Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Central Teardown

I am ashamed to admit this, but what I am about to post was published in the Dallas Morning News in early June.


The Texas Department of Transportation has its eyes on the roughly 1.5 mile stretch of highway between Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Interstate 30. Officials have presented nine rebuild or repair options. But some of us favor a 10th option: demolition.

As an individual with a master’s in planning who isn’t actually working in the field, I certainly am not the most eloquent spokesman for this project. That more aptly belongs to Patrick Kennedy, who has written about this on his blog and been the featured crusader in this paper on the topic. He even has a website devoted to it, anew

I, however, do have a unique perspective. I have lived in downtown Dallas for seven years and worked in the core almost as long. In all that time, I have used the freeway only a few times.
I have endured the long, lonely walk between downtown and Deep Ellum far more often, and almost every time have lamented the vast emptiness the freeway spawns between two important Dallas urban neighborhoods.

That is what this is about.

Some drivers do use this stretch of highway to get downtown, but most are just passing through. Why are we sacrificing our urban neighborhoods to continue to help Plano, McKinney or Lancaster grow? They are doing great and don’t need Dallas to destroy its urban fabric to help them.

Meanwhile, something the entire region is facing a shortage of — a true, urban, walkable neighborhood — is divided. Imagine if we developed the freeway area. It could be transformed from something that requires money to maintain into something that provides tax revenue.

To some degree, we in Dallas already know this. Look no further than Klyde Warren Park. It has been hailed as a wild success exactly because it un-freeways the area. Instead of dividing these neighborhoods, the park stitches them back together.

So if we can make that case that demolition can be a good thing, why is it not even an option? The answer is really twofold, but both lie in the planning process.

First, TxDOT has built highways for as long as its officials can remember. It is their first responsibility. That works in outlying areas, where there are real estate prices to consider when opening up new land for development. But that doesn’t work for Dallas. What new land will be ready for development if this freeway stub is redone?

The other reason demolition is not considered is how the planning process actually works, usually with an objective listed. With this project, as with almost all of TxDOT’s, officials start with how they can move as many cars as possible for the lowest cost.

Many of the options will require a complete teardown anyway, so the project costs for this option would be drastically lower. And certainly this option has the best return for the city of Dallas and for cash-strapped TxDOT.

Ultimately, the best way to get TxDOT to consider this option is local pressure. The city of Dallas has to care enough. Otherwise it would be a long and bruising battle. There are those who are skeptical that a city that thinks with its car would actually pursue freeway demolition as an answer to some of its urban problems. I think it is possible, but those who are its advocate have to be loud and convincing.

As I alluded to in the article, there are better spokespeople than I. I leave you with the site.


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