airport connection and the systems ridership was 14,500 and 18,200. After the airport station opened, ridership for the four quarters of 2010 was 19,500, 24,500, 26,600 and 24,700. Minus a brief up between the first and second quarter, the trend is consistent. As for the "big" increase, it isn't that noticeable compared to a typical station or line opening. Light rail lines will always trend up, even if no new stations are built. Anything around a 50 percent increase would indicate that airport station was different compared to other stations.

There isn't any airport connection in this country that adds a significant amount of riders to the regional rail system. And I am unaware of any system in the world that does, though I would cede I don't know them as well as I do America's.

There are several well established systems that do not have an airport connection. That in-and-of-itself may be proof that airports don't pump up ridership numbers.

So what does? Looking back at that New York map, the higher-ridden stations are those with the greatest density of jobs and residences. As I have said before, for a transit system to be successful, it needs to take people from where they are, to where they want to go in a convenient manner.

Airports and rail systems just aren't that convenient for most people. Passengers, unless they are light packers or on a day trip, just aren't likely to carry luggage from the terminal to the train. Add the fact that two-thirds of DFW Airport's passengers are transferring to another plane, it may not have as many passengers to send to any transportation system, despite the airport consistently being one of the busier airports in the country.

Workers are also unlikely to take the train, because even though there may be a large number of employees within its grounds, it is highly undense and spread out. So unless they work almost directly near the station, they will be highly unlikely to be train commuters.

In fact, I do believe the Orange Line will be the only terminus station that isn't the highest ridden of its own lines outlying stations. That will most likely be Belt Line Station, which isn't far from both the Bush Turnpike and Highway 114. It has all the makings off a highly used commuter station. And similar to what I discussed previously, this is a perfect location for a commuter station.

While these can be useful for the region, airport-to-rail transit doesn't have a huge amount of people using it. Maybe DFW and DART will be different, but I see no reason why it would.

DART is a little more optimistic. In it's Final Environmental Impact Statement for the DFW Station, they predict a daily ridership of 11,200 by 2030, of which 10,500 are airport bound. The others are transfers. I just don't see it. Maybe I am wrong, but I just don't see DART bucking the trend that every other American transit system follows.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Oil and Water or Parking at Rail Stations

The expanding rail system in Denver is undergoing a fundamental rethink of how it gets it passengers to its rail system as detailed by the Wall Street Journal. There are some very relevant parts for Dallas and DART in there.

Here's the fundamental parts:

After the system opened in 1994, planners built parking lots and garages around many of its stations to cater to commuters. That strategy put parking on land that would have been ideal for stores, apartment buildings and squares catering to riders living adjacent to the stops.

As a result, there has been little of that kind of development around the stations to change the area's car-dependent culture, and riders commute to the stations from up to 20 miles away.

"Once you put in a parking structure, it's difficult to move it," says Bill Sirois, senior planning manager at the Regional Transportation District in Denver.

Denver-transit planners now are becoming more flexible when it comes to how much parking they require near rail stops and where they put it.
In the continuing expansion of the Denver rail system—which will add up to 122 miles of light rail and commuter rail lines to the existing 35 miles within the next 10 years—land adjacent to stations will be earmarked in some cases for village-type developments.
Whether to cater primarily to commuters or to residents near rail stops is a pivotal question for mass-transit planners in some cities. Many western cities expanding relatively young rail systems don't have the density or "walkability" that has allowed residents in older, Eastern cities such as New York to eschew cars in favor of mass transit.

Still, some of Denver's peer cities already have embraced this approach. San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART, and the TriMet mass-transit system in Portland, Ore., long have favored relegating park-and-ride service to their farthest flung stations in the suburbs. Meanwhile, they encourage dense clusters of apartments, condominiums and offices adjacent to their urban rail stops. The twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., have taken a similar approach recently.
Critics ask whether Denver's change in approach on parking will chase some riders away rather than attract them. "So, they're going to make it more difficult to use transit in hopes that the real-estate speculators who use public money to build these things can flourish?" asks Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a think tank in Denver. A former board member of Denver's transit system, Mr. Caldara long has been among its most vocal critics.

This something I have espoused for a long time. Why would any system that wants to redesign the urban landscape surround the instruments that accomplish that feat with pedestrian-deadening surface parking lots and single-use garages? If the goal is to redo our transportation system from a car-based one to one that sees a greater tendency for walking and transit, why does it virtually require a car for its use?

This, I believe, is a reflection of a different generation. The older planning set, as well as almost all of the political spectrum, see cars as either indispensable or inevitable, neither of which is accurate.

I've said it before and it is relevant here. People will do what is convenient. Americans don't have a love affair with the car. They have a forced marriage. Nothing else is convenient. Look at it in this case, parking lots immediately surrounding stations. Any attempt at redesigning the urban environment around it will be blunted because the parking is taking up the space that the urban environment needs to thrive. We made the car more convenient. So if there is a development there, the impact of seperating the rail station from it with parking will lower the everyday use of the rail system from the development, as well as from people outside the area who might travel to the development.

There are other endless examples of this. A few weeks ago, I talked about how signal timing is a virtual impossibility in an urban area. But what is being timed, whether urban, suburban or rural? Autos, at the expense of everything else. Why aren't the signals timed for bikes? Walking? Buses? All of these have a different speed. By picking the car, we are picking our preference.

What happens when a street is widened? Property is taken to account for that space. What was that property. In an urban area, where most property is flush with the property line, it is sidewalks (in outer areas, it can also be private property). What is the message that is sent when we narrow sidewalks to widen space for cars. The autos have priority over pedestrians.

Speaking of sidewalks, how often do neighborhoods, even close-in ones, have sidewalks? Anything less than 100 percent is too low. Can you imagine a neighborhood without roads? Even rural, farming communities have at least dirt ones. What is that message that is sent that the only infrastructure that was built was to accommodate cars? Cars take priority over anything else.

From 1945-1990, virtually every city large and small built at least one freeway and almost always many more. In the meantime, city transit systems languished. Those that were able to continue were almost always a bus, stuck in traffic (and facing signals not timed for them, slowing them down even more). No new investments were made in transit except in isolated cases. It wasn't until the 1990's that there were multiple cities with concrete additions on the ground.

Reverting back to the topic, it is clear that even when our transit systems  were being designed, it was with the idea of the car first. In essence, we are investing in a transportation system not designed to be an alternative to the car, but rather shorten the distance cars make on each trip.

And the ironic part, is exactly what Bill Sirois touched on above. Unless we are talking surface lots, once these parking structures are in place, their stay is quite long, reducing not just the tendency to encourage alternative transportation now, but a long time into the future as well.

What Denver is doing in trying to encourage TOD's, what San Francisco did in allocating parking in the outlying areas is exactly what virtually every rail-building-transit agency should do. Why do the rail stations of Mockingbird, Park Lane, Victory (though the parking is not DART's property), Union (alos not DART's property) Market Center, Inwood, Bachman, 8th & Corinth, Illinois, MLK, Lawnview and White Rock Lake all have abundant parking? There are within five miles of Downtown Dallas, the first place that urbanism started in this area. Several are also near urban enclaves of varying degree. Now granted there are some urban stations, but more have parking than don't, even within Loop 12.

What critics like Jon Caldera fail to realize when they say things like without parking, it won't be used is that at some point, for that dynamic to change, there has to be a starting point. At some point, there will have to be a restriction of parking, there will have to a densification of the urban area.

It isn't because planners dislike cars, but rather out of every widespread transportation system there is, personal autos have the greatest amount of negative externalities, both public (pollution, health, cost, and land) and private (sedentary, cost, injury and death). If we know that, then why are cars put first above everything? It isn't because they are the most efficient or the most operable. New York City and the rest of the Alpha World Class Cities are proof of that. In NYC, walking is the most used transportation form, followed by transit. Cars are third. I'm not saying every city has to be the equivalent, but it would be better than what Dallas achieves, an 87 percent single use occupancy.

For DART, it has to achieve better than 32 stations out of 55 that are commuter-based, or 58 percent. If the the Downtown Dallas rail stations are removed, the percentage is raised to almost two-thirds. The Orange Line opens Monday and I don't know its numbers off the top of my head, though I believe only the Las Colinas Station serves the neighborhood, though the University of Dallas Station may too.

Where are the walkable neighborhoods? Where are the bus transfers? Where is the actual ability to live car-free? All these were promised during DART's referendum to form the agency in the 1980's. While there is a lot that the rail system lacks that is outside DART's control, this is something that could help the system that they have direct control over. In the end, they have to ask themselves do they want a transit system that serves the future of Dallas, or one that was built for the 1980's Dallas.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Are Kids the Urban Canary in the Coal Mine?

I have touched on the idea of kids, cities and suburbs are few times, and shall revisit that here, thanks to an article I read in the Salon, written by Will Doig.

In the past, I have said that urban design can make it dangerous for kids to walk on their own. This article looks at the issue from a different approach. In essence, by not allowing kids to walk, we are suppressing urban life, something that is essential to a vibrant streetscape.

That a kindergartner was allowed to toddle four blocks without adult supervision seems extraordinary now, even though cities are at least as safe for children today as they were then. Crime is at a 40-year low. The percentage of kids fatally hit by cars has been dropping for decades. And the child abductors that leer from every corner are tabloid fantasy — only about 100 kids, out of tens of millions, are kidnapped in public by a stranger each year.

So naturally, children can now be found romping unsupervised throughout our neighborhoods, acquiring the intuition, resourcefulness and sense of independence that such a childhood provides, right?

Actually, no. In the time since [Lenore] Skenazy walked off to kindergarten alone, the number of children that can be found in public without supervision has only diminished. In one survey, 85 percent of mothers said they allowed their kids outside unsupervised less frequently than they themselves were allowed. In Britain, the average age of children allowed to play outside adult-free has risen by more than a year since the ’70s, and 25 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds have never played outside without an adult. One study diagrammed the shrinking distances that four generations of one family’s kids were allowed to stray from home: six miles in 1919, one mile in 1950, half a mile in 1979, and 300 yards today.

 I think this is what it boils down to when parents think about this. We all want our kids to be safe. Yet, we always revert to the lowest common denominator. When they are infants, we have baby monitors or video feeds to make sure they are safe when they move to their on room, away from parental supervision. Play dates weren't "invented" 20 years ago, because we just naturally let our kids go out and themselves or to their friends. Even things that I can remember doing as a kid (I am just 32) aren't allowed anymore by lots of parents. I remember the first freedom I felt when I got my own bike and was allowed to roam the neighborhood alone or with friends or sister. My parents said what to watch out for and what to do and let me be on my way. And you know what? I did it. I believe to often we think kids don't have the ability to follow instructions when it matters, but they do. We did.

I think that may be more of the crux of this issue. Trust. Either we don't trust our kids or don't trust other people.

That also comes into part of what good urban areas build, a community trust. Seeing the same people, eventually socializing with them builds social capital. When you see the same folks, an informal relationship builds. Even seeing the same type of people tears down walls. In an area that is car-oriented, those things aren't possible. People aren't out socializing, they are in their own private sphere. People there just aren't able to do the same things in suburbs that they can in quality urban areas.

My son, in a few years, will be able to walk to the convenience store a block away. Folks in the suburbs can't, because it is a mile or more and the streets may or may not have sidewalks, but a certainly border thoroughfares that are a minimum of six lanes, straight and at least 40 miles per hour and usually more.

However, until now, I never thought of the urban area's health and vitality in terms of children walkability. 

She travels the globe preaching the gospel of less-protective parenting and hosts an annual event called “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There,” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s not just for the kids’ sake: Skenazy believes that free-roaming children are an integral part of what makes a good city. “When you’re talking child-friendly, you’re usually talking about the same things urban planners talk about: mixed-use, people outside, a rhythm to the streets.”

She says the “Popsicle test” is a convenient way to use free-roaming kids to gauge a city’s health. “If an 8-year-old child can go get a Popsicle from the store by themselves and finish it before they get home, that city is probably thriving,” says Skenazy. Such an act is possible only in a walkable, reasonably safe environment that has a good pedestrian infrastructure and where retail and residences are relatively intermixed.

 As it happens, this is exactly the type of environment that’s proliferating in many cities. So why has kids’ freedom to roam only faltered? Overprotective parenting is, of course, the culprit that first springs to mind. “We’ve come around to the idea that parenting is a skill,” says psychologist Alex Russell. “We’re now all aware that those early years are extremely formative.” But another reason, says Russell, “is that we are parenting more and more in isolation. Parents used to parent in communities, but now it falls squarely on the mother and father.”

This, I think, is a direct result of suburbanization. This village parenting idea has existed for centuries and more. The phrase it takes a village is quite old, but no longer applies to our country's society. Low-density, car-oriented design has spread families apart and isolated us from our neighbors. Add in the mistrust that isolation brings and it is no wonder kids aren't allowed to be kids. 

Cities reinforce this paradigm with ever more creative ways of banning unsupervised kids, even though the definition of “unsupervised” depends on one’s perspective. As Russell suggests, kids can be supervised in the absence of their parents. In the Sydney Morning Herald, a writer recently marveled at seeing children wandering unchaperoned all over Tokyo. When she worried to her Japanese colleague about the lack of adult supervision, he responded, “What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians.” In Japan, 80 percent of kids between 6 and 12 walk to school grownup-free.

I have always marveled at the Japanese urban design. Now there are obvious cultural differences, but they build cities in the way that I preach here. There is a great appreciation for social bonds and responsibilities there.

In some ways, I don't think it is that much different here, only the design. Here's what I mean. If I am walking down the street and I see a kid, I watch the kid, even if only casually. If something bad were to happen, like an abduction, theft or just a crying kid, I intervene. Surely, there isn't that many who wouldn't. Yet here, we first think the parents are bad.

And it also takes a step for the parent too. In my personal experience, it can be hard to give them that freedom that isn't 100% secure or safe. But I see an independence streak in him that I had. And I am already seeing the parental and developmental benefits of giving him freedom to make choices.

Part of this is simple geography — Americans are more spread out than the Japanese. Sixty percent of Americans lived within two miles of their children’s schools in 1969. Now, 40 percent do. This helps explain why, in 1969, walking or biking was the most common way of getting to school, according to a UCLA study. Today, only about 13 percent of kids get to school that way.

BTW, we also had a childhood obesity epidemic. Coincidence? Certainly not in part. A lot of blame goes to video games or staying indoors, but now allowing them to walk for everyday needs may be the biggest change that requires the smallest change.

Also, if people say kids don't get enough outdoor play time, but they aren't allowed to go outside on their own, is it a shock they aren't getting enough active play time?

Once again, I think suburbanization plays a part. Some people have expressed their opinions that I am making a bad decision by not moving to a single-family house with a backyard. I just don't think that is necessary. When you realize that humans survived centuries upon centuries without backyards, it does seem weird that a relatively recent invention is considered an absolute necessity for childhood development.

“It’s almost a suburbanization of cities,” says Skenazy. “The idea that we should keep kids in cars and hover at the park and be with them 24/7 — it started in the suburbs and became the norm for parenting.”

Exactly right. When suburbs are all you know, and when you have a city like Dallas that tries to emulate suburban design, it is no wonder the current generation doesn't know anything but the suburbs.

[Nancy] Pullen-Seufert gets this, and I imagine that when she’s not talking to a reporter, she’s just as openly frustrated with parents’ irrational fears as Lenore Skenazy is. “Sometimes what we hear from [parents] is, ‘Look, my job is to protect my kid, and if this is one less thing I can expose them to, great, let’s mark it off the list,’” she says. “For a while some organizations tried to convince parents by saying, ‘Take the longer-range look: This is a way to build physical activity into your kid’s day.’ And some parents bought that, but a lot of others just said they could get the physical activity in other ways.”

I'd even take it a step further. Yes the physical activity is important, but what does this do for kid's mental development? What happens when a teen finally has freedom they never had before? What happens when a helicopter parent stays in their kids life and directs their children, even when they are in college and beyond?

It is a fact that the human brain develops most of its lifelong functions before ten. If kids don't know how to handle freedom and responsibility before that process finishes, then they will struggle with it for the rest of their lives.

It says something that we perceive walking down the street to be a greater risk to kids than speeding along in two tons of steel and glass, when in actuality, four-fifths of kids killed by cars are in those cars. No parent, however, is going to be accused of endangering their child by driving them to school, but the parent who lets them walk might be — the fear of being judged by other parents looms large. As does the fear of liability on the part of these schools and cities. “Our belief in our communities has been eroded by fears of lawsuits, insurance companies whaling on the schools, the constant din of horror story tonight at 6,” says Skenazy.

This is what gets at the heart of the matter for me. This is the oxymoron of suburban development. We want to make our kids safer, yet the thing that makes that perceived safety possible, is actually the biggest threat of all. The number one killer of humans between the age of 2 and 19 is the car. Nothing kills our kids more, not disease, not inner city violence, not bullying and certainly not walking outside but ferrying our kids around in the car. But we never hear of the dangers of that, at least not on any large scale. But we do hear about the more rarer incidents like abductions, and then paradoxically, we keep them more isolated and more dependent upon the car.

And in the end, Salon notes, when we think of kids in the design of our cities, everyone wins.

And seeing kids outside can give people confidence in their city, too. It can make them think twice about speeding in their cars and help old people age in place (kid- and senior-friendly infrastructures are often one and the same). “There’s this intangible piece to it,” says Pullen-Seufert, when asked what makes a true safe route for a child. “It’s an overall community feel, where people just feel comfortable being out there.”

I shudder to think of what cost suburbanization will have on the baby boomers. Once their capacity to drive has diminished to the point of dangerous for themselves and society, it is either nursing home or extreme isolation. Neither sounds pleasant. Cities with a greater degree of walkability will certainly have the edge, both for their citizens personal benefits and socially as a whole.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Off Topic: The Sway of Sports

Allow me to stray from the topic of this blog for the first since I started this in September of 2010. There's some current events that have stuck in my craw and I am going to use the soapbox of my blog to get on my soapbox.

Before I do that, here's some personal background. I formerly worked at a local sports radio station. I left primarily because radio is a dying industry, especially for younger folks like me. There are less and less jobs available (even when the economy was great) for an industry that a lot of people would like to be employed.

However, one of the secondary reasons had to do with what I felt was the misplaced priority that sports played in society. There were several regular callers who could answer any question related to their sports topic of choice, but had no idea about things happening around, whether it was local or national.

My personal philosophy is one of that is rational, based on being informed. I really don't care if you follow sports, but at least know something else about your surrounding world. That's one reason I have some respect for much of the tea party movement. I have little agreement with much of their platform (though not all), but at least for the most part, they are educated about where they stand.

As a kid, I grew up a devoted Dallas Cowboys fan, but while I was at the radio station, it changed. I was exposed to more of the team's inner workings and I just couldn't justify routing for a team that put more emphasis on winning than character. My breaking point was the signing of Terrell Owens. I could no longer justify and support a team I couldn't identify with and came to despise some of its players.

With that in mind, I wish to comment on the Penn State scandal, specifically reactions to the sanctions handed out by the NCAA yesterday. These sanctions were a four year post-season ban, reduction from the 25 yearly scholarships to 15, a $60 million fine and the vacating of wins from the earliest time period when the child sexual abuse was known to the higher ups until this past season.

My first moment of disgust came when I saw a video reaction of the student body. They were distraught. I have seen people react less than crushed when they have been informed of a passing in the family.

I understand that football, especially at certain Universities, can be a big part of student life, but in the end, it is just football. Your degree still means the same, you don't have to work any more or less to receive it, the rest of the student life is the same, the value of your degree hasn't diminished and in the end, IT IS JUST FOOTBALL. Child safety, especially sexual assault, should not ever be put behind any sport.

The program I was watching interviewed several students, and aside from one reasonable learner, the basic commentary was that it wasn't fair. They are right, the victims who were abused because Sandusky was able to use the name of Penn State as a cover to minimize their feelings didn't have a say. When the higher-ups found out, they were more concerned with the football program's reputation than stopping future victimizations and seeking justice for those who had already been violated. Yes, it isn't fair.

As to their point about punishing the current program for the past ones transgressions, I have a few thoughts. While I do understand their point, it is irrelevant in the long run, because that is how punishments work. Example, when I was a child, I was supposed to have a sleepover. I violated a rule and my mom would not let me go to my friend's house that night. By the students (and many others) logic, it wasn't my friend's fault, so I shouldn't be punished and should have gone to that sleepover.

Many times, there will be negative consequences for those not involved. Go to a football coach during two-a-days and say you shouldn't have to run because your teammate made the mistake, not you. See how that works out.

In some ways, it is precisely because those who didn't have a say are being punished that it will stop it again. Going back to that coaching analogy, the player guilty of making a mistake that causes his teammates to run will be a bit more wise in that situation again. That is exactly what the NCAA is looking to accomplish.

The point I am trying to get at is simple. The NCAA couldn't sit idly by and do nothing, even though Paterno is dead and the Athletic Director and President are gone. That would allow future perpetrators a greater leverage, since the NCAA didn't do anything now. Yes, they are right that the current coach didn't do anything, but sadly for them, Penn State was the first one to do it, or heaven forbid, was just the first to get caught. If it stops future abuse, then I am all for it, and anyone else really should be. Preventing child sexual abuse shouldn't see anyone on the fence.

And in another way, the students reaction just really shows why this happened in the first place. These students are still putting the football program above almost everything else. These children were abused because the University worshiped that team. That obviously hasn't changed.

Here's a relevant quote from Mark Emmert, NCAA president:

These events should serve as a call to every single school and athletics department to take an honest look at its campus environment and eradicate the 'sports are king' mind-set that can so dramatically cloud the judgement of educators.

I still think some of those with a direct link to Penn State are missing the message.

Are they shocked that their beloved program was complacent in raping kids or that they can't play in a bowl game?

The Dallas Morning News published several stories in today's edition, the most recent after the sanctions were announced. One story's main topic was the $60 million fine won't hurt Penn St too much because 1) it will be paid out over 4 years and 2) boosters will step up and donations will rise.

I don't have too much of a problem with increased donations. However, how about you donate the funds to a charity that supports or aides child victims of sexual assault? By not doing that, it sends a quiet, indirect message that you condone this type of action.

But Bob Harrison, Class of 1962, booster and Goldman Sachs employers doesn't just want to send a quiet message. From the DMN:

Frustrated that the NCAA based its sanctions on what he considers a deeply flawed report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, Harrison's support for the school and the athletic department has not wavered. And he believes he's not the only booster who feels that way.

"I would say a high percentage supporting the athletic program will continue to," said Harrison, who worked for Goldman Sachs for 28 years.

The last thing I would do if I were in any way related to Penn St would be to criticize the Freeh report. There were concrete e-mails in there that show Paterno, as well as the AD, President and the campus Police Chief, covering this up. Their big plan to stop Sandusky from abusing kids in the future? Ban him from the campus. Not report it to the proper authorities, not go to the press, not file charges, but basically say you don't have to stop, but you get to get the heck up out of here.

To criticize anything in the that report, which is based on these concrete communiques, is to blindly follow your team and condone the sexual assault of children. I don't mind you supporting your team, but who is supporting the victims? Who is ensuring this doesn't happen again? Who is working to change the the culture so that it errs on the side of caution rather than wins? I can tell you it isn't the students, and it isn't Bob Harrison. BTW, why do you think the AP writer decided to include Harrison's employer in the story?

Putting sports first is a common problem in our society. My stance on stadiums is clear, yet the public votes for them with the winning margin almost certainly from some voters support their team. Domestic disturbance calls for law enforcement are always higher during major sporting events like the Super Bowl. Think to your workplace. What is the most common water cooler talk? Sports usually, especially around bigger events.

Before resuming planning and urban development talk, let me close this post with this quote from Emmert.

One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is that the sports themselves can become 'too big to fail' - or even too big to challenge. The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by the value of hero worship and winning at all costs.

It seems despite this crime and penalty, some at Penn State still haven't reset their priorities. If they can't put the cessation or even punishment of sexual assault on kids ahead of the football program, what can they?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Managing Transit within Individual Fiefdoms

Almost a year ago today, I discussed how some area suburbs were trying to increase transit options in their municipalities that do not currently have service.

In March, Mesquite opened an express route from their downtown connecting to the Lawnview Station on the Green Line.

However, Allen and McKinney have seen nothing concrete from their efforts yet. Monday's Metro section in the Dallas Morning News contained a story about why there has been a delay for those northern suburbs.

The short version is one of my concerns about this piecemeal approach. DART has inhibitions about approving a program that pumps non-service-area riders into the first station of the Red Line, forcing others further in to stand on the Downtown-Dallas-bound trains. Those others are also more likely to reside in a DART service area city and therefore are also more likely to pay the sales tax. As it stands, DART will receive nothing from the two suburbs.

Sadly, in the current system (political, not infrastructural), the only solution I see is an increase in capacity. But again, that has costs associated and who pays what will be at the heart of this matter.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this is one of the many drawbacks with a transit system's service area being decided by individual cities and paid for with their sales tax allocations. Until a fundamental change totally re-designs the way we fund, operate and administer transit service in the region, this will be more common as the region grows outward. More and more outlying suburbs will try to find a way to keep their sales tax and still fund transit and the current payers will look out for their interests first.

In the end, it is the residents who will have the drawbacks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Retail Targets for Downtown Dallas

There is a prevalent idea around these parts about just what kind of retail needs to exist in the urban core. The basic premise is that Downtown Dallas can't compete with the suburbs on a one-to-one basis. So, in order to attract customers, the retail and restaurant offerings have to be unique, and not available anywhere else in the region.

This line of thinking makes a lot of sense and I don't disagree with it entirely. The thinking is that someone won't pass by three Gap's to get to one located Downtown. However, I do believe this is an overly simplistic, and in some cases archaic, view.

First, this assumes that everyone lives far away from Downtown. As more and more people live in the urban core, this is less and less and issue. People who live in the core have similar desires and consumption habits as their affluent suburban counterparts.

The idea of only destination retail Downtown also suffers from a lack of context when it comes to urban design. Classic urban design areas have withstood the test of time, literally many millennia. Meanwhile, the typical shopping mall and strip center have a lifespan of only several decades. On top of that, preferences for building and patronizing these places has fallen over the years, in favor of...more urban style developments. So for some folks, they'd rather drive past all the other Old Navy's or Olive Garden's. So, if from that angle, is it reasonable to assume that "average" retail offerings would be appealing in Downtown?

An obvious flaw with destination retail is the price point. Urban areas are supposed to be all-inclusive. If the retail and restaurant products require a hefty penny, that excludes all lower-class folks and most middle-class people as well. If what we are encouraging actually encourages people to not patronize the area, reducing its vibrancy, isn't that fundamentally backwards?

This is one of the main reasons, especially outside of the urban design, that Victory struggled.

One of the biggest impediments, once again excluding current urban design, is the transportation system. There are three conflicting issues that make Downtown Dallas inconvenient.

1) The city's urban core was built prior to the automobile. This meant the urban area was based around walking and then transit (specifically the streetcar). Even after the automobile was introduced and into the first couple of decades of the 20th century, the design stayed steady. Therefore, most everything within a three mile radius of downtown is still based on this mode.

2) In an effort to modernize Downtown for the car, planners and traffic engineers shoehorned in a freeway system with wide roads to facilitate travel to the freeways, decimating parts of the urban environment. However, these additions did not make Downtown auto-friendly, further complicating the local transportation system. It is no longer as transit-friendly, the auto additions alienated the pedestrian and Downtown is still not as car-friendly as the suburbs, which were built with cars as the priority.

3) The transportation system helped foster in a transition from mixed-use to office park. This saw large scale evacuation of a varied retail landscape in Downtown.

So, as it stands right now, Downtown is inconvenient to drive to, taking transit is inconsistent and walking came be uncomfortable. Tell me why any business would locate here?

I initially started pondering this idea when I thought of just how many unique places that were opened in redeveloped buildings had closed: a wine-crafter in the Davis Building, several versions of a club in the old bank vault within the Davis, a furniture store in the Davis, a knick-knack shop in the Kirby, a clothier in DP&L, and numerous restaurants not found anywhere else. So if the thought is we can't do more common retail and unique retail can't stay open, what are we to do? The answer in just a moment.

But first, I don't want this to come off like I am pro-chain and anti-local, though in a region as large as this those labels aren't so concise. Some of my family's most common destinations are local. However, there are large amounts of people who don't prefer something that they don't know.

I think the answer, then, has to be that Downtown include some of everything, especially if we as a city can remedy the transit problem. If more of the retail locates along the transit mall in downtown, it becomes really convenient.

Think back to our modern shopping areas. There is usually a mix of destination and common retail. Downtown Dallas was the original outdoor shopping mall. If we can reintroduce that proper mix of retail, I believe can be again.