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Who Is In Charge of the Trinity River Project?

Over the weekend, Mark Lamster filed an illuminating report from Houston, comparing that city’s successful clean-up of Buffalo Bayou with our own ill-fated attempts to reclaim the Trinity. The whole thing is worth reading, but towards the end, Lamster raises an important question:

Who, exactly, is in charge of the Trinity Corridor project? There is no ready answer.

Indeed, as I mention towards the end of this piece from last week, one of the frustrating aspects of the Trinity River Project is that the plan’s so-called advocates, like The Trinity Trust, are mum when it comes to things like the proposed Trinity Toll Road, which is poised to ruin some of the more positive, park-friendly amenities they have already brought to the Trinity greenbelt. Lamster attributes this to a general lack of accountability with regards to a civic project that has way too many agencies and organizations with their hands in the pie. And what are the results?

While the Trinity River Audubon Center is a civic jewel, this process has also produced a pedestrian bridge that leads to a no-man’s land on its downtown side; a whitewater rapids that doesn’t work properly; a horse park that provides no value to the vast majority of Dallasites; and plans for lakes and fields and trails that languish as the city mulls an ill-conceived toll road that would cut those amenities off from the very citizens they are intended to serve.

In Houston, they have a park.

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Let the Rural Opposition to the Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail Project Begin

You knew it was only a matter of time before someone from out in the hinterlands of Texas started to make a stink about the proposed high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas, which, up until now, was moving along surprisingly smoothly. Well, now Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe has introduced House Bill 1889 which would require that the high speed rail project be approved by every city and county along the route in order to move forward. And you know the chances of that: zilch. So the Texas Central Railway will focus on trying to defeat the bill.

Curiously, the proposed route of the high-speed rail line does not go through Metcalf’s district, not that the representative cares. He likes roads and hates cities, which is enough to hate high-speed rail:

“We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways,” Metcalf said. “We do not need a high speed railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path.”

Sigh. Democracy can be so tedious.

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Jill Jordan Explains the Highway Spaghetti Planned for the Continental Pedestrian Bridge

This morning Rudy Bush tweeted that there was an interesting Trinity toll road conversation going on during the open microphone section of the Dallas City Council meeting, so I decided to head on over to the city’s handy online video section and check it out. A trio of speakers, including a property owner in the Design District, talked about the value of that neighborhood’s proximity to the Trinity River park and how the proposed toll road could negatively affect the potential for the Design District to become even more of a premier neighborhood and destination.

The highlight of the open microphone session came at the tail end. During his remarks, the property owner expressed concern about the contradictions apparent in multiple Trinity toll road renderings produced by different agencies, like the NTTA and TxDOT, which show exit ramps from the proposed road swamping the Continental Pedestrian Bridge and even depicting cars driving on the pedestrian bridge. The owner asked for some clarification, and when he was finished, council member Sandy Greyson called Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to the microphone to sort out the confusion.

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Is It Time For DART to Seek New Sources of Funding?

The big, elephant-in-the-room problem with DART is funding. DART’s main funding source is sales tax revenue, and it increases sales tax revenue by taking on additional communities to pay into the pot. Add a suburb, increase your earnings. The problem is that the suburbs start demanding some return for their payment, as well they should. The other problem, as DART has been struggling with of late, is that you eventually run out of suburbs, especially when you fail to deliver on the promises you made to get the first round of ‘burbs to enter your funding pool. And so what you end up with is a system that is pre-designed by its financial model to be spread out and increasingly more expensive to operate, while simultaneously under-delivering on the services you’re set up to provide. It’s not a very good business model. In fact, it looks a hell of a lot like a Ponzi scheme.

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Dallas’ Evolving Tech Community Offers Model for Successful Regional Growth

This article in GeekWire has been circulating on the interwebs. It talks about the strides made by Dallas’ startup community in recent years to build the sense of identity and community that is necessary in any entrepreneurial tech scene hoping to thrive on sharing, synergy, co-mingling, and all that other mumbo jumbo stuff they blabber on about in Austin every March.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Dallas tech, so I can’t attest to how accurate this portrayal is (it appears in GeekWire ahead of a GeekWire-sponsored Startup Week in Dallas next Month), however it does ring true with D CEO’s latest cover story. I bring it up because there is much in GeekWire’s portrayal of Dallas’ tech world that suggests a model for how we should be thinking about city-building and regional growth.

First off, while DFW has never been a stranger to tech success stories, from Texas Instruments to Mark Cuban, what the area has lacked is a sense of cohesion and identity. Why? In part, sprawl:

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What a Squabble Over a Piece of Public Art Says About How Dallas Values Culture

Over on FrontRow today, I have a little ditty about the White Rock Water Theater (pictured), which the Cultural Affairs Commission voted last night to remove from White Rock Lake. I know some of you think the piece is an ugly piece of junk. It certainly was in need of some TLC (to the tune of $200,000, in fact, an amount equal to about half of all of what the city has to spend on public art). So, fair enough, get rid of it. Only what does it say about the city that we have a public art program that can’t be maintained, and how is that indicative of so much else that goes on in Dallas?

Peel away all of the rhetoric about Dallas’ supposed cultural ambition and desire to be considered a major art center, and the history of the Water Theater shows us that Dallas actually places very little value in nurturing and supporting art, artists, and artistic activity.

Here’s the full piece.

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Does Downtown Dallas Need Another Skycraper?

You know how liquor stores and other places will hang up bounced checks to shame customers who tried to swindle them? I think Dallas City Hall should have a similar “Wall of Shame” for developers with particularly bad track records. When these characters come back with new ideas, staff should look over their shoulder, point, and say, “Hey, wait, you’re the guy who did that.”

Two names on my imaginary wall of shame: the Trammell Crow Company and Ross Perot Jr.

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Where Is Mayor Rawlings’ Leadership on Legislative Effort To Gut Municipal Budgets?

Nothing reveals the inherent contradictions in the shriller corners of the far right political persuasion than a solid debate over taxes. On the one hand, we’re used to hearing the mantra repeated with regimental gusto that government is bad and that the best policy decisions are made at the local level. On the other hand, taxes equals bad.

So, it’s interesting when these two credos run up against each other as they did yesterday in Austin when mayors from Texas’ major cities gathered to voice their opposition to legislative efforts – endorsed by Governor Greg Abbott – to introduce “revenue caps” and “appraisal caps” to limit property tax growth. In this instance, taxes-equals-bad runs directly against local-knows-best. And because Texas’ urban mayors understand the needs of their constituents, what it takes to balance a municipal budget, and how the lack of a state income tax and the mercurial nature of other revenue sources make property tax absolutely vital to the provision of city services, they all oppose the legislature on this issue.

Well, I should say all of Texas’ urban mayors except one. This Dallas Morning News article about the meeting of the mayors is quick to point out that there was one big city that didn’t have a representative at the meeting: Dallas.

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Grocery or Big Box In Downtown Dallas? Or, Why Inequality Needs to be Part of Urbanism Conversation.

There’s an interesting tidbit on Unfair Park this morning about the possibility of a new, large-scale retailer coming to the ground floor of 1401 Elm, the largest vacant building in the Central Business District.  The Observer’s Stephen Young makes a heads-up observation. Back in January 2014, the developer of 1401 Elm requested TIF funds from the city, and the request said the project would include 25,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 40,000 square feet of office. Now, the developer has come back to the city with a revised outlook: how about just 65,000 square feet of commercial space? That, according to city staff, would allow the developer more flexibility for things like bringing in an upscale grocer to take over the building’s 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

But wait. Young points to a Dallas Business Journal article from December in which Jack Gosnell, who is brokering the retail for the site, suggests that the same space might be good for a “big box retailer or a department store.”

Cue panic. Could Sam’s Club be invading downtown too?

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How the Mayor Should Handle Ethics Complaints About His Well-Stocked ‘Officeholder Account’

Mayor Rawlings pinky swears he won’t touch money in his officerholder account that came in before he announced his re-election bid in December. He also said that he became aware of the loophole that allows incumbents to receive unlimited contributions back in 2011, and believes we “gotta change that,” but, you know, hasn’t gotten around to it. Now he will, at some point in the next six months, which sounds like after the election.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that response terribly satisfying. Here’s a better idea.

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Mike Rawlings’ Kangaroo COG: Who Deserves Blame for the Wasteful Toll Road Planning Charade?

From the beginning, we knew the entire thing was a set-up, orchestrated to produce precisely this conclusion. We wrote that it was all an attempt to allow Rawlings a way to distance himself politically from the Toll Road ahead of the May election (From Formby’s story: “I believe the leaders of the city will make that appropriate decision [to expand the road to six-lanes] at that point,” [Rawlings] said. “I will not be one of them.”) This wasn’t the “dream team.” It was the urban planning equivalent of a kangaroo court. The dream team was actually the Kangaroo COG.

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Trinity Toll Road Backers Launch Misinformation Campaign

This morning the Dallas Business Journal ran a commentary piece by Alice Murray, President of the Dallas Citizens Council, and I couldn’t help but wonder that if this had been 2006, the article would have appeared in the Dallas Morning News. Regardless, in the DBJ, Murray argues that we should build the Trinity Toll Road. Why? Well, because Dallas:

Quick: What do DFW Airport, DART, Victory Park and Klyde Warren Park have in common?

Give up?

Answer: All began as major public improvement projects that Dallas leaders were wise enough to support, and all have paid off big time in providing massive economic, social and cultural benefits to Dallas and the surrounding region.

And here’s another thing that they all have in common: All had vocal opponents who predicted all sorts of doom and gloom if these projects went forward.

Okay, so, you get that? Here we go.

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How Should the City Respond to the Uptown Sam’s Club? Establish a Parking Levy to Fund Public Transit

This morning Tim pointed out that the new Richards Group building includes 10 stories of parking. That building is located across Central Expressway from the planned Sam’s Club that those lazy, unethical developers at Trammell Crow, enabled by their less-than admirable financial backers, MetLife, are shoving down our throats. Together, just these two developments are providing space for a lot of cars in what is supposed to be the growing cluster of Dallas’ most dense and urban environment. They are going to attract more cars to the area, and those cars are going to make traffic problems on Central Expressway even worse. That’s going to make the imaginary number counters at the NCTCOG claim that we need more lanes and roads and the sky is falling and toll roads and blah, blah, blah. It all fits together.

Meanwhile, last week the DMN reported that during DART’s board retreat, in which the heads of our public transit agency stepped back to take a look at long range ideas to make public transit in Dallas better, these transit geniuses came up with “toll road.” I know. I know. Insanity. More that tomorrow.

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Downtown and the Homeless: Is It Time to Consider Relocating The Bridge?

Last week I was invited by the Dallas Homeowners League to moderate a panel which included representatives from four central Dallas neighborhoods: The Farmers Market, Deep Ellum, The Cedars, and downtown. There was plenty to talk about, from connectivity, to public safety, to development, to schools, to highways, to greenspace, and on and on. We probably could have jabbered on for hours and hours, but the DHL folks run a tight ship and the pug was pulled promptly at 8 p.m.

The last topic we discussed was probably the one most residents in those four areas were most concerned about: homelessness.

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