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Making Dallas Even Better

An Absurd $4.6 Million Bridge Is Going Up Over Harry Hines

The DMN takes a look at why the city, county, state, and federal governments are pitching in to build a pedestrian path over Harry Hines Boulevard at Walnut Hill Lane, an area of town known for its strip clubs and other adult-oriented establishments:

Even the guy whose business is a few steps from the base of the bridge has no idea what the heck the thing’s doing there.

“I thought it was for the DART station,” said Song Kim, owner of Just for Play, the lingerie shop in Ravi’s Wholesale Plaza. Kim said Monday that he’d been in this spot for two years, and never once has anyone explained the point of this bridge.

The DART station’s a good guess. Dallas Area Rapid Transit has the Walnut Hill Green Line station on the other side of Harry Hines. But the bridge doesn’t connect to it. Denton Drive separates the light-rail station from the bridge.

The bridge’s backstory hides in plain sight: The fall 2014 issue of Utility Newsletter, the must-read published by the Dallas County Department of Public Works, tells us the bridge “will allow safer pedestrian and bicycle traffic along Harry Hines Boulevard and serve as an example of the modern transportation principles of sustainable and multimodal infrastructure.” There’s also a 2014 map from the North Central Texas Council of Governments that shows the pedestrian bridge as part of a much larger “Northwest Dallas Multimodal Connectivity” project built for the Asian Trade District.

Wishful thinking? Bureaucratic planning run amok?

How Well-Connected Is Your Home to Public Transit?

TransitCenter and the Center for Neighborhood Technology released a nifty little tool last week that allows you to gauge how well-connected any spot in the United States is by public transit. Plug in an address, and the All Transit database culls together information on access to jobs, number of commuters, workers near transit, and other curious factoids.

I haven’t dug into the data too deeply, but I did run the numbers on a few Texas cities just to see how Dallas’ public transit system stacks up. Leaving aside all the usual moaning and groaning over Dallas’ sub-par transit system, Dallas actually has the best performing public transit system in Texas according to the All Transit tool, with an overall performance score of 6.8. Houston comes in second with a 6.2, while Austin (5.5) and San Antonio (5.7) live up to their reputations as transit-challenged cities.

What does it all mean?

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Let’s Not Learn the Wrong Lesson of Expanding State Highway 161

This morning Wired worries that transportation planners will take the wrong lesson from the traffic data the Texas Department of Transportation released last week that shows that traffic is “sailing” along a three-mile stretch of State Highway 161 ever since drivers were permitted to start using the shoulders of the road. It should not be used as evidence that widening highways is a tried-and-true method of relieving congestion:

Two things might explain why the Dallas project worked. The first is that the bottleneck on that highway was a very specific problem: a two-lane stretch connecting three-lane highways. Opening the shoulders eliminated the choke points of squeezing into a tighter space.

The second and more cynical explanation for the project’s success is that it wasn’t actually successful. The traffic numbers published this month include just a few days after the new lanes opened in September. Traffic has increased since then, though the TxDOT says traffic is still moving faster than before the project. It’s quite possible unbearable congestion will return, as more locals change their behavior to take advantage of what is suddenly a smooth ride—that’s the fundamental principle of induced demand.

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Poll: Do You Care How the Trinity Toll Toad Affects Interstate 35E and I-30?

This week’s poll is dedicated to Michael Morris, transportation czar of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, who last week told the Dallas Morning News that he’s “unaware of anyone who has an interest” — other than reporter Brandon Formby — in the impact a potential Trinity toll road will have on the nearby existing highways.

What do you think about that?

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Councilmen Decry Misleading Statements About Trinity Toll Road

UPDATE: Brandon Formby, who was all over these documents even before the City Council got them, had a thorough account in Saturday’s Morning News. I’m revising this post due to my error in failing to note that the Alternative 1 traffic counts in the analysis were not based on 45-mph speeds, making the conclusion of my earlier headline unsupportable.

On Facebook this afternoon, City Councilman Scott Griggs shared a document that the North Central Texas Council of Governments has just seen fit to release to members of the Council’s Transportation and Trinity River Project Committee.

The numbers make plain that when Trinity Parkway advisory committee member Jere Thompson said that the four-lane version of toll road, as dreamed up by Larry Beasley & co., would reduce traffic on Interstates 35E and 30 by about 25% what he really meant was that traffic through the corridor would be reduced roughly that amount as compared to if the federally approved six-lane, high-speed highway (“Alternative 3C”) were to be built. (But even that’s not obviously true, since the analysis looked only at a 55-mph road, not a 45-mph version.) As Griggs put it, Thompson’s statement is “misleading” about the impact of the toll road as a traffic-congestion reliever.

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Leading Off (4/1/2016)

Kingston Vs. Dallas Police & Fire Pension. Last week, the pension board had planned to censure Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston (also himself a board member) for speaking to WFAA about the possibility of a sale of the troubled Museum Tower. But that was prevented from happening when it was revealed that Kingston had not been properly notified in advance. A special board meeting is scheduled for this morning expressly for the purpose of taking action against Kingston. However, on Thursday afternoon Kingston took steps to forestall those efforts by filing a petition in Dallas County court saying that he has not received documents that he has requested from the pension system that are related to the claims other board members have made that Kingston breached his fiduciary duty by making comments to the media.

Frisco Woman Found Dead. Police located the body of Christine Woo, who’d been missing since Monday, inside her SUV in the parking lot of a Target store in McKinney on Thursday evening. Woo’s three children were in the car, severely dehydrated and reportedly having been in the vehicle for a few days. The Collin County Medical Examiner will determine her cause of death, but police have said there were no obvious signs of foul play. The Target is about 2 miles from Woo’s home.

American Airlines to Offer 24-Hour Refunds. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport’s dominant carrier is bringing its ticketing policies in line with most other major competitors. Starting today it will offer passengers full refunds up to 24 hours after purchase. Previously American had permitted tickets to be placed on hold for 24 hours without requiring a purchase, which was the other of two options that a 2012 federal Department of Transportation rule gave airlines.

Denton Ranked 2nd-Best Place to Raise a Child If You Want Him to Amount to Nothing. Not sure what to make of this national publication’s assessment that my hometown is an “unsung haven for anyone whose kid has ‘underachiever’ written all over them.” Seriously, is this some sort of joke?

Does the Federal Government Really Have the Power to Wage War on Divisive Highways?

The big news in the world of transportation policy this week has been the somewhat landmark announcement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that the federal government will set about addressing the impact urban highways have on cities. In short, Foxx — who grew up in a predominately African-American neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, that was walled off by highways — wants to stop building and expanding highways that cut people off from jobs and opportunity. To that end, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched its Ladders of Opportunity initiative.

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The Real ‘Dallas Way’: Illogical, Absurdist Thinking

Here’s a pretty efficient summary of why the Trinity River Project is completely bonkers via DMN architecture critic Mark Lamster.

Only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park, and only in Dallas would you design a highway in a park before designing the park itself. Or even developing a general concept of that park, much less creating an authority that might actually be charged with building and paying for it.

No wonder, then, that we have a project that has been meandering along for the better part of two decades with no tangible result beyond an endless series of conflicting reports, studies, and briefing documents.

As I mentioned yesterday, other places don’t think like this. The Dallas Way of doing things has been alternatively described as bold thinking bolstered by a relentlessly entrepreneurial can-do spirit or — as Ambassador Ron Kirk recently put it — inefficiency brought on by endless bickering between  interest groups. But the reality is “the Dallas Way” describes a city so mired in the overreach of private interests and a city government set up to cater to those interests that it produces plainly and absurdly dysfunctional thinking.

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Meanwhile in New York, Governor Dedicates $40 Million for Parkway Removal

While we in Dallas debate whether or not to build a billion dollar road in the Trinity River flood plain, the city of Niagara Falls, NY is planning to tear out their own four lane highway because it separates the city from its waterfront.

The Robert Moses Parkway (yes, that Robert Moses) was opened in the 1960s, and it was constructed as a way to bypass Niagara Falls, looping around the city’s downtown and cutting off access to the adjacent Niagara Gorge. Its removal will allow the land formerly occupied by the highway to be turned into trails and green space.

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Poll: What Will Happen to the Trinity River Project?

Following yesterday’s presentation of the Trinity Parkway Advisory Committee to the Dallas City Council Transportation & Trinity River Project Committee, which way do you now think the wind is blowing on the proposal that we’re all so sick of talking about: wedging a toll road and a park along the river?

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As Mayor Seeks Public Input on Trinity Road, It Is Time for the Project to Truly Evolve

The Dallas City Council’s transportation committee just wound up its briefing on the now-vetted plans put forth by the mayor’s so-called “Dream Team” of urban designers to rethink the Trinity Toll Road. There’s much to sort through in the back-and-forth conversation that unfolded this morning between council members, city staff, and the members of an oversight committee that was appointed to review the early technical adaptations of the conceptual plans for the road. I won’t get into all of it in too much detail here, but here are the key takeaways from my perspective.

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The Racist Legacy of America’s Inner-City Highways

There’s an article on Vox today that offers a concise summary of just how we went from being a nation of streetcar riders to a nation of long haul auto commuters. Its a familiar story to anyone who knows the history of urbanism in the 20th century. First came pressure from the auto industry to build new roads for their cars, resulting in a push for public funding of “freeways.” Then came the vision of a future America modeled after the modernist Utopian dream so compellingly depicted in General Motor’s Futurama exhibit at the 1939 Worlds Fair.

With public sentiment favoring a world made easy by zipping to and from suburban homes and downtown offices on ribbons of concrete — and a booming post-war economy that made car ownership more possible — President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, kick-starting the interstate system. Eisenhower didn’t want the highways to extend into the cities, but once he signed the federal legislation, the highway engineers took over. There was no turning back.

In America’s cities, highways became more than a transportation amenity.

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Why American Airlines Didn’t Pay Income Taxes

It’s not because they didn’t turn a profit. Thanks to a marked decline in fuel prices, in fact, they posted a record profit. But American Airlines Group is one of 27 profitable companies in the S&P 500 not to pay any income taxes in 2015.

How’d they manage that trick, despite finishing $7.6 billion in the black for the year? Why through the dark arts standard practices of corporate accounting, of course.

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Call an Uber to Pitch Your Million-Dollar Idea, Dallas

Uber — the de-centralized, app-based taxi service — has found creative ways to garner themselves free press. Example: short-term puppy rentals. Today brings another such temporary add-on to their usual services. It’s called UberPITCH, though I don’t know why “PITCH” is in all caps.

Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. today, riders in Downtown, Uptown, or Deep Ellum will see an extra option when they open the app. By selecting “PITCH,” you can meet up with a venture capitalist who will be moving about the city in one of the company’s black SUVs. Each would-be entrepreneur will then have 15 minutes to make a case for a prospective investment, and the ride will be free.

Which idea should we encourage Zac and Tim to pitch? A 10-part Netflix season for Rica y Chato? A double-decker deck park? An app that will save you the trouble of naming your dog? Their long-rumored dream of opening a bar/detective agency?

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Leading Off (3/3/16)

American airlines/Southwest vie for Cuba routes. In light of newly liberalized air travel regulations, American submitted an application yesterday to the Department of Transportation to launch a flight from D/FW Airport to Havana, Cuba, as well as flights from Charlotte, Miami, Los Angeles, and Chicago to Cuba. Southwest has followed suit, asking for flights Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Orlando to Havana. The DOT plans to dish out routes by summer, with service beginning in the fall.

Obama will be here March 11 and 12. The president will travel to Dallas in about a week (after stopping in Austin) to head up Democratic National Committee fundraising events and raise money for Dallas’ Senate Democrats.

Officer Hofer’s death encourages acts of kindness. Euless police officer David Hofer was killed Tuesday in the line of duty. Using the hashtag #ForHofer, people on social media started posting acts of good will toward law enforcement officials to honor Hofer’s death. These included donating money, picking up the tab for cops at a restaurant, and delivering baked goods to police stations.