Monday evening saw the latest installment of Councilwoman Jennifer Gates’ Preston Road and Northwest Highway Task Force Meetings. It renewed my belief that the only thing missing from Texas politics are footlights. Molly would have been in hog heaven (versus the real one she’s in now).
I’d describe many of the attendees as being Republican red on the outside and Democrat blue on the inside. It never ceases to amaze me the number of Republicans whose conservatism decreases the closer an idea or action gets to them and/or their home. Let’s call them NIMBY Republicans.
NIMBY Republicans are often seen shouting drill baby drill, big business, small government, no regulation … until it effects them. At which point the placards shoot up from the sweater-on-the-shoulder set. Of course, the kerfuffle surrounding the Preston Road and Northwest Highway intersection is a perfect example.
Old Preston Hollow (as task force member Laura Miller described it) is up in arms about Mark Cuban clearing his lots along the north side of Northwest Highway (which, to contain Cuban, seems to pit them against any development in the area). The Preston Center merchants are split about the proposed skybridge. The Pink Wall folks are whirligigging over Transwestern’s modest zoning request.
The only reason these folks have their knickers in a wad is because it’s personal. If it were any other intersection in the city, they’d likely be home watching Wheel of Fortune wondering what all the fuss was about
Here are the juicy bits…
The task force is trying to raise $100,000 of the estimated $350,000 needed to fund a consultant to come up with a plan. Personally, if the city won’t even fund the study, how in hell are any of the recommendations going to get funded?
On this point, history is on our side. In 1986, there was a traffic and usage study undertaken. The city adopted all of its recommendations…and as far as anyone can tell, implemented none. In 1989, another study was done. Again the City Council adopted most of the recommendations…and seemingly implemented none. One of the recommendations from 1989 was to update the traffic study surrounding Preston Center every five years. Twenty-six years later, not a single additional traffic study has been done.
Based on history, what are the chances anything contained in this task force’s plan will ever be implemented? Oh sure, the City Council may “adopt” the plan’s recommendations, but I foresee another do-nothing plan eking out life as a dust cemetary. Meanwhile, Old Preston Hollow grinds everything to a halt, in the name of “the plan,” just to stop Cuban.
A Zone 4 resident-attendee voiced criticism that neither of the representatives for Zone 4 (“Behind the Pink Wall”) really have a vested (or residential) interest in the area. Representative Patti Niles recently sold her residence and is now renting for an unspecified period of time. The other representative, Steve Dawson, no longer lives in Zone 4 but apparently in Zone 3 (no room in the Zone 3 inn?). According to a show of hands by the remaining task force members, all the other residential zones are being represented by current owner-occupants of their respective zones. Ms. Gates reiterated her support for both Zone 4 representatives.
But to my eyes, it looks like the Zone 4 representation is a little suspicious considering the current proposal by Transwestern to redevelop the tattered northeast corner of Preston and Northwest Highway. Zone 4 is represented by advocates without personal consequence from any decision. I seem to recall a cry heard a while back, “No taxation without representation.” This seems a corollary situation.
Northwest Highway Road Improvements (Sorta)
TXDoT spoke of an already-in-progress plan for Northwest Highway that includes the Preston Center area. It runs for several miles east along Northwest Highway beginning at Luna Road. In early 2016, a second left-turn lane is already scheduled to be added to westbound Northwest Highway at Preston (turning south). At first blush, this sounds like a great way to double the amount of southbound Preston Road traffic through the Northwest Highway intersection…except for one thing.
There’s currently a traffic signal on Preston Road at Berkshire Lane just 295’ south of the Northwest Highway intersection (California Pizza Kitchen corner). It’s already a whacking-great bottleneck for southbound traffic. Think about it, an average car takes up 17’ including gaps between cars, that’s only 17.35 cars worth of space (cars routinely stack up because Berkshire is often “red” – often for no apparent reason). TXDoT’s plan will double the number of left turning cars into a tiny space already overflowing with cars.
The ONLY hope of trying to clear Preston Road south is to relocate the light at Berkshire to Sherry Lane at the very south of Preston Center. Why isn’t TXDoT including this obvious problem in their plans? The Berkshire traffic signal is controlled by University Park. So what could’ve been a positive part of the traffic solution at that intersection will fail miserably because of the light at Berkshire.
There was also talk about the poor timing of traffic signals (as I pointed out here). Councilwoman Gates reiterated what we already know. The City of Dallas traffic control infrastructure is old, ineffective and I’d guess, far from state-of-the-art when purchased. And even though all this work is happening on Northwest Highway, it’ll still hamstrung by Dallas’ shoddy infrastructure. As Ms. Gates said, the current signal system may allow for a few different traffic patterns to switch during a day (e.g. morning rush, evening rush and weekends), but it will be YEARS before true smart signals are implemented (“if ever” if you ask me).
Growing up in Chicago, these types of smart signals (only turning when a car is waiting) were in common usage when I got my driver’s license over 35 years ago … and lord knows how long they’d been there before I took to terrorizing the roads!
Preston Center Parking: A Tangle of Christmas Lights
Much to-do has been made about the parking lot at the center of Preston Center. As usual, its ownership is a complete CF (look it up). Back in the 1950s, the lot was owned by the merchants who were too cheap and shortsighted to pave or build a parking structure. So they asked the City of Dallas to do it … and they did, but not before taking ownership with a Quitclaim Deed that gave the city the lot but granted rights of access to the merchants surrounding the parking lot.
BUT, the City was in a lawsuit in the 1990s to determine ownership (because of course, it was a mess) for redevelopment purposes. The judge said that the area can only be used for parking, roads and things like sidewalks UNLESS, all the owners approve redeveloping the site (because of their right of use/access granted in the 1950s).
What this means to me, is that the parking structure will stay a parking structure until a developer brings forth a plan 100% of the surrounding owners approve of. In other words, only a business/use that does not compete with ANY of their current businesses and that brings additional traffic to their doorstep. That’s a tall order and so likely nothing spiffy is going to be happening there without blood being shed (or palms greased). At best, the current garage can only be demolished and added to without the surrounding landowners’ approval if it remains a parking structure — and who’s going to pay for that?
The skybridge proposed by (Harlan, not Trammel) Crow Holdings seems a pretty easy thing. Because of the parking garage usage ascribed to the properties it owns, Crow Holdings has rights to 40 percent of the available parking in the structure (as well as an obligation to pay for 40-percent of its maintenance). So for this to even be a discussion point is mildly daffy even were we not to consider the skybridge would be removable if at some point Preston Center gets its act together on redevelopment. But that, my friends, is the proverbial herding of chickens by a bunch of cats.
See Molly? You’d have loved this!