Riverfront Boulevard: What’s in a name, Dallas? Would that which we call a complete street by any other name smell as sweet?

Act II in the multimillion dollar production Riverfront Boulevard is scheduled to debut Monday, May 10 at 7 pm (a reception to meet the cast and crew starts at 6:30 pm) in the Conference Room Auditorium at City Hall, when the City of Dallas will host a “public involvement workshop” about the newly proposed Riverfront Boulevard Design.  Admittance is free.  Produced by the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee, Riverfront Boulevard is the sequel to the dark and complex tragicomedy César Chávez.

What type of play is in store for us this time?  Is Riverfront Boulevard a Tragedy?  Comedy?  Drama?  Well, the City’s prologue of a presentation to the Trinity River Committee on April 15 establishes this play firmly as a drama.  The central character is Complete Streets, a newcomer to Dallas who will transform a road, predominately industrial in character, into “the primary frontage road for the Trinity Lakes area of the Park,” where there will be “a new emphasis on mobility options such as transit, bicycles, pedestrians and sustainability.”

In the prologue, City Staff introduces Complete Streets with the pledge to implement “context sensitive solutions, trust, commitment, shared vision and interagency cooperation integration.”  Complete Streets will create “a new front door” to the Trinity River.  Complete Streets is warmly received.  Councilmember Neumann, Chair of the Trinity River Corridor Project Committee, praises Complete Streets.  Complete Streets is “putting our money where our mouth is.”

We turn to Act I, where a street fight breaks out after the public challenges the identity of Complete Streets.  Physically, Complete Streets is an imposing presence and with the temperament of a superhighway, Complete Streets is vulnerable to road rage.  At 8-lanes wide with 11-lane intersections, Complete Streets dwarfs the largest arterials in Dallas.  Move aside 6-lane roads.  Harry Hines and Walnut Hill, Houston Street through Victory, Beltline – all do not even stand shoulder high to Complete Streets.  Complete Streets promises to be the largest vehicular-capacity arterial road in Dallas.  In Dallas, only interstates and tollways will have more vehicular-capacity and speed.

Where is the justification for all of this road?  Complete Streets has yet to publicly produce a traffic analysis.  And what of the multiple turn lanes into the future pedestrian-bridge Continental?  Complete Streets has three westbound turn lanes at Riverfront and Continental.  Does the future pedestrian-bridge Continental require three automobile turn lanes to receive vehicular traffic?  Complete Streets, supposedly the healthiest street in America, coughs while seemingly saying something about saving an envelope for Downtown entrance/exit ramps at the foot of the Continental pedestrian-bridge for the Trinity Tollway.  To be fair, Complete Streets was almost impossible to hear.

All this is enough in itself to cast suspension.  But, what of cost?  Dallas has budgeted $40 million for 1.5 miles.  That’s just over $26 million per mile.  That is not enough for Complete Streets.  A demand of $54 million or $36 million per mile is made!  To justify the cost, Complete Streets declares a taking of 10 feet of developable land from all land owners on the east and west sides of Riverfront.  At stage left, the road construction companies are salivating.

At the close of Act I, the public challenges Complete Streets to reveal its true identity.  Are you a complete street or something far more sinister: a mutant superhighway or bloated construction project?  Act I ends.

Identity.  This one word encapsulates the central struggle of Riverfront Boulevard.  As Act II unfolds, we will witness Complete Streets embark on a path of self-discovery to resolve the intense crisis of conflicting values between a city’s obsession with wider/faster streets and the promise of building a world-class boulevard.

Let’s briefly foreshadow the character of Complete Streets, if Complete Streets desires to be a world class boulevard.  Such a character will undoubtedly share some of the characteristics of the great urban mutltiway boulevards of the world.  These boulevards serve multiple roles at once – providing for traffic movement and access, and as public space for urban activities.  The key to such co-existence is both a faster central through-going realm and large, adjacent low speed pedestrian realms at the edges.

Three great boulevards that approximately fit the existing right-of-way of Riverfront are:  Avenue Marceau, Paris (134 feet building-to-building); Avenue Montaigne, Paris (126 feet building-to-building); and Via Nomentana, Rome (130 feet building-to-building).  Each of these great boulevards, although not without flaws, is tested and proven.  The following cross-section is from The Boulevard Book by Allan B. Jacobs et al. (2002, Massachusetts Institute of Technology):

And here is the proposed cross-section:

Comparing the streets, the percentages of space dedicated to low speed pedestrian realms for urban activities and higher speed traffic are evident.

Boulevard Pedestrian Realms Through-Going Realm Percent of Space for Pedestrian Realms and Urban Activities
Proposed Riverfront Boulevard 63 feet 87 feet 42%
Avenue Marceau 88 feet 46 feet 65%
Avenue Montaigne 84 feet 42 feet 66%
Via Nomentana 84 feet 46 feet 64%

The crisis of identity of Complete Streets will be fought between the space allocated to the pedestrian for low speed urban activities within Riverfront and the space given to the through-going realm for carrying automobiles away from Riverfront at higher speeds.  So far, the through-going realm is defining the identity.

Act II and the resolution of Complete Streets’ crisis of identity begin Monday.


One comment

  1. Just wanted to see who is going to tonight’s reception? Show of hands.

    Jonathan Braddick

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