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In Case You Still Don’t Believe in Driver-less Cars, Here’s Some Video

It has been a few years since videos of driver-less cars began circulating out of Silicon Valley and people began to speculate about what they might mean for the future of cities and transportation. We’ve even kicked around the idea a touch. Still, I think it is worthwhile to prick ourselves every once in a while as a reminder that it is more than likely that by 2030 driver-less cars will be a part of normal, everyday life. That is how fast the technology is moving. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation hopes to have rules drafted by 2017 that will mandate vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies on new autos by an unspecified deadline, and GM, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Nissan, BMW, Renault, Tesla, and Google all expect to have cars that can drive themselves (at least part of the time) at market by 2020.

If this all sounds too optimistic, check out this video of the Mercedes FO15.

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Trinity Toll Road Roundup: Why Are Dallas City Council Members Signing Up to Address the City Council?

The council campaign season is starting to really heat up, and the Trinity Toll Road is shaking out to be a central touchstone of the campaigning. Over the weekend, that potent mix set-off a series of developments. There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s jump to it.

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Mayor Rawlings Reproaches Scott Griggs for Trinity Toll Road Tirade

The open microphone sessions of a couple of recent Dallas City Council meetings have provided some unexpected fodder for debate. The first instance came when Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan and Council Member Sandy Greyson tangled over the specifics of the engineering plans for the road that are currently under federal review. The second came when Scott Griggs responded to Yolanda Williams, Rick Callahan’s appointee to the Dallas Parks Board, who spoke to the council during the open microphone session about her love of all things Trinity Toll Road. Griggs got a little, well, impassioned, and then Philip Kingston joined in, while Callahan played defense.

It was all popcorn-ready entertainment, but don’t look for it to happen again anytime soon. The mayor released a memo rebuking the council members for speaking in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. According to a reading of the act by City Attorney Warren Ellis, during open microphone sessions elected officials’ responses must be limited to “statements of specific factual information” and a “recital of existing city policy.”

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If Only Dallas Could be More Like…Minneapolis

Yesterday John Neely Bryan fielded a question about transplants coming to Dallas and wanting to make this city more like the place they came from. But this comparative disconnect works both ways. Too often I’ve heard people from Dallas comparing this city to New York, or San Francisco, or some other coastal metropolis with a larger population, older history, completely different geography, or any other number of factors that makes a comparison with Dallas a little silly. Case in point: we built a suspension bridge over our drainage ditch of a river because, you know, amazing big cities have suspension bridges.

But what if we had more modest ambitions. What if we put all of our hopes and dreams into becoming the next — that’s right — Minneapolis?

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Did Yesterday’s Downtown Traffic Mess Say Anything About the I-345 Teardown?

I didn’t drive downtown at all yesterday, but by all the accounts I saw online it was an absolute mess every which way you looked, thanks to a nasty accident on Interstate 35E that shut down several lanes.

Mike Drago over on the Dallas Morning News’ editorial blog used the opportunity to make an argument equivalent to saying, in the midst of a March snowfall in Dallas, “So much for global warming…”

Patrick Kennedy (and those who echo his ideas) advocate tearing down I-345, the elevated downtown bypass that feeds into Central Expressway and Woodall Rodgers, rather than repairing or replacing it. For the betterment of neighborhoods, they say, a goal around which we can all rally. Kennedy says surface streets can easily soak up an additional 252,000 cars per day, well over the 160,000 cars that traverse I-345. There’s a whole political action committee formed around this guesstimate.

As an editorial board, we’ve kept an open mind to the idea until there’s some better data. In the interim, you have to repair the thing before it falls and kills someone. We also think some other big-ticket projects, notably the totally doable decking of I-30, ought to take higher priority.

But related to the capacity of surface streets, here are a couple of non-rhetorical questions: Isn’t it fair to think of today’s three-lane closure on Stemmons a bit of a pressure test for Kennedy’s theory? If the assertion about surface street capacity is correct, then why was my boss late to work?

I concede it’s one rush hour during one day in late March. But wasn’t this morning as close to a real-life test as we’re ever going to get?

No, no it is not.

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Our Salesman-In-Chief’s Sorry Case for the Trinity Toll Road

What’s left to say?

As Tim pointed out yesterday, the mayor of Dallas unleashed a full-frontal attack on good sense and truthfulness over the weekend in the form of an op-ed on the Trinity Toll Road. Tim says someone with patience needs to break down the argument and feed the lies back to the mayor. I think Wylie H. – curiously anticipating the appearance of the op-ed in the DMN – already did that with his long post last week.

For my part, I’m baffled, but not by the mayor’s op-ed. It is largely what he has been saying throughout, simply regurgitating talking points that have long been presented by toll road backers as fact even if they have been systematically exposed as fiction on numerous occasions. He claims to have listened to everyone’s opinion on the topic and has come up with his own, yet he avoids defending any of his individual justifications for the road, merely trotting out the same disproved notions carte blanche. The tone of the op-ed attempts to preclude any further debate; it also suggests a cynical form of dismal, characterizing further disagreement as dissent. What confuses me is how the mayor can continue to be so persuaded by erroneous information and so dismissive of the many civic leaders who have flipped their position on the road.

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Federal Data Shows Traffic Volumes Have Not Risen With Population Growth

If you’ve ever sat through a presentation by NCTCOG Director of Transportation Michael Morris, there is one fundamental point he drives home continuously. The Dallas-Fort Worth region is set to grow exorbitantly in the coming decades, and because of this growth we need to ready our roadways to prepare for the massive influx of new traffic it will bring. That’s why we need new roads, wider roads, toll roads, and as many intersecting strips of highway as we can afford — or not afford — to build.

The only problem is that the correlation between traffic and population is not supported by the data.

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State Rep. Rafael Anchia Is Trying To Make It Impossible To Build The Trinity Toll Road

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) filed two bills today. One would disallow TxDOT from funding projects like the Trinity Toll Toad. The other would require the toll road to undergo an environmental analysis by the state.

“I’ve told everyone that you should be able to act in the best interest of your district,” Anchia said. “My district hates the toll road.”

Even if you don’t think Anchia’s bills will pass, read the rest of that story. Here, I will link it again. Because it lays out the case for why this road is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea that is also terrible.

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Leading Off (3/13/15)

Legislators Argue Over Letter Grades For Schools. Some in Austin believe a switch to annual evaluations of all campuses in the state on a familiar A to F scale would “drive innovation.” But others, like Dallas’ own Sen. Royce West, are concerned the system would “stigmatize” lower-performing schools. West says additional funding should be provided to those that receive a D or F.

Garland Wants to Supersize Its Side of LBJ. The city’s leaders are pushing for the stretch of the freeway between U.S. Highway 75 and Interstate 30 to get many additional lanes, just as the road west of 75 has with the LBJ Express project. Bills have been filed to authorize the expansion, though it’s not known how the $1.3-billion cost will be funded.

Volcanic Eruption Sends Plane Back to D/FW. Thirty minutes into its flight to Costa Rica, American Airlines Flight 2442 had to return to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport because a noxious cloud was making landings in San Jose impossible.

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Where Do the City Council Candidates Stand on the Trinity Toll Road?

This May’s council election is not a referendum on the Trinity Toll Road. That said, the Trinity Toll Road is far and away the most high profile issue in an election that sees six open seats up for grabs — enough to put together a block of votes on the council that could kill the Trinity Toll Road project for good. So, this council is very much about the Trinity Toll Road.

And as I wrote last week, the toll road is a touchstone, a symbol, and support for and against the project can tell you about a city council candidate’s general approach to a host of issues, from long-range transportation planning to sustainability and urban development to which backroom power brokers hold sway over their vote and opinions. And so when word dropped that the Dallas Green Alliance, a PAC that has formed to support candidates in the all-important May election, had published the results of detailed questionnaire they sent to all of the candidates who have filed for the race, I immediately clicked over to see how they responded to the Trinity Toll Road question.

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Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Strange Case for the Trinity Toll Road

Back in December, Mayor Rawlings met with the Dallas Morning News editorial board to make his case for the Trinity toll road. At the time, the story was reported by the DMN, with subsequent editorializing on FrontBurner by Jason Heid and Wick Allison. I was also tempted to write something about it at the time, but dropped the idea after the pieces by Jason and Wick appeared. Since then, however, I find myself going to back to re-listen to the audio recording over and over. It’s not that politicians don’t say crazy things at times. We all know they do. It’s the idea that someone, somewhere, thought the DMN editorial board would find this pitch persuasive.

What I’ve attempted to do below is step through the mayor’s case point by point.

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Ask John Neely Bryan: How to Have a Midlife Crisis, Dallas-Style

Question: When I turned 40 about a year ago, I just thought it was another day. But lately I’ve been asking myself a lot more of those introspective questions you normally wouldn’t ask unless you are really drunk or going through a midlife crisis. But can you still be going through a midlife crisis if you’re still in love with your wife, feel fulfilled in your career, have a full head of hair and don’t have any impulses to make expensive material purchases? Why can’t I just be happy that I actually made it to 40? Thanks in advance — Looking for the Beer Tap of Youth in Lake Highlands

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Yet Another Instance of Transportation Officials Misleading Elected Officials

Late last week, a press release issued by the office of Senator Royce West announced that the state senator’s next “Eggs & Issues Town Hall Meeting” breakfast on March 21 will focus on transportation issues, specifically the oh-so-topical issue of the Trinity Toll Road and the need for congestion relief for those who travel on I-30, I-35E, and U.S. Highway 67. From the senator:

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Making Potholes a Priority in a ‘World Class’ City

Audrey mentioned in “Leading Off” this morning that the city has shifted its crews into overdrive to address pothole problems that have only gotten worse due to our recent winter storms. Well, over on the Lakewood Advocate site, Rick Wamre shared the story of the $197 damage one gaping hole in the road caused to his son’s car.

Wamre contrasts the relative “smooth sailing” of driving along the stretch of Mockingbird Lane that falls under the jurisdiction of wealthy suburbs Highland Park and University Park with the war zone found on the other side of Central Expressway:

The street offered up a game of pothole dodgeball, with loud and sometimes painful consequences for drifting into trouble. Even the portions of the street without potholes were generally carved up with contractor cuts into the asphalt, areas supposedly repaired, with emphasis on the word “supposedly.”

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What Will It Take to Make Dallas a Beautiful City?

Alain de Botton is a Swiss philosopher and writer who heads a London-based organization called the School of Life, which is “devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture.” They recently released this video (which I saw today via Slate) that claims to outline the qualities necessary in building a beautiful city. They are:

  1. Not too chaotic, not too ordered.
  2. Visible life
  3. Compact
  4. Orientation and Mystery
  5. Scale
  6. Make It Local

The entire video is worth watching. Even if you think some of his proposals impractical — like replacing most skyscrapers with vast collections of five-story buildings (five stories being the ideal maximum height for keeping buildings at human scale) — it’s worth considering how “more and more in modern cities, we’ve hidden life away.”

Don’t we all appreciate how active street life creates pleasurable spaces? As has been noted on this blog before, that’s got a lot to do with why the Trinity Toll Road strikes so many as a huge mistake. Instead of seizing the potential opportunity to create a vast public area in which human beings — not their cars — can come to interact, some leaders want to throw down another soulless stretch of concrete that will communicate to anyone who visits Dallas that it’s best to get the hell out of town as quickly as possible.

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