City Council: Booting Ordinance in Effect Citywide Immediately

Today, the City Council approved an amendment to the city’s booting ordinance to make it effective across the city immediately instead of July 1. 

The booting ordinance we passed last fall requires parking lots that choose to boot to provide a written receipt to parking customers when they pay their parking fee (whether by an attendant or parking machine).  The ordinance had gone into effect in Deep Ellum on January 1 of this year and that resolved their booting problems.  Unfortunately, the problem then migrated to Downtown Dallas.  After receiving numerous complaints from Downtown business owners and visitors, Councilmember Medrano and I proposed to move up the effective date of the ordinance so Downtown visitors and businesses didn’t have to spend another five months unprotected from unscrupulous booting.

Councilmember Medrano and I called the parking lot owners in Downtown last week and told them what we planned to bring to the council this week.  Nearly all of the parking lot owners were supportive, explaining that they had abandoned booting as a means of enforcement once it became clear that booting threatened Downtown’s long-term health by driving off visitors.

One councilmember suggested that if booting were less convenient to parking lot owners as a means of enforcement, they would start towing cars.  While that’s possible, that hasn’t been the experience in Deep Ellum.  Barry Annino, president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, explained to the council today that towing hasn’t increased in Deep Ellum since the booting ordinance took effect there at the beginning of the year.  Instead, the parking lots are doing what they did before they began booting — ticketing cars that didn’t pay the proper fee.  So there hasn’t been an uptick in towing.

Some councilmembers opposed the change because they believe parking lot owners need another five months to implement an electronic payment system on their lots.  But I question whether that’s a genuine concern or just a stalling tactic because (1) parking lots have the option not to boot or to use an attendant rather than a machine and (2) no one has implemented these machines in Deep Ellum, despite having had five months (August – December 31) to do so.

After about an hour of debate, the council overwhelmingly approved the ordinance, which will go into effect tomorrow:

FOR:  Hunt, Medrano, Jasso, Davis, Hill, Atkins, Salazar, Leppert, Caraway, Koop, Margolin

AGAINST:  Natinsky, Neumann, Kadane, Allen

Woodall Rodgers Park “Groundmaking”

Yesterday, I attended the “groundmaking” for the Woodall Rodgers Park, a 5.2 acre deck park that will be constructed above the Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Pearl and St. Paul streets.

I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation (the non-profit that has raised private funds for the park and which will operate and maintain the park).  Over the last several years, I’ve worked with the Foundation to ensure that the park was included in the 2006 bond program, to make Harwood Street pedestrian-only within the park, and to coordinate with surrounding stakeholders.  In 2006, I joined them in visiting Millennium Park in Chicago and Bryant Park in New York City.  In addition to touring the parks, we visited with community leaders who had been key to the parks’ creation.

The Real Estate Council sponsored a breakfast before the groundmaking ceremony.  TREC has been instrumental in the park’s creation — originating the concept and providing seed money.  The breakfast featured Tony Jones (pictured), Chancellor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who gave a very engaging presentation on “Millennium Park, Chicago: Art, Entertainment and Economics, a model for Woodall Rodgers Park and Downtown Dallas.”

You can check out some pictures from the breakfast and groundmaking as well as from our 2006 trip.

Downtown Gets New Newsracks

Newsrack “condos” have begun replacing the clutter of individual racks in Downtown Dallas. All the individual newsracks in the foreground of the photo will be relocated into the newsrack condo in the background. The new newsracks are a partnership with between the City and the Dallas Morning News.

The new newsracks lessen the visual clutter in Downtown and make the sidewalks more walkable. I’ve been working on this for several years and it’s very exciting to see the newsracks finally installed.

Statler-Hilton Tour

I’m not a huge fan of mid-century modern architecture.  It’s always seemed a little kitschy and plain to me.  The traditionally-designed Adolphus, the Magnolia, the Kirby, those buildings have style and class to spare.  But I’ve gotta say, mid-century modern is growing on me.  It’s still not my favorite, but I’m starting to appreciate the clean lines and blocks of color.  It’s something.  It’s the Jetson’s vision of the future made real (only without the jet-packs, air-cars, or robots, unfortunately).

The Statler Hilton (aka, Dallas Grand) is the quintessential mid-century modern building, with its blue glass paneled facade and Sinatra lounges.  Last week, I toured the building with Karl Zavitkovsky, Director of Economic Development for the city, and the style grew on me a little more.

As you’ll see in the pictures, the building needs some love.  But it has great bones and lots of cool mid-century flourishes.  I don’t know the structural integrity of the building, what it’d cost to do asbestos abatement, HVAC expenses, etc.  But aesthetically, the Statler’s no worse off than the Merc or Atmos buildings.  And the view is amazing.

I’ve heard again and again from developers that the eight foot ceilings are the killers — they’re just too low for today’s marketplace.  But the configuration of the rooms, combined with the wall of windows, make the ceilings seem higher than eight feet, and the rooms don’t feel small or cramped at all.

Imagine Main Street Garden is done, the UNT Law School has moved into the municipal courts building, and the modern streetcar is up and running on Commerce (with its mate on Elm).  The Statler could be one of the coolest addresses in Downtown.

(And I didn’t wear the cool headgear throughout the tour — only in the stairwells and basement where it was dusty and/or smelly.)

Council Delays Booting Ordinance

This morning, the Council unanimously voted to delay the booting ordinance until it can be considered by the Council’s Transportation Committee in August.

The delay was critical for those of us who want an ordinance with teeth that protects our restaurants and retailers that have lost customers due to unscrupulous booting.

Here’s what happened: The booting issue was presented to the Transportation Committee of which both Councilmember Medrano and I are members. We represent the two districts most impacted by the booting problem: Downtown and Deep Ellum. Continue reading

Central Realignment in Downtown

After several months of work, the Council passed a new alignment for Central Expressway.

The part of Central Expressway we’re talking about is not the elevated portion, but the part that is a city street in Downtown. From Commerce to the Farmers Market, Central is a nice two-way boulevard with a green, treed median. But from Commerce to Live Oak, the street narrows and becomes one-way, creating a complicated and arguably dangerous entry to Downtown.

The new alignment will remove part of Pearl Street that divides a Downtown park, and widen Central to create a two-way boulevard. Rather than moving forward with the proposed alignment (which was 9 lanes of concrete), I asked Downtown Dallas and Larry Good to help redesign the road to make it greener and more pedestrian-friendly. Thanks to their help, we now have a better entry to Downtown, and an expanded park.


A Streetcar Named Desire: Connecting the Dots in Downtown Dallas

See? I’m already fulfilling my New Year’s Resolution. Good for me.

For my first legitimate blog post of the new year, I want to focus on Downtown and the next step in its evolution.

Not to get all Andy Rooney at the very start of the new year, but you know what bugs me? Folks who criticize Downtown Dallas when they haven’t visited in a decade.

My husband and I lived in Downtown between 1998 and the end of 2000. NOTHING was going on. There were fewer than 500 residents and little to do. The last decade has seen incredible changes: Today, Downtown is home to more than 3700 residents and growing. Our Arts District is exploding with three new venues, a renovated arts magnet high school, two awesome historic churches (one just renovated, another about to begin), new offices, and new residential development. We’re about to get not one, not two, but THREE major new parks in Downtown (Woodall Rodgers, Main Street, and Belo). Stone Street Gardens is taking off, and we’ve got the Farmers Market, Dealey Plaza, the West End, and the Convention Center rounding out the mix.

Add to the that the projects just outside the loop: Victory, Deep Ellum, Uptown, the Cedars, Old City Park, the Katy Trail, and the Trinity Park. Cranes are everywhere. The Merc’s lights are back on. Great things are happening. We should have an amazing Downtown.

So why doesn’t it feel that way?

Lack of connectivity.

Having islands of activity isn’t enough. To have an amazing Downtown, to see the benefit of all the energy and work and money that’s gone into getting Downtown to this point, we have to connect the dots. We’ve got to make it easy and enjoyable to get from Victory to the West End over to the Nasher and on to the Farmers Market. We have to give people the opportunity to check out Dealey Plaza, head over to a picnic at Woodall Rodgers Park, then venture to Deep Ellum for some great live music.

It’s only then that our Downtown will feel amazingly active, vibrant, and interesting. It’s that combustion of intense connectivity that will ignite our Downtown. This is the next CRITICAL STEP for Downtown success.

How do we do that? Create a streetcar SYSTEM. I emphasize “system” because it can’t just be one line. Or two. It needs to be at least three lines to connect enough points of interest to ignite this transformation. We can’t half-ass it and then wonder why it didn’t work.

It also needs to be free. People will ride it if it’s free. A payment system is cumbersome, hard to enforce, and will reduce ridership – especially of tourists. The point isn’t to make money, it’s to attract passengers, encourage cross-pollination of venue visitors, and bring our Downtown closer together.

Whatever the ultimate routes selected, the streetcar system needs to be composed of simple, straight shots. No complex loops or labyrinthine twists and turns. Make it simple and people will feel confident that if they get on, they will get exactly where they want to go.

We also need to make sure all the streetcars are air-conditioned and heated. People will ride it if they are comfortable.

Most importantly, most critically, we’ve got to ensure that the system hits all the major points of interest in Downtown and that it complements the second DART light rail alignment. Here’s where I’d like to see the streetcar go:

A Map With Some Ideas for Where a Downtown Streetcar Could Go

Why streetcars and not just buses? The rails embedded in concrete provide a sense of certainty as to where the trolley’s going. People are more comfortable getting on a streetcar than a bus, especially if they are unfamiliar with the area. Buses are a crapshoot — Is it the right bus number? Why is the bus turning here? Where will I wind up? With a streetcar, you know what you’re getting.

Aside from bringing Downtown points of interest closer together, a streetcar system will offer other benefits as well, both economic and environmental. Other cities have found remarkable redevelopment resulting from streetcar lines, and we can see the same here, particularly in areas in need of revitalization like Deep Ellum. Getting people out of their cars and onto a trolley will also help improve our air quality.

There’s already some support on the council for a streetcar system in Downtown, including Councilmember Linda Koop, who is chair of the Transportation Committee. Linda has so much transportation experience and has visited other cities with streetcar systems. Her knowledge about mass transit, funding processes, and streetcar systems will be very helpful as we go forward. Councilmember Pauline Medrano also represents Downtown (including Victory, the West End, the Cedars, and Deep Ellum) and along with Linda and I is serving on the DART policy group for the second rail alignment.

There are a lot of details to figure out, not the least of which is finding funding sources (DART is tapped). By August, we’ll have an “alternatives analysis” for the streetcar system, which is really the first step in securing federal funding. It’s also a critical step in figuring out where we can and can’t put the rail lines.

Now, here’s the thing. I’m impatient. I want to see this streetcar up and running tomorrow. Today, if possible. But that’s not going to happen. We’ll push as fast as we can, but getting the funding, figuring out technical issues, creating an organization to oversee the system, building the thing, all of this will take a few years (how many, we don’t know yet — we’ll get a better handle on a realistic timeline as we go through the streetcar analysis).

Our need for a connector can’t wait several years. Too much is happening in our Downtown now, and we need to capitalize on the successful islands of activity right now. So, we’re going to look at an intermediate solution. I was cold to this idea at first, but have warmed up to it: We’re going to investigate a “trolley on wheels” system that will mimic the trolley line until the streetcar gets up and running. Right now we’re at the very, very initial stage of investigation, looking at how much a system like this would cost and how we’d pay for it. We’d like to do a study run to see how well it works, then expand it. We can’t, however, become satisfied with our trolley-on-wheels system and lose sight of our ultimate goal of creating a true streetcar system.

Just collecting this info and figuring out funding is several months away, so this isn’t going to happen overnight. But it will happen.