Dallas to Begin Timing Traffic Signals

A number of residents I’ve spoken with have expressed a frustration with the fact that Dallas’ traffic signals aren’t timed to one another. This results in stop and go traffic, a bad driving experience, and unnecessary air pollution.

The City’s Public Works and Transportation (PW&T) Department is participating in a program that will eventually analyze and upgrade the timing of 725 of the City’s 1,300 signalized intersections through the Thoroughfare Assessment Program. Many of the signals in District 14 will be synchronized in early 2006 (the Oak Lawn area) and late 2006 (Downtown and Greenville).

As part of the Federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality program, the City is partnering with the federal government, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The regional program, including other North Texas cities is administered by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

“The overall effect of the project is to improve air quality, helping the City comply with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requirements,” said Dybala. “An added benefit of this will be a reduction of overall driver delays,” he added.

Following the upgrade, commuters should experience a reduction of travel time when driving through coordinated signal systems. Better signal synchronization usually results in fewer collisions since there will be smoother traffic flow and fewer stops. Environmentally, these improvements will result in less idling by vehicles, reduced air pollution, less gas consumption and cost savings.

The 725 intersections located throughout the City were selected on the basis of changing traffic/growth patterns, length of time since previous timing updates, and arterial streets that extend through a bordering city.

Phase I of the analysis and upgrade began with a pilot program a few years ago when NCTCOG hired a consultant to analyze signals in the North Dallas/Carrollton area resulting in about a dozen retimed Dallas signals.

Phase II consists of a 119 signal implementation and is expected to be completed in early 2006 including Coit Rd., Hampton Rd., Illinois Ave. and the Oak Lawn Area.

Phase III will include 147 signals and is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2006 including Ledbetter, Harry Hines, and the North Dallas area bounded by the Dallas North Tollway, US 75, IH 635 and NW Hwy.

Phase IV includes 459 signals and is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2006 including Camp Wisdom, Wheatland, Westmoreland, South Buckner, Central Business District, Industrial, Greenville Ave., Forest Ln. and the area north of IH 635.

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Great News: Mercantile Art to be Saved

After fearing that the wonderful mosaics in the Mercantile would be lost to the wrecking ball, I am pleased to report that developer Tim Headington of Headington Oil has agreed to pay for the removal of all of the mosaics in the Mercantile Complex and to display them in a public location in Downtown Dallas.

I met yesterday for a couple of hours with Tim, Craig Melde and Jay Firsching from Architexas, and conservator Michael van Enter, who will be removing the art. Tim is very enthusiastic about the art, and wants to keep the art together as a collection if possible. Craig Melde will be coordinating the project with Forest City and Headington.

The ultimate location for the art has not been determined, other than it will be in Downtown Dallas in a public location. Tim Headington is exploring the possibility of placing the art in a single location so it can be viewed as a collection.

I’m also working to make sure that, if for some reason the art is sold and the owner wants to take it out of public display in Downtown, the City of Dallas has the option to take the art for the cost of removing it from wherever it is located at that time. This will not obligate the City to take the art, but will give the City the option to do so.

The removal of the art will not slow down the renovations and demolition of the Mercantile complex. The parties have agreed to work around Forest City’s timetable. I spoke with David Levey from Forest City earlier today, and he is very excited that we were able to save the art.

I could not be happier about this outcome. We owe a debt of gratitude to Tim Headington for his generosity to our city. By saving this collection of artwork, he is ensuring that future generations will be able to appreciate and enjoy this important piece of Dallas’ history.

Michael van Enter and Studio van Enter are also to be commended for taking on such a big task so quickly. Michael and his partner Wes have been working around the clock this past week to determine the cost of extracting the art. Despite working long days and putting other projects on hold, Michael and his firm have agreed to donate their long days and nights of survey time (which they had deeply discounted anyway) if they are selected to extricate the mosaics.

Craig and Jay from Architexas have also done an exceptional job of helping to make sure we saved this art. This would not have happened without their perseverance, and they are continuing to coordinate this project without payment. We could not have done this without them.

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone else who kept this story in the news and gently persuaded the parties to do what is right. I am certain that without that influence, we would have lost this art, either to the wrecking ball or to private collectors who would have taken it out of our city and out of the public domain. Now the art will remain in its home, Downtown Dallas, for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

Mercantile Art Update

Good news on the Mercantile art. The art conservator (Michael van Enter) finished his cost analysis on Friday, and his estimate for removing the mosaics is reasonable. He thinks it will take about eight weeks to get the art out.

On Friday, more developers toured the Mercantile to see the mosaics. I am confident at this point that all of the mosaics will be saved. Whoever takes the art must agree to locate it in a public space in a Downtown building (lobbies, foyers, etc.) so that it can be enjoyed by the public.

Based on discussions we are having right now with some of these developers, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief. We have not finalized our discussions, but I am very optimistic that we have overcome our biggest concern: saving the art in the Mercantile from destruction.

Council Approves Verified Response for Commercial Properties Only

Today the City Council approved verified response for commercial (not residential) properties.

Because 97% of all alarms are false, starting in February, the police will no longer respond automatically when a commercial burglar alarm goes off. The business will first have to confirm that there is a crime taking place. The ordinance will not apply to residential properties.

I voted in favor of this version of verified response primariliy because our Chief of Police explained that it would help him get 20 more officers on the street instead of chasing false alarms. We’ve got a real shortage of police (which we must fix), but instead of using them to patrol our neighborhoods, we’ve got them out there chasing alarms that are false 97% of the time.

We hired the Chief to be our top strategist on how to improve the safety of our city. He has to use his experience and best judgment to make resource allocation decisions. And Chief Kunkle has overseen a 17% reduction in homicides this year and a 5% decrease in overall crime. When he supports an initiative to get more cops on the street, I think we need to listen.

VOTE: Passed 8:5 (AH voting yes, DH absent, JF conflicted)

Saving the Art from the Mercantile

As the Mercantile Complex is undergoing significant renovation and demolition, the art located in the complex is in danger of being destroyed if it is not removed.

The history of the Mercantile art is an interesting combination of capitalism, civic pride, and artistic vision. As Chairman of the Board of the Mercantile (and later Mayor of Dallas), R.L. Thornton oversaw the greatest art and architecture project in the city’s history outside of Fair Park. Prominent artist and designer, Millard Sheets, a specialist in the blending of art and architecture, was commissioned to design and oversee the completion of a unified body of fine art to be placed in the Mercantile complex and to serve as a crowning example of business’ role in civic beautification. It was to be Thornton’s gift to his city.

Under Thornton’s direction, Millard Sheets gathered a remarkable team of more than 20 artists complete the Mercantile expansion. The majority of artists were students or colleagues of Sheets’ from California’s Otis Institute and Scripps College, though prominent local artist Octavio Medellin also participated.

Art of all types was commissioned including paintings, watercolors, murals, hand-made French tapestries, carpets, art glass, ceramics, sculpture, and Venetian mosaics in gold, platinum glass and precious stones. Each composition was designed or overseen by Sheets to ensure a unified body of work and reflects his experience as a New Deal artist of the 1930s. The result was, and remains, one of the finest examples of post-war art and design in the nation.

The art that we are most focused on saving are three kinds of mosaics: free-standing mosaics that are over ten feet tall, somewhat smaller bird mosaics that are surrounded by a type of hard plastic and raised slightly out of the building’s walls, and mosaics that are imbedded into the Travertine walls.

On Saturday I toured the Mercantile Complex along with an art conservator, and representatives from Architexas, Preservation Dallas, and Friends of Fair Park.

I hadn’t been in the Mercantile before. The art is beautiful — take a look at the pictures. The conservator, Michael van Enter, was amazed by the quality of the mosaics. He felt that it would be a crime to let them be destroyed, and it was his opinion that all of the artwork could be saved.

Forrest City, who is receiving $70 million in public incentives to develop the property, has agreed to take out the free-standing mosaics. Now the race is on to save the rest of the art.

To determine exactly how much it will cost to remove the art, I have asked the conservator to analyze the mosaics over the next couple of days. (I’m paying this out of my campaign funds, and Veletta Lill and ArchiTexas have also agreed to help defray the $2000 cost.)

We should have a cost analysis by Friday. Ideally, I would like to see the entire collection moved to Fair Park. Forrest City will contribute $20,000 towards removal of the art, and the City will contribute $12,000. If that is not possible, we are also looking at giving the art to Downtown developers who will agree to fund the removal. They must display the art in public spaces in Downtown buildings.

I will keep everyone updated as I get more information.

Cotton Bowl Revitalization

In our Council briefing today, we discussed updating the Cotton Bowl at Fair Park. The venue is in desperate need of repair and renovations. The revitalization plan is contingent on colleges committing to play at the venue for at least twelve years.

In general, the Council was very supportive of the proposal, but wanted to ensure that we aggressively seek naming rights to off-set the cost of renovations. There were also concerns that we need to actively revitalize and invest in the area surrounding Fair Park.

There are two phases in the proposed plan. Most notably, the revitalization would add about 16,000 seats by creating a second ring of seating above the current Cotton Bowl. The architecture would be indistinguishable from the original Art Deco structure.

More info on Phases 1 and 2:

Phase 1 ($19 million)
Phase 1 would be funded jointly by the State Fair of Texas (which runs the Cotton Bowl) and the City of Dallas. The City currently charges the State Fair $1.2M in rent. The current proposal provides that the City would waive the rent for ten years, and the State Fair would instead put those funds into Phase 1 construction. In addition, the State Fair would match those funds and contribute an additional $1.2M/year. Phase 1 includes:

Increase seating capacity from 76,000 to 92,107
Build restrooms and concession stands to service new seating areas
Install a new scoreboard, video board, sound system, ticket gates, premium-level seating and elevators to service the upper deck
Improve the stadium facade at its end zones

Phase 2 ($26 million to $30 million)
Phase 2 would be paid for through a bond program which must be approved by voters. A bond election will likely take place in November 2006. Phase 2 includes:

Replace existing seats, which were installed in 1968, with bench-with-back seating
Install new lighting, signage, graphics and utilities
Refurbish existing stadium concourses
Add additional seating for disabled people

Read the briefing.