Potholes on Lemmon Avenue

If you’ve driven on Lemmon Avenue recently, I hope your suspension has not been completely destroyed.

The worst area on Lemmon is between the toll road and Inwood, which has tons of terrible potholes, one after another, which have been exacerbated by recent weather. (It’s not that it’s smooth as silk elsewhere; it’s just particularly bad on this section.)

Crews are working on filling literally hundreds of potholes on Lemmon, and they anticipate it’ll take a week or longer to finish. I’ll be monitoring.

Trip to Portland and Seattle – Streetcars and Bicycle Infrastructure

Councilmember Koop and I traveled to Portland and Seattle last weekend to tour each city’s streetcar system and bicycle infrastructure. Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (who oversees economic development) and Jay Kline (DART’s streetcar coordinator) joined us.

Both cities have used streetcars as economic catalysts, allowing considerable mixed-use development in depressed areas. The Pearl District in Portland is a great example. Only a few years ago, it was a run-down, crime-ridden warehouse district. Today, it’s a vibrant, clean, mixed-use community with businesses and residences. Continue reading

Meeting on Proposed Restrictions on Car Booting

There have been a lot of problems lately with towing companies booting cars on private parking lots, especially in Deep Ellum. Since there are no laws on the books regulating booting, the city has responded by drafting restrictions to limit this activity.

Please help improve this ordinance by taking part in an upcoming public meeting:

April 20, 2009
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Dallas City Hall, 1500 Marilla, L1/F/North Auditorium

I don’t know why this was scheduled during the day (I hold most if not all public meetings at night to accommodate working people), but maybe a daytime meeting works alright for most people. If you attend the meeting, I welcome your input about whether it was productive.

Trinity Project: It’s Time for Plan B

I’ve written an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News describing “Plan B” for the Trinity Project:

Join me at a Dallas City Council meeting five years from now:

It’s 2014. Under Mayor Tom Leppert’s plan, the Trinity toll road should have opened last year, but its construction hasn’t even begun. It remains mired in federal safety analyses due to concerns about its effect on Dallas’ levees. The North Texas Tollway Authority bowed out in early 2011 when it determined it could not fund the now $2.4 billion project.

City staff reluctantly informs the council and mayor that there is no way to bridge the enormous funding gap. The buckets of money once touted to finance the road have been spent on other more critical transportation needs in the region. Less than half of the city’s $84 million in bond funds for the road remains. Continue reading

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.

Council Approves Red-Light Cameras

On Wednesday, the City Council approved the use of red-light cameras to automatically ticket anyone running a red-light at certain intersections. The cameras snap a picture of cars running red-lights, and then a private company sends out the fine to the car’s owner.

The matter was on the Council’s consent agenda (where dozens of items are grouped to be approved in a single vote), and I did not pull it to address the issue independently. I’ve had my say about the red-light cameras, and it is clear that the majority of the council approves of them.

A few years ago, my mother and step-dad were hit by a driver who ran a red-light, so I have a particular interest in this issue. On first blush, red-light cameras are a no-brainer. Who doesn’t want to decrease traffic accidents and fatalities? But therein lies the question: Do red-light cameras really increase public safety, or are they just a revenue generator for cities?

The research suggests the latter. In fact, a recent Washington Post article analyzing the use of red-light cameras in Washington, D.C. revealed that accidents and fatalities did not decrease where red-light cameras were used. A study by the Federal Highway Administration confirms that rear-end collisions actually increase where cameras are used.

Seeing I was in the minority on this issue, I have requested that city staff keep extensive records on collisions and fatalities at the intersections where we are posting cameras. After a year’s time, we will compare the post-camera statistics with the pre-camera numbers. That way we can tell if the cameras are actually improving safety. If they are more of a hazard than benefit, and if they’re just a revenue-generating mechanism, we’ll need to reconsider. I, for one, remain skeptical, but hope to be proved wrong.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit Meeting

I met with leaders of DART this morning to discuss the future downtown rail alignment, the possible Love Field DART connection, issues surrounding an Arts District LRT stop, and the possibility of creating a DART Rail stop at Knox – Henderson.

DART planners excavated the underground shell of a Rail station at Knox – Henderson when creating the current Red/Blue Line, but the station was never completed due to neighborhood concerns. As Knox – Henderson has evolved, I believe that now is a good time to consider creating a stop in this bustling, growing area. As always, finding the funding for this project will be the most challenging aspect.