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The Pendulum Swings Away From Highways on the Dallas City Council

Half of the Dallas City Council now opposes the construction of a six-lane, limited-access highway along the Trinity River. Image: Army Corps of Engineers via Dallas Morning News

A runoff election Saturday has solidified who’s in and who’s out of the Dallas City Council. At stake were the future of two highway projects: the construction of the Trinity Toll Road and the removal of I-345 to make way for walkable development. Highway opponents gained ground, though not enough for a majority.

Before the election, four of 14 votes on the City Council consistently opposed the construction of the Trinity and supported removing I-345. Then in the May election, two candidates endorsed by A New Dallas, a PAC supporting the I-345 teardown, picked up seats. With the 35-vote victory victory on Saturday of Adam McGough, it appears that the council is now split on both highway issues.

McGough is the former chief of staff to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, the Trinity Toll Road’s chief booster. But late in the campaign he expressed opposition to Alternative 3C, the design that involves building a six-lane high-speed road alongside the Trinity River. McGough explicitly called for 3C to be rejected and said he supports a smaller four-lane road instead.

McGough also supports the effort to replace I-345 with surface streets. His runoff win puts him in a bloc along with Mark Clayton and Carolyn King Arnold, the newly elected council members, and the four sitting highway opponents.

With the City Council split 7-7, the pro-walkability camp remains one vote shy of a decisive majority. But in Dallas’s weak-mayor system, it is significantly stronger than before the election. As the Dallas Morning News reports, “the toll road will always be a bumpy ride for the mayor” and “the lopsided votes of the past in favor of the Trinity project now become closer.”

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Toronto City Council Blows Its Chance to Transform Downtown

Toronto could have had a waterfront boulevard but the Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image: ##http://www.blogto.com/city/2015/06/toronto_votes_for_hybrid_option_on_east_gardiner/##Blog TO##

Toronto could have replaced its downtown elevated highway with a surface boulevard, but the City Council voted to keep an elevated highway instead. Image via Blog TO

Tearing down Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway would remove a hulking blight from downtown, improve access to the waterfront, open up land for walkable development, and save hundreds of millions of dollars compared to rebuilding the highway.

But that didn’t convince the City Council.

In a 24-21 vote yesterday, the Council opted to rebuild the aging Gardiner with some minor modifications instead of pursuing the “boulevard” option that would have removed a 1.7-kilometer segment of the highway.

Replacing the elevated road with a surface street would have cost $137 million less upfront (in Canadian dollars) than rebuilding it, and nearly $500 million less in total costs over the next 100 years.

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Decision Time for Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway

gardiner

The “hybrid” proposal favored by Mayor John Tory would rebuild the Gardiner East Expressway at twice the cost of tearing it down, and it won’t even move any more traffic. Image: Globe and Mail

Toronto is facing a critical decision about the aging elevated Gardiner East Expressway. Will Canada’s largest city go ahead with the plan to replace the one-mile-long concrete relic with a surface boulevard and walkable development? Or will it cling to yesterday’s infrastructure?

Toronto's Gardiner East Expressway. Photo: Gardinereast.ca

Toronto’s Gardiner East Expressway. Photo: Gardinereast.ca

The debate has been heating up ahead of a key City Council meeting next week.

A poll released Monday showed a plurality of Toronto residents prefer tearing down the Gardiner to rebuilding it. Among respondents, 45 percent supported the teardown, compared to 33 percent who favored rebuilding. The remaining respondents didn’t know enough to answer or didn’t like either option.

Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory this week reiterated his opposition to the teardown, saying, “I didn’t get elected to make traffic worse, and let’s be clear, removing that piece of the Gardiner will almost certainly make traffic worse.”

But just 3 percent of downtown Toronto workers commute on the Gardiner East. As teardown proponents have pointed out, the boulevard option doesn’t reduce traffic capacity compared to the rebuilding option supported by Tory, and even the feared decline in driving speeds is likely overhyped, given everything we now know about how drivers adjust to new conditions.

Tearing down the 1.7 kilometer road and replacing it with a boulevard, meanwhile, will cost about half as much as the mayor’s preferred “hybrid” proposal, which would rebuild the Gardiner East “with three of its support trusses/ramps slightly modified.”

Among the coalition supporting the teardown is the city’s chief planning official, Jennifer Keesmaat, who said it would allow the city to build connected “complete communities” within walking distance of downtown.

Part of the Gardiner was demolished in 2001 and replaced with a boulevard — and somehow Toronto managed to avoid grinding to a halt.

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Boston Says So Long to the Casey Overpass, a 1950s Highway Relic

The image shows plans for the at-grade street that will replace the overpass. Image: Arborwaymatters via MassDOT

The Casey Overpass will be replaced with an at-grade street. Image: Arborwaymatters via MassDOT

This month, Boston is demolishing a monument to 1950s-era car infrastructure: The Casey Overpass, a short elevated road built in 1955 to whisk drivers over the Forest Hills MBTA station in Jamaica Plain without encountering any pesky things like intersections or pedestrians.

The last car drove over the decrepit 1,600-foot-long structure just a few days ago, and construction crews have begun taking it apart. Soon the residents of Forest Hills will say goodbye forever to the hulking eyesore blighting their neighborhood.

The Casey Overpass had gotten so ? that it was down to just two extremely potholed lanes. Photo: Arborwaymatters

The lovely view beneath the Casey Overpass. Photo: Arborwaymatters

In its place, the state will construct an at-grade street with three lanes in each direction and a protected bike lane.

The road removal encountered its share of resistance along the way, including from a local bike shop owner, but the arguments for the teardown won out.

Removing the overpass will enable the creation of a more walkable street grid and reintegrate the neighborhood with Boston’s beloved “Emerald Necklace,” the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park system.

Tearing down the overpass also saved a lot of money compared to rebuilding it — about $21 million, according to the Boston Globe.

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Dallas Highway Teardown PAC Snags Two Council Seats. Next Up: Runoff

A coalition of Dallas residents trying to build a more walkable, people-friendly city gained some momentum in Tuesday’s election, picking up at least two City Council seats. At stake is the potential replacement of a downtown highway segment with mixed-use development and parks. The balance of power in the council now comes down to a June runoff.

The A New Dallas Coalition wants to tear down IH345, rebuild the urban fabric and change the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

A New Dallas wants to replace a downtown highway segment with walkable urban fabric, changing the transportation dynamic in the Big D. Image: A New Dallas

There were six open seats in the 14-member council, plus two incumbents facing challengers. Supporters of the highway teardown have to win four of the eight contested races to gain a majority on the council.

A New Dallas, the recently-launched political action committee which backs the highway teardown, endorsed candidates in four of the races for open seats. Co-founder Patrick Kennedy said the group was pleasantly surprised that two of its endorsed candidates — Mark Clayton and Carolyn King Arnold — got the necessary 50 percent to avoid a runoff altogether. The two other endorsees didn’t get into run-offs, but Kennedy said their campaigns influenced candidates who did, and the council’s position on the highway teardown will come down to the June election.

The coalition hopes to continue organizing on behalf of urban neighborhoods into the June runoff and well beyond, said Kennedy.

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re a legitimate political machine able to influence elections in just a few short months in operation, with strong grassroots neighborhood energy, business support, and a litany of very talented professionals volunteering their skills,” he said.

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Freeways Without Futures: I-345 in Dallas

In this Streetfilm, Patrick Kennedy, founder of A New Dallas, talks about the movement to replace Interstate 345 in downtown Dallas with connected streets and walkable development. Shot at the “Freeways Without Futures” session at the Congress for New Urbanism’s recent conference in Dallas, the piece provides views of I-345 from heights most people never get to see.

Kennedy was joined by Peter Park, who was instrumental in the removal of the Park East freeway in Milwaukee, and Ian Lockwood of the Toole Design Group. Their take on urban highways like I-345 was too powerful and logical to not share with the rest of the universe.

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Bronx Beep Ruben Diaz Calls on State DOT to Transform Sheridan Expressway

The effort to transform the Sheridan Expressway got a boost this morning from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who in his State of the Borough address called on the Cuomo administration to take action.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. says the Cuomo administration has to stop dragging its feet and transform the Sheridan Expressway. Photo: rubendiazjr/Twitter

The 2013 proposal from the Department of City Planning would turn the little-used stub highway in the South Bronx into a boulevard, opening up land for mixed-use development and removing a barrier to the growing park network along the Bronx River.

A coalition of community groups fighting to remove the Sheridan has butted heads with the state DOT over the project for years. This morning, Sustainable South Bronx spotted this paragraph in Diaz’s prepared remarks [PDF]:

We must finally act on the redevelopment of the Sheridan Expressway. We have seen the success of converting highways into boulevards with pedestrian crossings, such as those found on the West Side of Manhattan. It will not only provide for new housing development opportunities, but will improve pedestrian safety and access to parkland along the Bronx River, without compromising access to the Hunts Point Market. The State can no longer drag its feet on the future of the Sheridan.

Back in 2011, Diaz told the Hunts Point Express that he opposed tearing down the Sheridan because he feared truck traffic would overwhelm local streets, but he came around and supported the city’s plan in 2013. His remarks today are a sign that the Sheridan project is still a priority for Bronx leaders.

“The language used by the Bronx borough president shows an urgency and really instructs the state to act to advance this project,” said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “There’s not been much movement since 2013 on this project, and a lot of elected officials have spoken up in support… It’s great for the Bronx BP to speak up for this project.”

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Dallas Advocates Launch a PAC to Tear Down a Highway

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

Tearing down I-345 would open up 240 acres of prime urban land for development. Image: A New Dallas

The movement for a more livable, less car-clogged Dallas has legs.

A group of reformers advocating for the teardown of Dallas’s Interstate 345 has set out to reshape the political landscape — and they’re off to a blazing start. The Dallas Morning News reported this week that the group, A New Dallas, has launched a political action committee to support City Council candidates who back their vision for removing the urban highway and opening up land for development. The PAC has quickly amassed an impressive $225,000.

The May City Council election is shaping up to be the key moment. Thanks to term limits, there are open seats in six of the city’s 14 districts. If highway teardown supporters can win four of those six spots, they will have the majority they need on City Council to move ahead with the demolition, opening up 240 acres of the center city to walkable urban development.

“We’ve built a real coalition that wants to see some different ways of thinking about the city,” said Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner and co-founder of the PAC who writes the Street Smart column at D Magazine (his pieces appear on Streetsblog Texas). “Our goal was $200,000 for the first year and we blew right through that the first week.”

The PAC’s leaders also include former state senator John Carona, church organizer George Battle III, and Wick Allison, co-founder of D Magazine. They have hired Matt Tranchin, who led Obama for America’s North Texas operation in 2008, to lead the PAC, Kennedy reports.

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Bronx Advocates Press State DOT to Take Action on Sheridan Plan

After years of wrangling, advocates, businesses, and elected officials have gotten behind a city plan to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a boulevard and take trucks off local streets by building direct ramps from the Bruckner Expressway to Hunts Point. Now it’s up to the state to turn the plan into reality, and the first step is funding an environmental impact statement for the new ramps. For help, Bronx advocates are looking to similar projects across the state.

New ramps from the Bruckner expressway (indicated by a blue circle) would take trucks bound for Hunts Point off local streets in the South Bronx, but it’s up to the state to take the next step. Image: DCP

Earlier this year, the State Senate included $3 million in its budget proposal for the study, but it did not survive budget negotiations. Advocates are hoping the ramp project will be included in state DOT’s next five-year capital plan, due to be released in October at the same time as the MTA’s own capital plan. Inclusion in DOT’s document would help line up funding for the environmental study.

If Bronx advocates are successful in securing funding for the EIS, it would build upon the city’s analysis last year, which estimated the cost of ramps connecting the Bruckner with Oak Point Avenue at $72 million. The city’s study included only two ramps, for traffic going to and from the east, but advocates want the state to study four ramps, for access to both eastbound and westbound Bruckner.

For that study to happen, advocates have to convince the Cuomo administration’s DOT of the importance of the Sheridan project. In 2010, DOT rejected a complete teardown of the Sheridan. The city’s own study last year came to a compromise position that advocates have embraced. To build support for the new vision and spur action from the state, Bronx-based advocates are turning to highway teardown efforts in New York’s other major cities to build a statewide coalition.

Last month in Albany, the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo hosted a forum with invited speakers from Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, and Syracuse, where highway teardown projects are either being implemented or studied.

“It helps us elevate what’s going on in the Bronx,” said David Shuffler, executive director of SBRWA member Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice. “It’s not just one neighborhood.”

The coalition is now looking to engage with the state DOT to develop standards and a process for how highway removal could work across New York state. Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of SBRWA member Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the groups are looking to host a larger forum this fall in Rochester. That city is represented by both the Senate and Assembly transportation committee chairs and has a federally-funded highway teardown in progress.

“One of the things we need to do is create the political will at the state to make action,” said Bronx Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo. “It’s important for us to… work with community advocates in other areas of the state that are facing similar challenges.”

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Moving Cars vs. Investing in Places — The Struggle for American Cities

milwaukee_I94

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker wants to jam an even bigger version of I-94 through the Story Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett are brawling in the press over a proposed highway project — a fight that exemplifies the enormous rift in America about what transportation policy should accomplish.

Walker still thinks about transportation projects the same way the interstate planners of the 1950s thought about them. In his view, the economy depends on moving cars and trucks.

So naturally, Walker insists on plowing a $1.2 billion expansion of Interstate 94 through Milwaukee. Among the options on the table is a proposal to double-deck a portion of the highway through a densely populated neighborhood. According to Walker and the state DOT, spending a ton of money to stack highway lanes on top of highway lanes is a practical solution to aid the economy in this barely growing metro area.

“I think the last thing you want to do is have employers look to go bypass the city of Milwaukee when they’re talking about jobs and commerce here,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So you’ve got to make sure there’s a good transportation system.”

One person who disagrees vehemently is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In this case, Barrett represents a very different school of thought about transportation and planning — he thinks investing in places, not traffic movement, will make his city better off.

Barrett told the Journal Sentinel that he’s “mystified” by Walker’s refusal to pull the double-decker option off the table. He said he would do everything in his power to stop the additional highway deck, which would have a “negative impact on property values and disrupt the lives” of residents of the Story Hill neighborhood.

Admittedly, there’s more going on here than contentious views about transportation. Walker and Barrett are political rivals who’ve faced off twice for the governor’s chair. But in many ways they embody the broader debate about American transportation policy — the tug of war between the Eisenhower-era mentality of moving traffic at all costs, and the seemingly ascendant notion that public wellbeing depends on transportation decisions that make places healthy and economically strong.

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