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Announcing StreetSmart, D Magazine’s New Transportation and Urbanism Blog

My personal ignorance when it comes to matters of urbanism makes me grateful that Dallas has someone like Patrick Kennedy pushing it — however reluctantly — towards new modes of thinking about how to shape this city. Patrick’s blog, first known as Car-Free in Big D and then Walkable DFW, has been an invaluable conversation starter that we’ve referenced and linked to countless times on FrontBurner. He briefly wrote a monthly column in the ink-on-paper version of D, but today he joins us in an even more significant role.

We’re pleased to announce the launch of our newest online community, StreetSmart. Walkable DFW has been adopted into the DMagazine.com family, and the renaming signifies an expansion of its mission. StreetSmart will focus on intelligent — and occasionally irreverent — urban planning, with discussion of the important housing, neighborhood, and transportation issues and decisions taking place in Dallas-Fort Worth.

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Will Automated Cars Revolutionize Urban Transportation?

As we bicker back and forth about tearing down roads, building toll roads, managing sprawl, creating density, improving public transit, and all the hot button issues that will affect mobility in DFW — and therefore dictate what kind of city Dallas evolves into — changes are afoot that may throw all of our assumptions about the future out the window.

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Are We Witnessing The Fall of the House of Michael Morris?

As Liz mentioned in Leading Off, a planned toll road connecting Garland to Greenville has sparked a statistical feud between the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Last week, when 1,500 people showed up at a public meeting in Rockwall in opposition to the proposed road, one citizen brought to light the fact that the numbers the NCTCOG used to justify their new toll road are dramatically larger than traffic predictions made by TxDOT. If you want to dig into how much larger they are and why, read the well-reported DMN story. What interests me is what this current standoff reveals about how our region’s transportation policy is made.

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Dallas City Council Could Vote Against Funding Trinity Toll Road

On Wednesday, DMN editorial writer Rudy Bush dropped a bombshell. In a blog post, he reported that the city attorney, in response to a request from Councilman Scott Griggs, issued a memo saying that the city’s contract with the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the Trinity toll road isn’t the ironclad agreement that we’ve all been led to believe it is. In short, the contract is old, many of the dates mentioned for getting work done have come and gone, and there are too many “agreements to agree,” something the city attorney says are generally not enforceable. The Council could vote to walk away from this contact. It likely could do so without legal consequences. This is huge news. As Bush noted, “It’s hard to overstate how important this is, both from a political and policy perspective.”

Hours after that post went up, the Observer took note of it and had reaction from Angela Hunt. The next day, Thursday, another editorial boarder, Sharon Grigsby, put up a post saying, in so many words, “Wow. That’s big news. We’re talking about it here at the office.”

Today is Friday. News of the city attorney’s memo still has yet to appear in the newspaper or in the main news feed of the paper’s website. I can only assume that Sunday’s front-page story will be amazing.

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99% Invisible on the Scheme to Make Dallas a Seaport

The great podcast 99% Invisible just did an episode about our city’s admittedly harebrained idea to establish Dallas (a city 300 miles from the ocean, 700 miles via the Trinity River) as an important seaport on the Gulf of Mexico. I’d heard much of this before, but I hadn’t realize that our incongruously massive freeway bridges over the river are massive specifically to let ships pass under:

In a series of fits and starts over the next 55 years, the Port of Dallas project kept moving forward. In anticipation of the imminent navigability of the Trinity River, new freeway bridges constructed over the river were built extra tall to allow sea-going vessels clearance underneath. But by the time the money and political clout was ready to finish the project once and for all, Dallas didn’t really need a seaport. The new DFW airport would do just fine.

So the city of Dallas moved their river from the center of town to a walled-off floodplain for a Port of Dallas which never came to pass, and for years the diverted river festered; it became a place to dump sewage, and trash, and even dead bodies. No one went there on purpose.

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The Difficulties of Explaining McKinney Avenue to 3 Guys From Miami

Saturday night, after dropping a friend at her swanky Main Street pad, I decided to head over to Highland Park Village for a bit of merry-making. This would require cash. Luckily, a strip shopping center with plenty of free parking (and, most importantly, an ATM) was right on the way, located at the corner of Pearl and McKinney.

As I whipped in to the parking space in front of the bank, I observed three bewildered-looking, well-dressed middle-aged men standing in front. A rough transcript of our conversation follows.

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Another Free Idea for DART: Commission a Designer Bus and Make Bus Riding Sexier

Yesterday Unfair Park told us that DART has some competition from another transit organization that may be cannibalizing its main source of income, namely, the self-defeating strategy that forces DART to continually gobble up further flung municipalities into its system so it can increase the sales tax dollars coming into its coffers — all the while promising service that is increasingly spread thin.

As I have argued before (here and here), DART’s problem is that it lacks a centralized network that can get people in and around the city efficiently and practically, connecting people to jobs, entertainment, shops, etc. And I think the best way create such a system quickly and cheaply (relatively) is to rethink DARTs miserable bus system. Step one should be to force all DART board members to ride the bus everyday for a month so they realize how miserable the bus service they provide actually is.

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Transportation Expert: The Next Two Years Are Critical For Dallas

Last night, Jeff Tumlin, a transportation planner who has worked in cities from Seattle and Vancouver to Moscow and Abu Dhabi, spoke to a half-packed auditorium at the Magnolia Theater in the West Village about the state of Dallas transit. The talk was the opening event in a transportation summit which continues today at the Latino Cultural Center and is hosted by the AIA Dallas and the Greater Dallas Planning Council.

The summit offers an opportunity to pause the ongoing conversation about transportation and take stock of where we are and where we are headed. Thus far, this conversation has latched onto a few key issues – killing the Trinity Toll Road, advocating for the boulevard-ing of I-345. But in his talk, Tumlin urged the city to take a step back from debating specific infrastructure projects and instead take a system-wide look at how transportation policy is developed in the region and how it can best address the challenges that face DFW as it strives to remain competitive in the next century.

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Balanced Vision Plan Co-Author on Trinity River Toll Road: ‘I Want to Apologize to Dallas’

People, if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this week’s big urban planning event — Choices for a 21st Century Dallas: Connecting People and Opportunities — you’d best do so now. And get your popcorn ready, because Harvard professor and Balanced Vision Plan co-author Alex Krieger says he’s coming to town “with guns blazing.”

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Riveting, Live Streaming Entertainment: The Texas Transportation Commission’s Monthly Meeting

The Texas Transportation Commission, the governmental body which overseas TxDOT, is holding its monthly meeting in Dallas today at Union Station (I wonder if anyone took DART in to it). Plans for I-345 and the Trinity Toll Road are among the topics under discussion. And here’s the good news: the meeting is live streaming over on the Dallas Morning News‘ website. So all you transit wonks out there can blow your afternoon by watching the most excruciatingly boring meeting east of the RTC. Turn it into a drinking game: take a drink every time you hear the words “leveraging,” “delivery, “project,” or “facility.”

UPDATE: Sen. Royce West just got up in the meeting and very emphatically announced his opposition to the at-grade boulevard-ing of I-345

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Managed Toll Lanes Are Taking Over North Texas

The News published this story on Sunday about the proliferation of managed toll lanes. Just now getting to it. My apologies. The story has a look at “plans to build the nation’s largest network of managed toll lanes into the region’s existing highways,” and it notes that “virtually every major highway project in the Dallas-Fort Worth area involves a tolling component.” I get it. We’ve run out of money to build more roads. No one has the stomach to talk about raising taxes the traditional way. So the road builders say we need a per-use tax. But two things in this story caught my eye.

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It’s Great DART is Considering Bus Rapid Transit. But, Per Usual, It’s Not Enough.

Last week DART finally connected its light rail system to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Hurray. Raise a glass. Pat yourself on the back. Finished? Okay, moving on.

Today the public transit system said it is considering another should-have-happened-years-ago option for the future: the introduction of bus rapid transit lines to connect suburbs. What’s bus rapid transit (or BRT to transit nerds), you ask? Well, it’s simply a long range bus line that pretends to function like a train, only it’s much cheaper than building rail. The buses are longer, they run in dedicated lanes or roads, and they stop at actual stations. The most famous success story for BRT is Bogotá, Columbia. You can find out more about that here.

DART’s proposed BRT line would run along the route that has been set aside for the Cotton Belt rail extension, connecting Plano and Fort Worth. DART has wanted to build that rail line for years, but it’s really expensive and it doesn’t look like funding will come through any time soon. So, why not BRT? Good idea. Do it. After all, the hub-and-spoke DART system does make regional transport impractical. Who wants to go through downtown to get from Plano to Carrolton? (See, I don’t hate suburbs. I’m thinking about you guys out there.)

But here’s my question: why stop there?

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