I spent some time Sunday afternoon on the second level of the parking deck over at Preston Center, west side. Exciting, I know. I was trying to visualize the renderings of the proposed sky bridge that Crow wants to build to the second floor of the Preston Pavilion. And stay tuned, ’cause I’m going back Tuesday afternoon with the folks from Crow.
I planned to call Rick Williamson, president of the Crosland Group, but he called me first. There is no one who knows or understands traffic in that area like Rick. For one, he has worked in the area for years, and his Berkshire Court office overlooks the parking garage. He and Luke Crosland have, for years, dreamed up improvements for that parking garage. He walks the streets of Preston Center daily and drives through the traffic several times a day going to meetings, visiting properties they own and going home to Frisco, where he sits on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Even more, Rick has a really personal interest in the traffic situation in Preston Center. He is still recovering from several injuries he sustained last October when he was literally RUN OVER, as a pedestrian, while walking across Westchester Drive. A woman backing up to grab a parking space she had passed in front of Chipolte backed right over him two weeks before his wedding. Like me, he constantly sees people break traffic law — back up down the annoying one-way streets (GUILTY!), beat others for the scarce parking slots, zip around a standing UPS truck because you are running late to an appointment.
Rick tells me the impact of the sky bridge on this area is huge — and the City of Dallas must look at it holistically:
CD: Rick, you don’t object to having a grocery store in the Pavilion, right?
Rick: No, a grocery store use is allowed by right in the space. I don’t think it does a lot for the rest of Preston Center since most people don’t browse for luggage or jewelry or clothes before they buy groceries. They certainly don’t browse afterwards with milk in the car. I just object to the deliberate diversion of traffic from Douglas Avenue to the internal, walkable area of Preston Center.
CD: About how many extra cars would this put on Westchester etc. a day?
Rick: According to the City’s analysis in their briefing materials, it would be somewhere between 2,700 and 4,400 cars per day, and double those numbers for “trips”, as the traffic engineers measure. After all, you have to come and go. Even based on industry numbers from the Food Marketing Institute, it will generate 2,200 cars per day. That means a car every 23 seconds added to Westchester Dr from 8am to 10pm 365 days a year.
CD: Do you think this proposed design will suck up any of the parking slots on the second floor of the deck?
Rick: It will do so in two ways. First, the actual number of parking spaces in the deck will be decreased because of removing spaces for the connection of the sky bridge, the cart corrals, the now proposed elevator and the additional handicap spaces required by code. Some of these spaces may be made up by making even more compact spaces on the deck, because we all go grocery shopping in our Smart cars. The second way is the actual parking of the grocery shoppers. A 50,000 square foot grocery store is required to have 250 parking spaces by code. That would be more than half the top level of the deck. Currently, every day between 11 and 2:30, the deck is full. Only before 9 in the morning and after 4;30 is the deck able to handle those numbers of additional parking. The top level of the deck has always been used as parking for the employees of the retail businesses surrounding the deck. The lower level has a three hour limit.
CD: So you would rather see them keep the traffic in the rear parking lot, off Douglas? They say grocery carts will spiral downwards because of the steep slant.
Rick: Then perhaps a grocery or other “shopping cart required” use is not ideal. Or perhaps the grocer needs to invest in the carts with breaks. The problem is that the grocery store wants to face Westchester and to do that, the rear of the store faces their garage and you can’t enter a grocery store through the freezer. And the last plan I saw for the newly striped parking deck had cart corrals at the top of the ramps for the deck, so they can roll down into the Preston Center traffic
CD: What if the developer had to make some improvements to the garage in exchange for getting the sky bridge? (They say they will do $1.1 million in improvements.)
Rick: Improvements to the garage won’t change the parking situation, the overall impression of the area. The on-going Land Use Study led by Councilmember Jennifer Gates and representatives of stakeholders in and around Preston Center, should be allowed to study a static area, not an ever-changing landscape. The deck area is the jewel in the crown for the Study and it needs to remain unencumbered until the study is completed. That is the overarching goal that has brought many diverse interests together for the first time to try to resolve, in a global sense, the traffic, visual, infrastructure and development issues in and around Preston Center and to find innovative ways to connect the area to the single family neighborhoods that surround us.
CD: You tell me Crow will need to build supports on Westchester, the street, to hold the weight of the sky bridge. How do you think that will impact the area?
Rick: I have only seen the plans submitted to the City. I have not been contacted by the Crow folks, although we are the second largest property owner around the deck and also have our own internal parking garage. The plans I saw indicate support columns for the sky bridge in the sidewalk and a parking space in front of the Pavilion and in the middle of the little bitty sidewalk that runs under the deck along Westchester, probably forcing people into the street to get around it. That’s the way they can make the sky bridge self-supporting and not technically “attach” to the deck. Of course, the City doesn’t usually allow such columns in City right of way. Nor does the City usually allow a 60 foot wide sky bridge (the limit is only 20 feet), a sky bridge 14 feet off the ground (the requirement is 18 feet) or for the sky bridge to connect to a building at an angle greater than 30 degrees. These are all variances that the proposed sky bridge requires from the City.
CD: What improvements would you ultimately like to see for the parking garage? Could the PCW Parking Corp. ever agree?
Rick: Well, the Preston Center West Parking Corp. has only the power to manage the parking deck, providing security and maintenance, utility service and insurance for the deck on behalf of the City of Dallas and for the benefit of Preston Center. All rights to use the deck are vested in the individual owners of the properties surrounding the deck. It is the owners who must agree, not the parking corporation.
I’m a developer, so I would really love to see a residential use to create a 24 hour presence and help the retail in the area and reduce overall traffic, public green space to add to the 6 trees currently in Preston Center, more parking, internal circulation for the garage instead of using the surrounding streets. But, as I said, I am going to participate in the Land Use Study and find out what the consensus best use is and push for that. It may be a park with underground parking or something else we can’t fathom at this time. That deck is one of the greatest assets that the City of Dallas owns and it needs to be built to its ultimate best use for the good of Preston Center and the welfare of the City.