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We Can’t Let Our Guard Down When it Comes to the Trinity Toll Road

Goodness, a bunch of dust has been kicked-up by a little bit of flooding. The past week’s rains have come just at the right time to spark a whole lot of silly talk about flooding and toll roads and Trinity River Project plans. Opponents of the road are circulating memes that use the floods as an excuse to dance on the road’s supposed watery grave — look, the floodway floods! Over at the Dallas Morning News, a couple of editorial writers try to throw water on the fires of panic and hyperbole. A couple of days ago, Rodger Jones made the somewhat obvious point that yes, we can build a road in a flood plain and make sure it doesn’t flood. Today, Rudy Bush chimes in, reiterating his support of the Beasley Plan and attempting to calm everyone down by saying that a road that occasionally floods isn’t the end of the world, let alone the end of plans for a road in the Trinity River watershed.

However, as I wrote earlier this week, I don’t think anyone believes that we can’t build a road that doesn’t flood. Surely the world has seen greater engineering marvels. The question is whether or not this particular road plan is a stupid idea.

Let’s leave that conversation for another day. Here’s the point I want to make: I’m a bit concerned by both Jones and Bush’s eagerness to call Alternative 3C – the engineering plans for a massive highway with high-five style exit ramps flying every which way – over and done.

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Did You Miss the Annual Congress for the New Urbanism in Dallas? Well, Watch it Online.

You may recall that the Congress for the New Urbanism held its annual conference in Dallas this year, which was a treat for local urban wonks. For those of you who, like me, didn’t catch as much of the conference as you would have otherwise liked to, you’re in luck. The CNU has uploaded 16 sessions onto YouTube. That’s a lot of hours of urban chatter to sift through, and it may be difficult to figure out where to start. How about with
“Walkable Urban Premiums & Gentrification: Good News or Bad?”

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Should We Really Be Trying to Build a Park in the Trinity?

I was out of town last week so I missed much of the rainfall that has now transformed the Trinity River flood plain into a broad, fast-flowing, messy river. It’s a lovely sight: passing over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on the way into the office and seeing water running from bank to bank underneath the series of bridges that for too much of the year look like exaggerated spans traversing a tiny creek.

There’s something beautiful but also terrifying about the swollen Trinity. Its snarling, brown waters smother trees up to their spindly tops. The floodwaters push out against the long ridges that funnel water past the city. A hundred or so years ago, that water would be lapping up against downtown buildings and sweeping away the foundations of homes.

These occasional floods are good for the city. We certainly need the rain. But perhaps as important is the reminder they offer that Dallas exists within a particular natural environment, and that nature isn’t always friendly.

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Should Addison Leave DART?

Since joining Dallas Area Rapid Transit as one of its original member cities in 1983, Addison has contributed $238 million into the region’s public transit system. What does it have to show for that investment? Not enough, according to some city officials.

As plans to extend DART’s light rail service to the suburban city continue to look like pies-in-the-sky, some council members are wondering if they should pull out of DART. After all, Addison has long hoped to connect to DART’s light rail system via an added Cotton Belt corridor line, but possible funding for the project wouldn’t be available for a good 20 years at the earliest. Grumbling about the lack of service has transportation officials scrambling to come up with ways to speed up the process, possibly by introducing Bus Rapid Transit into the Cotton Belt right-of-way as a substitution for light rail service.

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Will Mike Rawlings Protect the ‘Vision’ for the Trinity River Project?

After his sweeping victory to a second term in last Saturday’s mayoral election, Mayor Mike Rawlings declared that what residents voted for was a “vision for Dallas.”

In terms of the style and substance of Rawlings’ first term as mayor, it is difficult to argue with his assessment of his own appeal. More than anything, Rawlings is this city’s salesman-in-chief, and his first four years in office were spent mapping out visions of the future, from the promising—if still very inconclusive—Growth South campaign to the controversial re-vision of the Trinity Toll Road. Rawlings is bullish about his city’s future, and the part of his job he seems to enjoy the most is when he has the opportunity to spread the good news about this city’s growth and success.

The problem, however, is that Rawlings’ optimism and penchant for sales-pitching leads him to make sweeping proclamations and lean on ambiguities. And the difficulty with having a Mayor of Vision is that it has never been very clear what, outside of broad generalities, Mayor Mike Rawlings’ vision for the future of Dallas actually is.

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Why Voting This Saturday Is Not Enough

I received a mailer this week from the Trinity River Commons Foundation. It’s a four-panel fold-out brochure that is, for all intents and purposes, the real purpose and product of this entire Trinity River Parkway Dream Team design charrette garbage that we have been wading through for the past six months.

On the cover, there’s the now-familiar image of the revised “vision” for the Trinity River Project – the one with the parkway running through elevated berms as the sun sets against digital people who mill about under the shade of trees that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already said cannot and will not be planted in the levee. Overlaid on the image in white italic font is a quote from Mayor Mike Rawlings in which he once again squawks the words “World Class” like some trained parrot sitting on Trinity Commons Foundation Executive Director Craig Holcombs’ shoulder.

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Emails Shed Light on Inner Workings of Trinity River Project Funding Schemes

Brandon Formby reports on the latest bit of information to leak out of the trove of Trinity Toll Road-related emails that was released by the City of Dallas after council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston pushed to have access to communications between city staff and former City Manager Mary Suhm as well as Mayor Mike Rawlings’ so-called design Dream Team.

The nugget of the article suggests that a design firm — led by “Dream Team” member Ignacio Bunster-Ossa — was the beneficiary of a private grant of $105,000 that was donated to the city of Dallas by the Trinity Trust under the condition that said design company receive the contract for the work from the city.

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Why We Should Listen to Laura Miller’s Solution to the Scott Griggs Accusations

I was grateful that my weekend was mostly spent writing a story for the upcoming print edition about a good kid who catches a lucky break and makes the most of it. It was a rosier plot line than the one that unfolded over the weekend as city council member Scott Griggs was charged with a felony for threatening a public employee, bringing a possible sentence of upwards of 10 years in jail.

Jim Schutze offered an intriguing take on the whole ordeal yesterday, walking through the facts and suggesting that the charges are a form of retribution for exposing emails from city employees regarding the Mayor’s Trinity Toll Road “Dream Team.” I’m sure we’ll come back to those emails soon, but first, just a taste of what depressing realities they may reveal about how our city functions:

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What Is New Urbanism?

The Congress for the New Urbanism is holding its 26th annual conference in Dallas this week, a four-day festivity for city wonks that includes compelling conversations ranging from “The Paradox of Place-Based Coding: Expanding the Discussion of Regulatory Reform” to “The Art of Subdivision.” Needless to say, I wish I could disappear into the bowls of conceptual urbanity over the next half-week, but we’re on deadline for the June edition and I have too many words left to type.

Still, I wanted to use the excuse of the conference to briefly address this idea of “New Urbanism.”

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Friday Afternoon Time Kill: An Interactive Tornado Map

St. Delkus says we may be in for a tornado today. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise. April is Dallas’ peak month for tornadoes, according to this new interactive weather map created by U.S. Tornadoes that tracks the high-point of the tornado season across every county in the United States. Dallas County averages 22 tornadoes in April historically. As you scroll your mouse over the map, you may notice something of a pattern. The data suggests tornado season is migratory:

As we’ve shown in a number of other articles, tornadoes are like snowbirds — they winter in the South. Even there, cool and dry is the name of the game more often than not in the weeks around the new year when tornado tallies reach their minimum. Cold-season tornadoes are generally limited, but larger events happen.

Moving out of winter, we typically see tornadoes move back north and northwest through the Mid-South and Southeast during early spring, then into the Midwest and Plains heading into summer. The main tornado zone ultimately reaches the U.S./Canada border area by July or so, before crashing back southward (with occasional outbursts) during fall.

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Will Texas Central Partners Manage to Quell Rural Opposition to the High-Speed Rail?

Last week Texas Central Partners, the company behind the effort to build a high-speed rail link between Houston and Dallas, announced a slate of open house informational meetings about the project. The locations of those meetings – Ennis, Corsicana, Mexia, Cypress, Jewett, Teague, and Waller – say everything about where opposition to the project originates.

After all, if you don’t live near either of the end terminus points of the rail, there’s not really much in the project for you outside of a new piece of infrastructure running through your county. Most of the concerns about the project that have come up in rural Texas relate to the impact the railway may have on the land, including interrupting deer hunting, the movement of livestock, potential for noise, and eminent domain.

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What Can We Learn About the Trinity River Project From Yesterday’s Dallas City Council Meeting?

Purely as a piece of political theater, yesterday’s Dallas City Council meeting had something for everyone. There were surprising plot twists, contentious debates, great dialogue, and even moments of hilarious buffoonery. What started as a presentation of the plan the mayor’s urban design “Dream Team” created for the Trinity River morphed into a workshopping of byzantine parliamentary procedure.

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Dear Dallas City Council: Please Learn from the Trinity Mistakes of the Past

Today at 1 p.m. the Dallas City Council will convene a special meeting to discuss the latest plans for the Trinity River Project. The plans were developed by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” task force, a group of some of the best urban thinkers in North America who revealed a vision Tuesday of a “gracious and harmonious parkway” for the Trinity.

On the agenda is a resolution that will create “a team, including regional and State agencies and professionals, from appropriate disciplines, to determine any actions that would be necessary to implement the findings of the Trinity Design Charrette.”

There is every reason to believe that that group will not be able to realize the Dream Team’s vision because of the reality of the funding, flood control, and environmental requirements already written into the DNA of the Trinity River Project as it is conceived today.

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Three Things That Must Happen if Mayor Rawlings Is Serious About His Dream Team’s Trinity Plan

I just got back from the Trinity Commons Foundation annual luncheon during which urban planner Larry Beasley revealed the details of the so-called urban design Dream Team’s plan for rethinking the controversial Trinity Toll Road. Details of the plans are now available online here. Tim will be along to fill in on some details of what went down at he luncheon, and I need a little time to digest it all.

But here’s a one line takeaway: What Beasley essentially presented was a reversion to — and, you could argue, improvement of — the Balanced Vision Plan. No highway. No trucks. No exit ramps flying in every direction. No ugly wall. Just a meandering parkway that provides access to the park and facilitates through-city traffic. Also, no details on how this vision will fit into any funding scheme, or how it meshes with the federal environmental review (Beasley claims it fits snugly, but I’m not immediately convinced), or how heartily Michael Morris chuckled with maniacal laughter when he saw such a quaint vision of a road paraded out in the place of massive highway he wants to fit into his massive regional highway system.

But leaving the luncheon, scratching my head a bit, and wondering with Tim if his initial assessment was correct, that there’s no way the mayor could have ever expected Beasley’s team to recommend Morris’ vision,  I couldn’t help but fixate on the fact that we’ve been here before.

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How City Staff and Toll Road-Backers Misled Mayor Mike Rawlings

As Tim pointed out in Leading Off, there is some tremendous reporting in the Dallas Morning News today from transportation writer Brandon Formby. In his article, Formby lays out the entire chronology of the efforts by former City Manager Mary Suhm and Trinity Commons Foundation Executive Director Craig Holcomb to save the Trinity Toll Road project in the face of mounting opposition. The report comes ahead of today’s private luncheon reveal of the so-called Dream Team’s reworked vision for the road.

The piece pulls back the curtain on just how power brokers have pressed their influence on the mayor, rallying financial support for the pro-road effort, editing his op-eds, counseling him with misinformation or half-truths about the essential features of the road, and coming up with the idea of the dream team and setting the parameters of that groups’ deliberations.

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