Complete Streets!

So why do we fight for better bike facilities, and complete streets programs? Simple…we want to return the streets to the people. An anti-bike lane commenter recently posted here stating, “Take the lane! We already have roads you can use!”

What he doesn’t realize is that he’s not advocating the promotion of bicycles, but the promotion of automobiles and the continued development of their infrastructure. Bike lanes, streetcars, and widening sidewalks (ie. complete streets) take back the lanes that were given to cars, and give them to pedestrians and cyclists. This is what creates a livable street. See the difference for yourself:

The top image is what we have all over Dallas. A cold, sterile, uninviting street that actually makes a community want to run away from the area. The lower image shows the same street, but returned to the people. It’s warm, inviting, and a place you’d happily walk around with your family. Cars are not given priority. Sure, I’d change a few things, maybe make a wider buffer to avoid potential cardoor accidents, or better yet, switch the positioning of the lane with the onstreet parking (a la Copenhagen), but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Think about this…when you go on vacation where do you picture? Austin or Houston? Seattle or Atlanta? Chicago or Phoenix? What’s the difference between these cities? Livable, walkable streets that are inviting, engaging and places you want to defend. Many of these cities are taking baby steps in the right direction, but they have an incredible uphill battle due to the sprawling nature of their car-centric development. So we’re in a agreement when we hear VC’s say “Take the lane!”. We just don’t feel it needs to be given back. In Dallas, compare a street like Preston Road (car only…little to no sidewalks) to McKinney Avenue (car, trolley, wide sidewalks). Which one is more comfortable for cars? people? Which would you rather start a business on? Which would you rather walk your family down? Which would you put on a postcard? Which would you rather go to for enjoying a beer outside with friends?

Portland is a shining example of a city that made a reinvestment into its core at a time most cities were expanding. They are seeing the pay off more now than ever. The idea that Dallas can never be dense is a complete falsehood. Ask Alan McDonald, head of City Homes in Uptown in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. In a recent lecture promoted by BFOC, Alan made mention of the blight and lack of density in Uptown prior to the community rallying to develop the trolley and the Katy Trail. Since that time, Alan says he completely regrets not buying every piece of land he could find along the Katy trail due to the boom in development that arose.

Fast Company recently wrote an article titled Suburbia R.I.P., and Time followed up quickly thereafter, noting the changing demographic of Millenials who are moving away from the suburbs and looking for more walkability and urban forms. We see that reality in Oak Cliff every single day with young families moving in in droves. Two TIF developments, MMD’s, and other financing mechanisms have been put in place by our chambers promoting dense development, and developers have taken up the charge at a rapid pace throughout our area. Downtown Dallas grew from a residential population of 500 in 2000, to 5,000 by 2005, and is projected to hit 10,000 by 2010. We see the loft apartments, and building conversions on every block now, and are amazed at the resurgence of activity on the streets at night (I remember downtown being a ghosttown after 6pm in the late 90’s). More proof of the change in development is seen at every single light rail station that is opened. Transit oriented developments have been bringing old downtowns back to life, and cranes are seen digging new dirt on an ongoing basis.

So we’re at a tipping point, and people are starting to win the day over cars. DART reported another record year for 2008, the Katy Trail is packed year round (including the hottest days of the summer), and life is slowly returning to our streets after a 50 year hiatus. For one generation, the idea of people moving away from the dream that was the suburbs seems inconceivable. The reality is, it’s already taken place.

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