Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tear Down Central Expressway - cont.

All around the world, highways are being torn down and waterfronts reclaimed; decades of thinking about cars and cities reversed; new public spaces created.
Michael Kimmerman, of The New York Times, reviews the cities around the world that are rethinking highways. Madrid is nearly finished burying a highway and restoring a river to create a six mile long park called Madrid Río. Seoul uncovered five miles of a paved-over river to create the Cheonggyecheon recreation area. San Francisco decided to take down the Embarcadero Freeway and not rebuild it after it was heavily damaged in the 1989 earthquake.

After the jump, the outlook close to home.



Robert Decherd is the CEO of the company that owns The Dallas Morning News and is rumored to be tapped by the City of Dallas to update the city's master parks plan. Unfair Park's Jim Schutze references a quote by Robert Decherd in a story by Rudy Bush in The Dallas Morning News:
I've always believed parks are the precursor of important development in the urban environment. The core can't succeed only as a result of commercial real estate development.
Source: Unfair Park.

Schutze is dubious of Decherd's intentions. He bemoans "the stubborn determination of city leaders to ruin what could be one of the world's most exciting urban parks by sticking an unneeded, unfunded, unwanted and unsafe expressway right on top of the Trinity River."

So, I'm under no illusions about how easy it is to make a 180 degree change in urban design. I recognize that my dream of tearing down Central Expressway in Richardson and replacing it with a boulevard that's people-scaled is just a dream (almost certainly, most likely, probably, who knows?).

Still, if anything, these stories from Madrid, Seoul, San Francisco and elsewhere just make me dream even bigger. I used to dream of ways to punch through Central Expressway to better integrate east and west Richardson. Now I imagine, not just a grand boulevard replacing Central Expressway, but a miles-long Central Park in Richardson, drawing people to the park and development along the fringes.

Practical? Maybe not. But it's an inspiring alternative to the depressing redevelopment plans that bring us proposals for things like more gas stations to feed the insatiable appetite of cars.

3 comments:

Nathan Morgan said...

Mark,

Thanks for sharing your fantasy. I remember passing through Richardson on Highway 75 in the 60's when the roadway was only about ten years old. Old man Kessler had dreamed about building it back in 1911. After settling a squabble with the railroad, it was shovel ready and under construction in the 1920's.

Like you, I lament the consequences of short-sighted urban planning. Back when North Central Expressway was constructed, it brought the commercial traffic that was the cause of one of the largest periods of growth Richardson experienced. A few years ago a by-pass lane was added for people who just want to get passed through it. Now, it has grown into a geographic barrier between the economically beleaguered east side and the dogmatic west.

Richardson has a somewhat colorful history but a very poor collection of it. I have often wondered why Richardson's public records are destroyed instead of preserved for citizen reflection. My suspicion is that there may be an even longer history of the character of government it enjoys today. If any of the stories some of the old timers have told me are remotely accurate, this would make sense.

As far as the highway that bi-sects the town, I'd say you are a bit late to the debate on its worth and design. That's not to say your input would have made a difference. Take, for example, the recent addition of the HOV lane and the colossal screw up of the High-5 design. There are numerous examples around the state of similar errors in design by the same group of engineers. Aggies?

John Sweeden once told me Richardson squandered a great opportunity in not supporting the original plan to have Main Street one-way, with Polk the other. There were apparently some stubborn city visionaries in charge back then, too. Consider how different the character of Richardson could have been today. Development might have occurred in the center of town instead of spread out across its countryside with pockets of special interest fuelling the blight of the areas that have been neglected. The city's financial resources have been diverted to, and disbursed in other areas of town.

The infrastructure of the old down town was left to crumble. Similarly, Richardson on both sides of North Central Expressway is right up there with the ugliest stretch of highway I've seen in any Texas town.

To point out problems without offering suggestions for solutions raises the ire. Richardson's condition likely did not come as a consequence of absent citizen concern. Nor, did not come overnight. And, its problems are not the result of insufficient natural resources and economic base to make it one of the finest cities on the Texas map. I would submit the town suffers from poor management and the ambitions of a small cabal in which political power has been rested. Had the public been engaged in the business being quietly conducted by city leaders, Richardson might have been one of those shining cities instead of merely a hollow public relations campaign.

Andrew said...

Remember this. If you see a proposal to close Young Street in front of Belo HQ or pedestrianize it in any way, then you heard it here first.

Re: Richardson and US-75. The east-west division along 75 is as much illusory as it is real. This is because 75 made a convenient zoning break for traditional Euclidian zoning so this highlights the physical divide.

With regard to removing freeways, I recommend going to http://www.design-e2.com/ and watch the video of Seoul: Stream of Consciousness. You can also get the DVD on Netflix.

The idea of road removal or narrowing roads is a very popular urban planning mechanism at the moment. Richardson could benefit from this. In fact, it already has in the form of bike lanes on certain streets.

Contrary to opinion of the moment of the previous author, most communities trying to pedestrianize their street environments will convert one way streets to two way streets. This construct however is not universal.

By the way, US-75 was laid out contrary to some vocal public opinion of that day. A vocal contingent wanted it to run up present day Coit Road. That would have put 75 on one border of the city and would have stifled the development of the city. Imagine if our only freeway had Dallas on one side and us on the other from 1954 until 190 eventually opened? So while 75 has its problems with the focus on pure automobile orientation, if we had listened to the NIMBY folks of that time then that is what we would have had. Luckily a few leaders stepped up and got the state to change the route.

Public input on planning decisions has changed since then with planning decisions becoming much more politicized.

Most of these freeway removal examples demonstrate cases where urban use patterns have changed and their removal is not impractical. I'm guessing you aren't going to see that on US-75.

There is much more to be said about this topic but I will leave it at that.

Mark Steger said...

Andrew, thanks for the history lesson. It's a fun exercise to imagine how Richardson would be different today had Central Expressway followed a Coit Rd route.

As for one-way streets, I'm against them. They are designed to speed cars through a bottleneck, not make it easier for people to reach destinations in that bottleneck. Like doctors using leeches, they might speed the blood flow, but the patient dies.

That reminds me, Richardson is working on some state or federal funding for Main Street (MCIP 12105). I don't know what that is, but fear that the money will be used to buy leeches, maybe not one-way streets, but something equally harmful to street life downtown.