Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dallas Does Bike Lanes II

Roughly a month ago, I critiqued the bike lanes on the ground in downtown Dallas. While there were some things I liked, I was overall unhappy with what has been put into place.

On Wednesday, the annual ride to City Hall took place, and several council members were there as well as the man in charge at Public Works of putting the infrastructure in place, Jared White. When I voiced my concerns, I was generally pleased with the reception. Some of the lane changes and the separated lane at Main under the freeway he acknowledged weren't perfect.

As he explained to me, it was a learning process that the City was doing. There will be changes, though none in the near term, but that the lessons learned would be applied to the currently-fund-but-not-implemented bike infrastructure projects in the near term.

He also was similarly discouraged about the lack of enforcement when vehicles stage in the lanes on Jackson and Wood. He lives near there and sees that happening and is hoping for better enforcement. He also acknowledged the lanes run though sewer grates, recessed man-hole covers and other obstacles and will work to resolve those at some point. 

While I still think that Dallas would have benefited from having a cyclist plan and implement the projects, I am at least a little encouraged that they recognize there is room for improvement in the way we go about adding bicycle infrastructure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Am I Scott Griggs?

Short answer no, but listening to the Economic Development Committee this week might have given someone who reads this blog a different impression.

I have mentioned the urban design flaws of Victory Park before. One of the items before the EDC this week was the latest proposal by the owners of Victory Park to turn it around. I won't go into details since I only know the generics, turn Olive into a more pedestrian-friendly street, widen sidewalks all over and get rid of some one-way streets in favor of two-way. Sounds good, but without concrete proposals or blueprints, I just can't comment with certainty. Victory Park in its generic form sounded good, but the devil was in the details.

But I offer these quotes from Griggs.

"If you want these water-colors (artist renderings) to be a reality, you have to stop focusing on the events and focus on everyday life."

"You can't have events drive the every day. We want to build a successful community in an urban environment and to do that you need life between buildings on a day in, day out basis."

Victory Park is "one of the biggest failures of urban design ever imaginable."

No link to the Katy Trail "is going to be a regrettable mistake."

Griggs also noted the poor relation to Victory Park and the DART light rail station.

He wasn't the only one with attention directed towards the flaws. I think we are finally getting council members who get urban areas.

Adam Medrano questioned city staffers on why bike lanes were absent in the redo plans. His council district covers the area.

Lee Kleinman, similar to Griggs, noted there is a lack of everyday needs for the area. He also made mention that arena-anchored areas tend to fail, something I have said many times, particularly on the economic development front.

It is really refreshing to see Council members ask the hard questions and point out the obvious, rather than take the developers word and hope for the best.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Just Not Enough Parking

I guess it has been a while and it is inevitable that it gets the spot light again at some point. Friday, Steve Brown of the Dallas Morning News ran an article lamenting the lack of parking in downtown Dallas, particularly as new developments take the place of surface lots.

Can I scream please? It is the same tired line. Let me repeat something I have said here over and over. There is not a lack of parking downtown. There are near 100,000 public and private parking spaces spread across all land-uses in downtown. There are roughly 30,000 surface parking spaces and another 30,000 in stand-alone garages.

What downtown has a true lack of, and something that will never, ever change, is convenient parking, especially when the city outlaws convenient on-street parking options.

When the wife and I were watching the old Dallas TV series, I always laughed when one of the Ewing's or Barnes' would pull up to their office tower at Renaissance Tower or One Main Place and amazingly find a parking space on the street or in the drop-off zone. They'd get out, shut the door and enter the office building. Of course they would have been towed in real life, but they'd always have the ability to park freely and conveniently. Downtown Dallas will never have that.

All throughout the column, Brown mentions the reason for the lack of surface parking. That right there is a red flag. Surface parking is the biggest use of land in downtown, yet accounts for only a third of the total parking supply. If every surface parking space is eliminated, the total parking supply is reduced by that amount to 60-70,000 spaces. And that's if there isn't any replacement, which rarely happens.

Brown himself makes no mention of transit as an option. He does offer the following quote:

And extra parking was a key ingredient to get worldwide engineering firm Jacobs to consolidate its North Texas offices in downtown. The California-based firm leased more than 80,000 square feet in the Harwood Center on Bryan Street.

But first, the building owner and Dallas economic development officials had to line up extra parking in a garage next door.

“That and DART moved the needle for Jacobs,” said Cushman & Wakefield senior director Matt Heidelbaugh, who represented the tenant. “Proximity was very important for ease and security.

I understand corporate offices are finally moving away from needing increasing amounts of space for the same amount of workers. I am quite happy with the trend. However, most of the '80's towers still have abundant amounts of parking in an attached garage. Also, the vast majority are on a DART line or within two blocks of a DART station. I see Brown making no mention employers subsidizing a transit pass, only subsidizing parking, or in the case above, the city helping the subsidization of parking. No mention of the work to make biking a legitimate commuting option anywhere in the column.

The other thing Brown completely ignores is that as new development takes the place of the surface lots, they will include more parking than what was there, so there is a net increase of total parking spaces. However, those lots just aren't as convenient.

Brown also makes note that the new suburban projects have two to three times the parking of downtown office buildings. They have to, THEY ARE IN THE SUBURBS! Many of those new office buildings are in cities that are designed for the car and have no transit service. How else are they going to get people there? It also this design that ensures the suburban projects will never have any external activity and makes things like Legacy in Plano a nice idea that doesn't quite make for an urban area.

I have said it countless times. Downtown Dallas will never out-suburb the suburbs. It can never make it convenient for the car. It can, however, out-urban them. The suburbs will never be able to offer authentic, walkable urban areas like historic city centers can. Downtown Dallas leaders would be better off playing to those strengths, rather than complaining about the lack of parking.

It wasn't until the end that we got the idea that maybe it really isn't a terrible issue.

An apartment development planned on land surrounding the historic Dallas High School on Bryan Street and a cultural center in the works at Griffin and Woodall Rodgers Freeway will occupy more surface parking lots. Although they remove parking, these developments are good for downtown, almost everyone agrees.

“It is a very good problem to have,” said John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc. “Ten years ago, this wasn’t that big a deal.

“As we look at taking away these surface parking lots, we are looking at other options.”

Crawford said the city of Dallas is developing plans to build an underground parking garage below the planned 3.5-acre Live Oak Avenue park.
And Downtown Dallas Inc. and city officials are working with other building owners to find additional parking.

“Parking, both in perception and reality, has been a problem downtown for a long time,” Crawford said. “As we have rebuilt our downtown, it’s become even more a consideration.”

Let me rephrase this. It is a good problem, we are replacing parking, perception of parking is bad. The real answer is that there will never be enough convenient parking options and what is currently there suppresses the desirability of the surrounding area. In essence attractive areas become less attractive to visit the more convenient the parking becomes. Since there can never be enough convenient parking options, alternative modes have to be considered. Without it is like trying to diet by drinking excessive amounts of soda.

I am glad to see Crawford acknowledge that the problem may not be that big. Dallas has leaders that have always thought capacity solutions are the answer to the problem, more parking, more freeways, more lanes, etc. Until Dallas gets decision makers who think otherwise then this will always be a problem. The solution to parking problems isn't more parking spaces, but rather changing the approach to parking.

“Corporate America is downsizing its space needs, and the densities of workers in offices is going up,” said Greg Langston, managing director of commercial property firm Avison Young’s Dallas office. “With some of these buildings — particularly those built in the 1980s — there is nowhere left to park.”

I think ultimately, I absolutely abhor this kind of article because there is always a quote like this. It is patently false and just continues the stereotype that there is nowhere to park to those who don't know. I introduce some maps that I made a few years ago to dispel that there is nowhere to park downtown. While there may be some minor errors from time, they are still pretty accurate.

There are over 100 distinct surface parking lots downtown.

These are the stand-alone garages, which are approximately equal to the number of spaces in the picture above.
Looking at those pictures, does it look like there is nowhere to park? Those pictures do not include things like basement parking in the office towers or residential buildings. City Hall and the civic buildings in the Arts District, among others, have underground parking, but it isn't there on those maps. I could go on, but here's the main takeaway: Between all the office workers, residences and visitors, there are roughly 150,000 people in downtown daily. How can 100,000 spaces for a downtown that sees 150,000 people and is the nexus of the transit system not have enough parking?

Truth is, it does not have a parking shortage. It has and will always have a convenient-parking shortage. But if the goal is to make downtown Dallas a true urban area, then it will always have that shortage, regardless of what the old guard thinks.