The historic Winnetka Heights neighborhood in North Oak Cliff had a big win this Wednesday at City Hall. The city’s thoroughfare plan was amended to take away the 12th St. Connector, knitting the neighborhood back together with parks and open space. It was a change 40 years in the making, with some of the original residents still part of the fight.
When cars became big in Oak Cliff and everywhere else, Tyler and Polk streets were made into a one-way couplet, and this connector, installed in 1967, allowed northbound traffic to reach West Jefferson Road by skipping the Jefferson St commercial core. More importantly it has allowed first responders (located at Polk and 12th streets) to access the neighborhood to the north more quickly.
The election of Dallas City Council member and mayoral hopeful Scott Griggs to the District 1 seat in 2011 is a big reason we’re seeing this change.
“The project got legs when Scott joined council” says Lee Ruiz, president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association. “He understands the new urbanist feel of how neighborhoods should be.”
Conversations began with City of Dallas staff and elected officials in 1981 when the neighborhood association formed and work began to dedicate the area as a Conservation District. But the project wasn’t a priority.
“Our neighborhood is known for its tenaciousness,” says Ruiz.
The 2016 Tyler-Polk two-way conversion was the first step, allowing first responders quicker access. Funding was prioritized in the 2017 bond program for the project. A contract was sent to bid in 2018, was executed by City Council in December with IEA, Inc., and Urban Engineers Group for streetscape and urban design. Work began this month.
Another small win was getting a landscape architect on the design team to ensure the project includes the nuance and creativity to achieve the neighbors’ vision. Oak Cliff local celebrity designer Kevin Sloan of Kevin Sloan Studios was selected.
Wednesday’s thoroughfare plan amendment was the final step to make the project official.
Preservation efforts had begun in Winnetka Heights 1972 with Mary Griffith. When Realtor Diane Sherman moved to Winnetka Heights in 1979, historic district designation was the goal. The nomination process included a survey of the neighborhood. The 12th Street Connector was identified as the single most intrusive change made to Winnetka Heights. And now, in considering the neighborhood for National Historic Designation, the connector was identified as the most intrusive element for the neighborhood.
“We did this once before,” says Sherman, “We changed the thoroughfare plan in the 1980s. Edgefield was scheduled to be a secondary thoroughfare, and we changed it to a Neighborhood Collector, so it’s designed to funnel traffic, it doesn’t speed it up.”
The project will also be similar to the recent road closure at Davis and Rosemont, where a small connector street has become an on-street neighborhood park. “That was a stepping stone to this project,” says Sherman.
“It’s about neighborhood tranquility, neighborhood reclamation and so many things. A better stronger connector with nature.” says Nick Dean, a local architect involved in this recent change.
The 12th Street Connector project’s scope of work will include the removal of the six-lane connector, restoration of the original grid of residential streets, alleys and city-owned utilities (water and wastewater mains and drainage system) and conversion of the created open spaces to a chain of landscaped public spaces or pocket parks with amenities such as benches and enhanced walkways.
- The project will officially kick off in the design phase in the beginning of February.
- Surveying and conceptual design will take place over the first three months.
- In April/May of 2019 scheduling meetings with the public and Winnetka Heights stakeholders to share project status and schedule, conceptual plans and gather stakeholder input. This will be the first of 2 or 3 public meetings for the project
- Scheduled design completion by end of 2019 then bid and awarded for construction in Spring of 2020
- Construction from mid-2020 to mid-2021.