Monday, June 8, 2015

Highway Planner Sees Handwriting on Wall

Some in Richardson see projects like CityLine and Palisades as conspiracies between government and developers to rip off the little guy -- usually homeowners who already own a house in Richardson. Conspiracy theorists predict housing prices will drop as new apartments go up nearby. Simultaneously, housing prices (and property taxes) will go up as an influx of new jobs increases demand for nearby housing. (Cognitive dissonance doesn't afflict conspiracy theorists.) If they wanted to live in a high-density urban environment, they say, they'd have bought a condo in downtown Dallas. If Richardson keeps trying to increase density and force people to ride trains and bikes, they'll have to move to somewhere like Frisco or McKinney that's still in love with cars and sprawl.

You just know there's a "but" coming, don't you? The "but" here is that the trend towards mixed-use, high-density development is indeed happening, but it's not because of a conspiracy, either local (Richardson's mayor's recent behavior) or global (Agenda 21).

The trend is because of a growing awareness of the challenges brought by suburban sprawl. Paradoxically, even the head of one of the agencies most responsible for the spread of highways across our region, North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) transportation director Michael Morris, is now saying that "as far as transportation infrastructure goes, the push northward isn't sustainable."

According to The Dallas Morning News, Morris said that:
instead of an ever-extending transit network, the solution is dense infill developments where highway capacity and rail service already exist. "The more development you can get to locate to areas that already have adequate transportation, the less you have to then build in the green-field areas," Morris said in a subsequent interview.
It's not like Frisco has found the formula to keep the suburban sprawl mode of growth going forever. Even Frisco, the archetype of sprawl, is being drawn inexorably towards high-density, mixed-use development,
Frisco has $5 billion worth of mixed-use, high-density development planned along the Dallas North Tollway. But the city, like most of Collin County’s fastest growers, isn’t a member of one of the region’s three primary transit agencies.
Frisco bet the farm on highways and now finds itself boxed into a corner on transportation. Now even NCTCOG, historically the agency most attuned to laying concrete out to sprawling suburbs like Frisco, is awakening to the fact that building ever more freeways is no longer feasible. The greater the sprawl, the greater the demand on the network of roads to keep up. Eventually, the whole system bogs down (see Herb Stein's Law: "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.") That's what Morris might finally be seeing in the future for north Texas.

So, too, are businesses awakening to this realization. That's why there is growing interest in infill developments like CityLine and Palisades. This would happen with or without government/developer conspiracies, with or without crony capitalism. It's an expected and natural reaction to the unsustainability of sprawl.

Voters in Richardson might think they can reverse the forces of nature if they could just elect a different city council. But any city council is going to have to deal with the same forces. Mixed-use, high-density development is in Richardson's future no matter who sits in city hall. We can hope to manage it so the benefits accrue to all and not mainly the wheelers and dealers in real estate, but we can't hope to stop it. That's clear when even the highway planners see the handwriting on the wall.

1 comment:

Sassy Texan said...

Show one city where mass transit actually works the density? New York? Chicago? San Fran? Where does it work? People still drive and streets are still impossible to travel. Even by bike. Look at the financials and it tells you it doesn't.

But someone keeps selling it to have something to do, I guess. Interestingly, Agenda21 is a big seller of density and water conservation, mass transit and being green. Kermit-itis. Hard to be green with a bunch of concrete and temps 10-15 degrees higher than the outlying areas where the air is fresh and ground is dirt. But who reads that conspiracy crap? Right?

Cheri Duncan-Hubert