The following op-ed originally appeared in the June 10, 2011 edition of The Dallas Morning News.
In 1998, Dallas voters embraced a bold, visionary plan to transform the Trinity River floodway into a vibrant urban park. But 13 years later, a torturous federal approval process combined with a significant funding gap have conspired to stop the project in its tracks. Add to that the recent revelations that local and federal officials were less than forthcoming about the Trinity toll road’s viability during the 2007 referendum, and it’s not an overstatement to say the public has lost faith in the Trinity River project.
We can reclaim this project and win back the public’s trust, but only if we’re willing to change the way we do things at Dallas City Hall. The grander, long-term vision for the Trinity park is incredible, but it’s still years away. We must give the public a Trinity park they can enjoy today, and we must do it as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. That means no high-paid consultants; no elaborate, full-scale models and enticing watercolor pictures; and — most importantly — no multiyear timelines.
Don’t get me wrong — I like expensive, fancy things as much as the next gal. But expensive, fancy things are only great when they actually exist. A diamond ring is great. My husband promising me a diamond ring and handing me a brochure from the jeweler, not so great. Our expedited version of the Trinity park won’t boast lakes or sailboats or solar-powered water taxis. But what it lacks in extravagance it will make up for by simply existing.
Transforming the Trinity River basin won’t require a herculean effort. The greenbelt between our levees is already lush and beautiful — there’s just no way to get to it and nothing to do once you get there. We can change that.
We can start with a simple amenity that has proved incredibly popular in Dallas: a hike-and-bike trail that will draw runners, cyclists and nature-lovers to the river basin. We can build a multi-use recreational trail stretching from the Sylvan Avenue bridge to Moore Park, forgoing expensive concrete trails for low-cost, graded dirt paths.
Next, we make the park accessible. Right now, there are few public entry points into the floodway. There are, however, numerous restricted-access maintenance roads that cross the levees. Let’s unlock the gates and turn these roads into park entrances for pedestrians and cyclists.
Since it’s Dallas, we’re going to need to create some parking. But instead of wasting time and money building expensive paved parking lots, let’s use some of the existing, unused private parking lots adjacent to the park. We can also designate the public right-of-way along the outside of the levees as parking areas.
Lastly, we must connect our new Trinity park to the surrounding neighborhoods and major destinations: downtown, West Dallas, Oak Cliff, the Katy Trail and Fair Park, for starters. New wayfinding signs and dedicated on-street bike lanes can link these areas to the Trinity.
To bring this project to life, we’re going to have to draw on resources outside of City Hall — people and organizations more accustomed to getting stuff done quickly and doing it on a shoestring. Fortunately, we already have several community partners willing to help.
Among them is Oak Cliff’s Jason Roberts, who will help us construct a great park on a budget. His nationally recognized Better Block Project has proven that neglected urban spaces can be transformed quickly and cheaply into vibrant, walkable neighborhoods.
We’re talking with Groundwork Dallas, a local nonprofit, about helping us design and construct our trail system. This group is part of a national organization that converts derelict land into parks and public spaces, and their volunteers are already hard at work building trails a little farther south, in the Great Trinity Forest.
By moving forward on the Trinity park now, we do not abandon the larger vision, nor do we concede our respective positions on some of the more controversial aspects of the project. Instead, we fulfill the most fundamental promise of the Trinity River project: transforming our most under-utilized, under-appreciated natural asset into a vibrant urban park.