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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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Analysis: How Many Big-Box Stores Does Dallas Really Need?

The whole kerfuffle about the CityPlace Sam’s Club got my curiosity up. I know what my internal emotions tell me about the construction of more box stores and their barren, concrete parking lots, but what does it really look like? What are the facts? It actually wasn’t the CityPlace Sam’s that drove me to put together the information that follows. Rather, it was responses to rumors about a Costco at the old Steakley Chevrolet location at Northwest Highway and Abrams Road. In a June 2014 Lakewood Advocate blog posting, a reader comments: “YES! this would be awesomeness to have our own Costco!”

But why? There’s a Target (at Medallion Shopping Center) within 1,000 feet of there, a Sam’s Club about 2,000 feet away, a Walmart sitting on top of that same Sam’s Club (at TimberCreek Crossing), and yet another SuperTarget about 3,000 feet down Abrams.

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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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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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Poll: If the Trinity Toll Road Is Built, Will You Leave Dallas?

Before an event last night, I had a conversation about, yes, the Trinity Toll Road. Hard to avoid the topic these days, particularly in Oak Cliff at book readings with anarchist Icelandic politicians. I casually mentioned to someone that a number of people, particularly younger, community-minded people, have told me that if the Trinity Toll Road gets built they are going to leave Dallas.

“That’s funny,” he said. “I was just saying that to someone yesterday.”

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How TxDOT Justifies Demolishing 195 feet of the Historic Continental Viaduct

Here’s an interesting document that has turned up. Last November, Mario Sanchez, a historical architect with the environmental affairs division of the Texas Department of Transportation, wrote the Texas Historical Commission to lay out a preliminary design of the interchange between the proposed Trinity Toll Road and the Continental Street Viaduct. It offers a detailed account of just how the current design of the Trinity Toll Road – aka Alternative 3C, as it is called in official documents – will impact the Continental Street Viaduct, namely, by demolishing 195 feet of it.

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Who Is In Charge of the Trinity River Project?

Over the weekend, Mark Lamster filed an illuminating report from Houston, comparing that city’s successful clean-up of Buffalo Bayou with our own ill-fated attempts to reclaim the Trinity. The whole thing is worth reading, but towards the end, Lamster raises an important question:

Who, exactly, is in charge of the Trinity Corridor project? There is no ready answer.

Indeed, as I mention towards the end of this piece from last week, one of the frustrating aspects of the Trinity River Project is that the plan’s so-called advocates, like The Trinity Trust, are mum when it comes to things like the proposed Trinity Toll Road, which is poised to ruin some of the more positive, park-friendly amenities they have already brought to the Trinity greenbelt. Lamster attributes this to a general lack of accountability with regards to a civic project that has way too many agencies and organizations with their hands in the pie. And what are the results?

While the Trinity River Audubon Center is a civic jewel, this process has also produced a pedestrian bridge that leads to a no-man’s land on its downtown side; a whitewater rapids that doesn’t work properly; a horse park that provides no value to the vast majority of Dallasites; and plans for lakes and fields and trails that languish as the city mulls an ill-conceived toll road that would cut those amenities off from the very citizens they are intended to serve.

In Houston, they have a park.

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Jill Jordan Explains the Highway Spaghetti Planned for the Continental Pedestrian Bridge

This morning Rudy Bush tweeted that there was an interesting Trinity toll road conversation going on during the open microphone section of the Dallas City Council meeting, so I decided to head on over to the city’s handy online video section and check it out. A trio of speakers, including a property owner in the Design District, talked about the value of that neighborhood’s proximity to the Trinity River park and how the proposed toll road could negatively affect the potential for the Design District to become even more of a premier neighborhood and destination.

The highlight of the open microphone session came at the tail end. During his remarks, the property owner expressed concern about the contradictions apparent in multiple Trinity toll road renderings produced by different agencies, like the NTTA and TxDOT, which show exit ramps from the proposed road swamping the Continental Pedestrian Bridge and even depicting cars driving on the pedestrian bridge. The owner asked for some clarification, and when he was finished, council member Sandy Greyson called Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to the microphone to sort out the confusion.

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How a Subway Could Transform Downtown Dallas

A downtown Dallas brimming with street life, and under-street life, with shops and churches and schools, and much more affordable rents? Jim Schutze waxes on about how a subway line built beneath Elm Street could help make this fantasy a reality, leaning heavily on the vision of real estate developer John Tatum. But we’ve got choices ahead:

The tragedy Tatum sees about to unfold downtown is that Dallas is about to make two decisions — the second downtown DART rail alignment and the Trinity River toll road — that will seriously cripple if not kill the chances for achieving Fantasy Downtown. A decision to build the toll road would waste a huge sum of money, $1 billion to $2 billion, that the city should spend on rail instead. With that kind of money to spend on itself, Dallas could achieve some all-important independence of suburban DART board members who have always fought any concentration of resources downtown.

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Dallas’ Evolving Tech Community Offers Model for Successful Regional Growth

This article in GeekWire has been circulating on the interwebs. It talks about the strides made by Dallas’ startup community in recent years to build the sense of identity and community that is necessary in any entrepreneurial tech scene hoping to thrive on sharing, synergy, co-mingling, and all that other mumbo jumbo stuff they blabber on about in Austin every March.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Dallas tech, so I can’t attest to how accurate this portrayal is (it appears in GeekWire ahead of a GeekWire-sponsored Startup Week in Dallas next Month), however it does ring true with D CEO’s latest cover story. I bring it up because there is much in GeekWire’s portrayal of Dallas’ tech world that suggests a model for how we should be thinking about city-building and regional growth.

First off, while DFW has never been a stranger to tech success stories, from Texas Instruments to Mark Cuban, what the area has lacked is a sense of cohesion and identity. Why? In part, sprawl:

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Does Downtown Dallas Need Another Skycraper?

You know how liquor stores and other places will hang up bounced checks to shame customers who tried to swindle them? I think Dallas City Hall should have a similar “Wall of Shame” for developers with particularly bad track records. When these characters come back with new ideas, staff should look over their shoulder, point, and say, “Hey, wait, you’re the guy who did that.”

Two names on my imaginary wall of shame: the Trammell Crow Company and Ross Perot Jr.

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Grocery or Big Box In Downtown Dallas? Or, Why Inequality Needs to be Part of Urbanism Conversation.

There’s an interesting tidbit on Unfair Park this morning about the possibility of a new, large-scale retailer coming to the ground floor of 1401 Elm, the largest vacant building in the Central Business District.  The Observer’s Stephen Young makes a heads-up observation. Back in January 2014, the developer of 1401 Elm requested TIF funds from the city, and the request said the project would include 25,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 40,000 square feet of office. Now, the developer has come back to the city with a revised outlook: how about just 65,000 square feet of commercial space? That, according to city staff, would allow the developer more flexibility for things like bringing in an upscale grocer to take over the building’s 50,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

But wait. Young points to a Dallas Business Journal article from December in which Jack Gosnell, who is brokering the retail for the site, suggests that the same space might be good for a “big box retailer or a department store.”

Cue panic. Could Sam’s Club be invading downtown too?

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How the Mayor Should Handle Ethics Complaints About His Well-Stocked ‘Officeholder Account’

Mayor Rawlings pinky swears he won’t touch money in his officerholder account that came in before he announced his re-election bid in December. He also said that he became aware of the loophole that allows incumbents to receive unlimited contributions back in 2011, and believes we “gotta change that,” but, you know, hasn’t gotten around to it. Now he will, at some point in the next six months, which sounds like after the election.

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t find that response terribly satisfying. Here’s a better idea.

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