Last week, the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects took a couple of days to really home in on the challenges that Dallas must overcome to be a sustainable and attractive city in the long term. A city that can compete with other areas that offer more holistic transportation solutions in an urban environment. Those lofty goals were all addressed at the organization’s Mobility Summit.
Long a car-centric city, the next generation of Dallas residents are upending the long-held belief that commuting is a forgone conclusion, measuring distance in hours door-to-door. Instead, more and more thinkers are looking critically at Dallas and our eight-lane highways, our toll roads, and our elevated high-speed thoroughfares.
As usual, Robert Wilonsky (who, I swear writes 99 percent of the copy on the Dallasnews.com site) did a fabulous job breaking down the big issues and discussions at the event, and the breakthroughs brought on by gathering so many people passionate about Dallas’ design future. The most impact was felt by Harvard professor and urban planner Alex Krieger, a co-author of Dallas’ Balanced Vision Plan, when he backed off his support of a road within the levees of the Trinity River.
[S]peaking to an audience of city officials and policy-makers and architects, he apologized for having played a part in the plan that initially proposed a smaller, four-lane “parkway” that has ballooned into a $1.5-billion massive highway that would likely restrict access to the other amenities proposed in the 2003 plan.
Said Krieger to a hearty round of applause, the road Dallas City Hall has long been pushing for “would be detrimental to the Trinity corridor and probably would not serve traffic particularly well long-term in Dallas.”
Krieger offered a sincere apology to those who were opposed to a road within the park on the outset, especially Gail Thomas with the Trinity Trust Foundation. While she said that Krieger didn’t need to apologize to her, Thomas is obviously ready to move on and enjoy views of an incredible park that looks more like the beautiful watercolor images from the original plans.
Gail Thomas, president and CEO of the Trinity Trust Foundation, is among those who refuses to publicly comment on the road. She says it’s a “political debate” for which she has neither the time nor the energy.
“I’ll tell you what I do want: I want the amenities we envisioned in the Trinity corridor and for the people of Dallas to come together as a community and enjoy the Trinity the same way the enjoy the Continental Bridge,” she says. “That’s what I want. That’s where my focus is.”
Of course, another project that got plenty of attention during the two-day summit was the campaign to demolish I-345. It’s something that Patrick Kennedy, transportation advocate and panelist at the event, has championed over and over. Transportation planner Jeff Tumlin — an expert who has worked to remove highways in San Francisco — addressed the issue with I-345 rather opaquely, asking Dallasites to look at transportation as a metric of livability on the whole, rather than specific projects, according to Peter Simek:
Instead [Tumlin] pointed to a simple reason why Dallas, a city that has produced numerous well-considered plans for building a more efficient, sustainable, and urban core, has failed to realize the urban vision laid out in those plans. Goals and visions have to be translated into quantifiable objectives and qualify-able metrics, he said. In other words, planning documents are great, but unless they are translated into the language of the people who are implementing transportation policy — people like the bureaucrats at the NCTCOG — then nothing will ever get done.
On the whole, Tumlin said that the near future of Dallas will be critical to the city’s transformation. Will big and bigger highways and regionalism de-emphasize Dallas as a central power, or will more mass transit and human-scaled projects bring the kind of critical mass back to Dallas that it needs to thrive in the future?
That’s the big question.