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The General, The Cog, and That Other Zombie Toll Road

File this under “variations in the key of lying.” No one knows how the “Blacklands” toll road — you know, the road that was so hated by the burbs that residents flooded public meetings to shut it down — is still alive, not even TxDOT. Jim Schutze tries to peel the onion to figure how after much resistance and promises from officials that the road was dead, it suddenly ended up on the Texas Department of Transportation’s to-build list. It’s another journey though the deep machinations of the region’s municipal planning organization, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, affectionately known as “The Cog.”

Even without heading over to the Observer story, you know how it made it on that list. I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with Bichael Boris. But here’s why you should click over to Schutze’s piece. When State Representative Cindy Burkett, a Sunnyvale Republican who very much doesn’t want that road on the to-build list, asked TxDOT Executive Director Lieutenant General Joe F. Weber how it got there, The General refused to put his answer in writing. Maybe The General’s keyboard is missing an “M,” I don’t know. You can read both Burkett’s letter and the General’s wiggly response here.

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Why Young People Like Denver More Than Dallas

Stumbled on this interesting report from a few of months ago that looks at what cities attract college graduates. According to data assembled by the think tank City Observatory, “The number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.” Why is this significant? Well, because the movement of young people and the places that attract them can help provide “a map of the cities that have a chance to be the economic powerhouses of the future,” the article asserts.

The economic effects reach beyond the work the young people do, according to Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The New Geography of Jobs.” For every college graduate who takes a job in an innovation industry, he found, five additional jobs are eventually created in that city, such as for waiters, carpenters, doctors, architects and teachers.

“It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating their operations in that area and the more young people are going to move there,” he said.

So what cities will be the economic powerhouses of the future?  Not Dallas, apparently.

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A Toll Road To the Trinity Paved With Good Deceptions

So we have this little thing we make every month here at D Magazine that we refer to as the print edition, and we are currently in the midst of trying to put together February’s issue. As a result, I’m neck deep in a feature story about art, success, love, suffering, life, death, Dallas, Europe, markets, art worlds, champagne, smoked haddock, race cars, and superheroes. If I can pull it off, it might be a decent read. But you don’t care about that right now. What you care about — what everyone cares about, again — is the Trinity Bleeping Toll Road. But I mention this pesky little article because it has prevented me from giving you an adequate update on the road in the wake of last week’s remarkable revelation that those who are in support of the toll road are dirty, rotten liars. Well, they are not really liars. I’ll explain why.

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Trinity Toll Road Town Hall Backs Pro-Roaders Against the Ropes

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 people packed the auditorium at Rosemont Elementary in Oak Cliff yesterday evening for what was perhaps the most honest, open debate about the Trinity Toll Road ever to take place in this city.

The event, organized by State Representative Rafael Anchia, pitted the most outspoken representatives of the pro- and anti-toll road debate in a town hall-style discussion about the controversial plans to build a high-speed traffic artery through the Trinity River floodway. The crowd was overwhelmingly against the road and at times cheered for comments made by anti-road flag wavers Scott Griggs, Patrick Kennedy, and Bob Meckfessel and laughed –- and at one point hissed –- at remarks made by North Central Texas Council of Government transportation director Michael Morris. But the event was largely well-mannered, thanks in part to able moderating by the state rep, who reminded everyone at the outset that they were sitting in an elementary school.

“If we were parents, and children were acting up, we would frown on it,” Anchia said.

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Who’s Ready to Talk Some Trinity Toll Road?

What would we do in Dallas if we didn’t have the Trinity Toll Road to talk about? The “zombie road,” which is back from the dead and suddenly, once again, topic du jour in our fair burg will get a roll-em-out, sock-em, rock-em, run-em-dry, spitfire, conversational whooping this evening at the Charles Semos Campus of Rosemont Elementary in Oak Cliff. The public event in Scott Griggs’ council district promises to be the debate that the Stemmons Corridor Business Association luncheon wasn’t. In the pro-road corner: Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments; Mary Suhm, former city manager of the city of Dallas; and Craig Holcomb, former city councilman and current executive director of the Trinity Commons Foundation. In the no-road corner, Griggs, urban planner and designer and StreetSmart‘s Patrick Kennedy, and architect and Trinity Trust member Bob Meckfessel. I’m hoping State Representative Rafael Anchia, who is hosting the event, wears a referee uniform. A drop down mic would be fun. Double Dare-style post-Q&A round would be ideal.

If you want to brush up on your Toll Road facts, check out Brendon Formby’s run down of the ten things to know about the zombie road. If you’re looking for some pregame analysis, check out Schutze’s thoughts on why this event is unlike anything that happened in the lead up to the 2007 referendum. Here’s some more info about tonight’s event.

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So What’s the Mayor’s Trinity Toll Road Task Force Actually Going to Do?

After the mayor announced his Trinity Toll Road task force, I was left wondering about these smart urban guys he picked to rethink the design of the road. Sure, they’re all likely getting a nice pay check for their efforts, which may be motivation enough to stick their noses in this business. And they all have deep experience parachuting into controversy and knowing how to blast their way back out of town. But what are their marching orders? What – or how much – are they were expected to do in Dallas? Would they join a task force that was little more than a political charade or which couldn’t actually suggest any changes that were meaningful?

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Ron Kirk Joins Company That Wants to Bring High Speed Rail to Dallas

Former Dallas Mayor and former U.S. Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk is now a senior advisor to Texas Central Railway, the private company that hopes to bring high speed rail to Texas. The news comes via a statement Kirk posted on the company’s website:

I have seen just about all of the high-speed rail systems throughout Europe and Asia, and the competitive part of me feels that if the rest of the world can do this, why can’t we right here in the United States? This along with the practical attraction to having an alternative transportation mode between two of the fastest growing economic zones in the country sparked my interest and compelled me to join the Texas Central Railway team.

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Will Art Prize Change Dallas’ Cultural Scene Forever?

Big local art news news hit yesterday: the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Art Prize — nicknamed the American Idol of art — will expand to Dallas in 2016. Why should you care? Well, in the December issue, I write about how there are a ton of people who see Art Prize, which hands out $500,000 in cash awards to artists and attracts huge numbers of visitors to little Grand Rapids, as a huge financial boost both for artists and the local tourism industry. On the other hand, many of this city’s artists, administrators, and curators are concerned that the art exhibit famous for Surfer Jesus paintings and giant dog sculptures is going to clutter our city with middlebrow art schlock and brand us as a provincial backwater. Then there’s that whole connection between Art Prize, Amway, and all sorts of evangelical action groups. You can read the piece over on FrontRow.

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Deep-Pocketed Black Rhino Killer May Not Get to Kill Endangered Rhino After All

You remember this story, right? The one that inspired a Colbert Word segment? The one about the guy who laid out a cool $350K at a Dallas Safari Club auction for a rare opportunity to shoot an endangered black Rhino and haul it back to the United States, stuff it, stick it somewhere in their home, and then brag to his friends about what a massive, Hemingway-esque trigger finger he has? That guy.

Well, that guy was Corey Knowlton, a international hunting consultant whose resume boasts of a Super Slam of wild sheep and the big five in Africa. And while, thanks to his success at the Dallas Safari Club auction, Mr. Knowlton does possess a permit to shoot and kill an endangered black rhinoceros, his little hunting expedition may not go off as planned after all. That’s because he needs another permit to haul the massive rhino carcass back to the United States.

Last spring, he applied for a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that would enable him to import the rhino’s body following the hunt in Namibia. But he’s still waiting to hear back.

The agency is applying extra scrutiny to Knowlton’s request because of the rise in poaching, said spokesman Gavin Shire.

If the permit is denied, the safari club plans to refund Knowlton’s money that was pledged to a rhino conservation fund in the southwestern African country.

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City Lab Also Thinks Dallas Needs to Double Down on Better Bus Service

City Lab writer Eric Jaffe weighs in on the proposed high speed rail line to downtown Dallas and how a sudden influx of passengers may strain DART’s existing public transit capacity. If you’ve been following along with recent developments, there’s not too much new here, but it offers a nice sumation of where we stand. And Jaffe also agrees that the best way to deal with improving public transit in Dallas may be rethinking our bus system:

From the sound of it, Dallas could use a bus makeover similar to the one recently proposed for its high-speed rail partner, Houston. That plan would increase the frequency and reliability of buses for no new operating costs, with ridership coverage taking only a slight hit. The idea of running bus-rapid transit in dedicated lanes over long Texas corridors, rather than hyper-local, high-cost streetcars, could also boost the commuter experience.

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You Want Better Public Transit? Let DART Know What You Want.

A few days ago I wrote about how DART needs to follow the lead of other cities, such as Houston, and reroute their bus system. Well, DART officials say that’s exactly what they may do as part of the 10 Year Service Plan the transit organization is beginning to develop. Public meetings began this week to solicit feedback from riders about how the bus system can evolve to best suit their needs. There’s also an online survey you can fill out to offer feedback on what you believe DART’s priorities should be. (Here’s a cheat sheet for one of the questions: Frequent “to you” means buses every 10-15 minutes, no matter who “you” are.)

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Dallas Really Can Have a Great Public Transportation System

I thought about titling this post “Two car-centric cities that are kicking Dallas’ rear when it comes to figuring out public transportation,” or something like that, but then I remembered that Dallas is a “can do” city. We’re optimists. We like big projects, and then we like taking years to debate and tackle them. So rather than get all pouty and boo hoo about how other sunbelt cities are further down the line when it comes to figuring out how offer quality public transit in cities defined by sprawl, I thought I’d frame the comparisons as an opportunity. After all, there’s some positive buzz circulating on the topic now that the city council’s transportation committee gave DART a big thumbs up on its ramped-up plans to connect the Oak Cliff and McKinney Ave. streetcar lines through downtown as well as add the long overdue D2 second light rail alignment through the center of the city. Those projects are being acted on thanks to the promise of a private developer bringing in a high-speed rail line to downtown Dallas.

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Why Rural Texas Should Advocate for Diverting Interstates Around Downtown Dallas

Dallas’ economic bread and butter is the role it plays as a distribution hub. We’re at the center of major intersections of freight rail and transit corridors. We have a big airport. There’s Alliance; there should be (and maybe will be) an inland port in South Dallas. So where are these goods coming from and where are they going? The Brookings Institute can answer that one with this nifty interactive tool that “maps” the flow of freight in and around the United States. With $420 billion of imports and exports flowing through our region, Dallas ranks behind only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston in terms of total trade activity.

There’s also a report accompanying the research that offers an interesting analysis. One thing we can see from this detailed look at the interconnected nature of the flow of goods between cities, the report argues, is that traffic congestion in one area of the network can drive up the cost of goods for the entire system. A clog in a node like Dallas can make it more expensive to buy any number of consumer products in Waco, Oklahoma City, or some town on the Texas panhandle. The report concludes that it is in rural areas’ best interests to solve traffic congestion in the inner cities:

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Will Rafael Anchia’s Toll Road Survey Tip Royce West Into the Anti-Toll Road Camp?

Back in August, you may remember, State Senator Royce West came out strongly in favor of the Trinity Toll Road project at a meeting of the  Texas Transportation Commission, the governmental body which overseas TxDOT.

Just yesterday, you likely recall, State Rep. Rafael Anchia posted an online survey seeking citizen feedback about who favors or supports the toll road project.

That left us all wondering: What’s up with survey? What’s Anchia have in mind?

Well, here’s one possibility: the survey may tip the influential opinion of Sen. Royce West:

[O]ne of the project’s most influential backers, state Sen. Royce West, said he’s open to rethinking his support if residents show they are overwhelmingly against the project — and there’s commitment to add highway capacity near downtown Dallas some other way.

Now there’s one word here that should jump out at you: “capacity.” It still sounds like someone needs to sit down with Sen. West and have a conversation about capacity, and highways, and boulevards, and the proper functioning of urban streetscapes as opposed to regional transportation networks. But West’s comments offer some new incentive to head over to Anchia’s survey and tell him how idiotic the toll road idea actually is.

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Will the $65M Crescent Redo Really Help Uptown’s Pedestrian Connectivity?

For all that’s written about how great and successful the redevelopment of Uptown has been, there are still some major ways in which the neighborhood fails to provide real, coherent pedestrian connectivity. There are the skinny sidewalks up and down McKinney, for one. Patrick Kennedy has written about the problems of the Lower McKinney area. And Wylie H recounted a story that captured the absurdity of giving directions to some out-of-town-ers who were lost in that terrible strip mall at McKinney and Pearl.

That area – the intersection of McKinney and Pearl — is an important transition point between State-Thomas, LoMac, and downtown, and this morning there’s news that it may get some help in the form of a $65 million redo of its lynchpin, Phillip Johnson’s Crescent Court. The owners of the office, hotel, and retail complex hope to address some of the ways the office tower can better interface with the surrounding area.

That’s great. But, per usual, the plans include some good ideas and some bad ones.

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