Preston Center Task Force Delivers Data That Might (And Might Not) Surprise You

Preston Center Arial Pic

Earlier this year, I wrote about a ballot that was distributed in Pink Wall territory whose greatest take-away was that surprisingly few cared to vote. Apathy was certainly the tenor of this installment of the Preston Center Task Force (PCTF). Half of the appointed Task Force members didn’t even show and the five members of the “unwashed public” could have cleaned themselves up with a hotel-sized bar of soap.

To put this in perspective, there are a total of 6,736 people living within the study area and five people showed … FIVE. I’m sure you all remember the falderal about Transwestern’s apartment complex and the bemoaning angst that’s caused. My take-away from this is that people are largely uninterested with planning but are quick to brandish pitch-forks after the fact.

Oh, Transwestern? The representatives from task force zones 2 and 3 which border the proposed complex and who have raised the most hackles were among the missing. De facto foot-stamper Laura Miller was also otherwise engaged (although she did get a shout-out for successfully cajoling her Rolodex to donate cash to the now fully funded plan).

As for me, I’m a self-described “hopeful pessimist,” figuring the city will shirk implementation of whatever may be recommended but hopeful that something good comes of this exercise … and I recorded missed Big Bang Theory to be there!

The data was largely unsurprising but had points of insight. This was a first crunch of a larger data set that’s not complete, so it’s bound to be rough.

Task Force Area by Race

The Unsurprising
While there was interesting data presented, some of it was a surprise to no one. For example, the Preston Center task force area is REALLY, REALLY WHITE … like 6,197 people out of 6,736 white. The un-white number just 539 … I wonder how many are live-in staff? And black residents are apparently so scarce they only get a thicker line versus an actual segment. Anyone surprised? Nope. Anyone besides me a little ashamed and embarrassed? I hope so.

Task Force Area by Age

Additionally un-astonishing is the age make-up of the area. Anyone who’s read my columns on high-rise demographics (here, here, here) knows that age often colors opinions and amenability to change. The Preston Center area is three times as old as the city of Dallas generally (which isn’t far off the national Census age breakdowns). But the smaller 18-34 and larger 35-64 age brackets means fewer children under 18 years old. I’m sure a good deal of this segmentation is the result of the cost to live in the area. Again, no big surprise.

Task Force Area by Income

Finally comes the un-electrifying data that shows the Preston Center area is pretty seriously well-heeled. Clearly with home prices and sizes what they are in the area, while you don’t necessarily need Cuban coin, you need some serious income. While the city of Dallas counts 18 percent of residents as making above $100,000 annually, the Preston Center area has 57-percent in the six-figure pool.

At the end of the day, we’re not shocked that the Preston Center area skews towards the Liquid Paper white, heavily wealthed, grey haired salon-pigmented posse.

Task Force Tapestry Segments

To further the demographic data, information from a company called Esri out of California sells a huge variety of differing data types that were mapped against the Preston Center area. The presenter said that he’d never come across a community with just three types of residents (Esri has defined 67 categories). If you look at the area covering a five-mile radius from Preston Center, you see many different types of resident profiles. But look at the Preston Center area and it’s as old-rich-white bread as they come. Again, no surprise at the lack of diversity of any kind.

Conclusions from the “Unsurprising”
Many residents have spoken about a desire for walkability and a youthful vibrancy similar to Bishop Arts, but the demographics don’t support it. “Hip,” “trendy,” and “cool” are the antithesis of “retirement communities,” “golden years,” and “top tier.”

Organic trendiness like Bishop Arts comes about because young people (demographic) could experiment in an inexpensive (economic) laboratory to target their own community. The data shows that the Preston Center area doesn’t have the demographic or economic ability to trigger this kind of change.

Alternatively, planned trendiness (which isn’t trendiness at all) like West Village is built to attract higher-income residents who can support established, higher-ticket outposts of regional or national businesses who can afford the rents.

Preston Center East is already more West Village-like. Preston Center West has the element of dilapidation without the younger residents and affordable rents needed to attract organic trendiness.

In the end, there is a fundamental disconnect between what’s seemingly desired by residents and the ability to economically attract the catalyst to deliver those desires.

What’s also problematic is that between North Park and Highland Park Village, the area is saturated with the type of high-end retail that naturally appeals to the majority of Preston Center residents. Chanel and Hermes don’t really need another boutique 2.3 miles away.

Put a pin in those thoughts and I’ll tie this together at the end…but first there was some interesting data presented.

Task Force Area Walkability

One of the chief comments from the zone meetings was a desire for walkability. The (teeny-tiny) chart above tells us why walkability is so difficult to achieve. The blue lines are current sidewalks. I’m not sure of the history that resulted in virtually no sidewalks in Preston Hollow (UP has them). Was it to keep “undesirables” out? To make the area feel more “rural?”  Were curbing, sewers, and sidewalks originally eliminated to save money? I don’t know. But the result doesn’t fit with residents’ desired outcomes today.

Task Force Area Trees

Yes, another microscopic chart (I wanted to give you the “full” experience of being there!). This shows the tree coverage and waterways. Water we can’t do much about, but the tree coverage doesn’t look too bad. My best guess is that the white areas reflect roads, surface parking lots, and not a few McMansions who flattened their lots before building their dream imitation Spanish hacienda with Greco-Roman accents. The grey areas are existing structures. The area could to better, but all-in-all, not bad.

The REALLY INTERESTING data – Traffic
The charts for this section were REALLY impossible to read shrunk down, so you’ll have to trust me. Or you could download the raw data here and here, but here are some highlights.

I’ll start out easy. The consultants found that every traffic signal on Northwest Highway within the measurement area is “Not Functioning Properly.” Adding awe to shock, all of the traffic signals within Preston Center on Douglas are similarly “Not Functioning Properly.” The Preston Road signals between the Preston Centers were left out (controlled by University Park) but assumedly are also in the “Not Functioning” boat. FYI, “Not Functioning Properly” means that while the signals still turn red, yellow and green, they’re as synchronized as  cats being sprayed by a hose. On the upside, we were told that the work currently adding to your ulcer on Northwest Highway will also include replacement of the traffic signals.

The really complicated stuff comes in when you start looking at the analysis of auto traffic counts at area intersections. The consultants counted traffic (straight and turning) on all major and minor roadways in the area (although not every neighborhood street). Turning data tells you many things. It primarily shows where cars are coming from and going to at different times of the day (in this case specifically during AM/PM rush hours). It also gives an idea of the extent  of cut-through traffic (or the lack of it).

Understanding this data tells you where people live and where they work. With the complete data set (which we didn’t see – nor would we likely quickly understand), trip patterns can be understood. They can uncover what percentage of people are going to/from the Preston Center area and how many are traversing it to get elsewhere. This is a concept I wrote about in my own traffic plan. It’s important to discourage traffic fixes that increase traversals – traffic for traffic’s sake with no local benefit.

At Preston Road and Northwest Highway, nearly double the number of cars turn north onto Preston during the evening rush. I read this as saying that in the morning, other roadways are more efficient for northern commuters to travel south than Preston. I also see that Preston is used by more people commuting from northern homes to southern offices than the reverse.

East-West traffic on Northwest Highway is pretty balanced. What goes one way in the morning, pretty much returns in the evening. The majority of this traffic is traversal traffic – unsurprising as it’s a major roadway between two highways.

Douglas Avenue: The majority of rush hour traffic enters and exits Preston Center (offices?) onto Northwest Highway via Douglas. Preston-originating traffic enters via Sherry Lane.

Lomo Alto Drive (east Tollway frontage road): Proving my point that Preston Center is disadvantaged by not having a midway Tollway cross-point between Northwest Highway and Lovers, the consultants recorded significant traffic coming from the South (likely from the Lovers exit) to enter Preston Center south of Northwest Hwy. A cross-point linking Preston Center (at Colgate) to Eastern Avenue would send some of the Tollway/Northwest Hwy congestion south to the Lovers tollway entrance.

The Tollway: The Tollway is another roadway that shows some balance with a <10-percent variance between cars coming from/going to the north. This means that people leaving/arriving in the morning/evening are pretty much the same people. Traffic coming/going from the south is more difficult to decipher. Because of the multiple feeders to Lomo Alto it’s not possible to understand the correlation with the single-feeder Northwest Hwy. southbound turning patterns.

Side Streets: Park Lane with its Tollway overpass is busier than other side-streets, but even it’s not hopping with rush hour traffic. On either side of Preston Road, Park Lane gets a max of under 2-cars a minute. Northwood Drive averages a car every two minutes. Hotly contested Averill Way manages a car every 40-seconds at best. These numbers further debunks the myth of huge swathes of cut-through traffic.

Preston Center PARKING
It’s not as bad as you think unless you hate the parking garage in Preston Center West and only want to park in spaces located in front of the business you’re visiting … then it sucks. But if you’re willing to brave the crappy central garage, you will almost always find a space – even at lunch! Yes, the car-counters found that on the Thursday they visited, there were still over 130 spaces free on the upper deck during lunch – which is still the only time parking is even slightly an issue.

Isn’t it funny that the same people who kvetch about not being able to park directly in front of CVS in one breath then whine about the poor walkability of the area?

Summary

  • The area is old, wealthy, and white, but also green (except Preston Center).
  • The area is car-based versus pedestrian, bicycle or public transit-based.
  • The traffic control that exists in the area is ancient and broken (but getting fixed … mostly).
  • The socio-economics of the area make it unlikely to incubate the organic trendiness residents see in other parts of Dallas. The fractured ownership of Preston Center West makes planned trendiness difficult.
  • Traffic and parking are not what you probably believe.
  • The area is unlikely to attract high-end retail

As I combine these bullets with global trends. something interesting emerges. The most expensive and untenable development is to plow up more fields for more sprawl. It’s been proven that sprawl is economically unsustainable in the long-term. Sure for the first decades, everything’s rosy. But after that the repairs outstrip the municipality’s ability to maintain the infrastructure. Dallas, like many cities is experiencing this first hand.

Dallas was built for the car with generally centralized services requiring longer travel. Over the years that’s broken down into regional centers that have reduced the distances required for work and play (Galleria, Lakewood, etc.). Currently those regions are sub-dividing again into neighborhoods. This is the opposite of cities built largely before the car where neighborhoods were strung together to form a city.

The plan for Preston Center rests on the ability of local residents and landowners to scale back their big dreams to create a “small town” that reduces travel and encourages car-less conveniences. To do this, businesses would have to be primarily neighborhood-focused shops, services and entertainments – like a town.

New commercial high-rises should contain three elements – ground-floor retail/restaurant, mid-level office, and upper-level residential that is affordable to a large proportion of the jobs created by the office space. Existing high-rises should look to see how their ground floor space could be repurposed into retail and restaurants. Considering all the services-type businesses with low-paying jobs, some accommodation must be made to house workers nearby. After all, they’re vital and least able to pay for long commutes (especially when gas jumps back up). Are live/work arrangements where business tenants get a break on residential rent an answer?

In creating a type of small town, Preston Center can move slightly away from old, white, and rich to attract the socio-economic diversity that’s key to successfully rejuvenating the area to the benefit of all.

It reminds me of a stat I heard decades ago … “80 percent of car accidents occur within 10 miles of home.” This wasn’t because the 10 miles surrounding home were more dangerous, it’s because 80 percent of our time is spent within 10-miles. To make Preston Center a success economically and to improve residents’ quality of life, the goal should be to attract development that ensures a higher percentage of residents’ time is spent within walking, not driving, distance of home.

Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com

2 Comment