(The new streetcar line connecting Oak Cliff to Downtown Dallas. photo from Dart.org)
We’ve reached a point where the success of the Bishop Arts District is causing an unpleasant realization: We’re out of room, and we either spread to the next block, or we start digging parking garages. At approximately $10Million dollars a garage, you’re looking at a hefty expense for something that benefits a small area for a small set of people. What’s the alternative? Invest in the streetcar. At the current $30Million, you’re at the cost of roughly 4 car garages, but the streetcar gets smart dense development occurring and provides a viable alternative to the car that finally pushes us out of this chicken and egg issue we’re faced with when trying to cram more cars into walkable communities.
Once the streetcar begins touching neighborhoods and truly accommodates a neighborhoods lifestyle (ie. in front of schools so kids can ride, from homes to commercial corridors to buy groceries, and connecting regional transit links like light rail), then you’ll see an explosion of use. For now, we had to get a stake in the ground and connect Downtown to the neighborhood. At this point, all energy should turn away from the parking garage debate (because honestly, we’ll need three for Jefferson, one for Tyler/Davis, one for Edgefield/Davis, etc.), start redirecting the energy and funds to streetcars. It’s the same price in the end, but you actually see that historic Bishop Arts form develop along lines (notice the Zang Triangle apartments, upcoming developments by Trammell Crowe, and the planned conversion of Oak Farms Dairy). Where the lines run, density follows, and once they turn, you’ll see sprawl begin. And it’s already proven around the country where streetcars have been returned.
Right now, North Oak Cliff is being asked to pony up $7Million for a parking garage 2 blocks away from Bishop Arts, which would also be used for a new dense development. The reality is that 80% of this garage will be used by tenants and employees, with roughly 50 spaces left over for visitors. And looking at similar developments, notice that people don’t travel far from garages…you don’t go to PinkBerry in uptown and park in West Village, even though it’s a block away. You either find onstreet or go to the parking garage immediately connected to it.
Oak Cliff was built as a streetcar suburb. The reason there’s very little parking in front of the Kessler Theatre, The Texas Theatre, et cetera, was because a streetcar ran right to the front door. If we’re going to use public dollars, and we want to continue the form and success of Bishop Arts, build something that disincentivizes auto use (don’t incentivize), allow for incremental density so people have a reason to walk and have more daily uses in close proximity (don’t make people drive to buy a gallon of milk), and begin incorporating multi-modal uses onto the street (bike lanes, streetcars, etc), and make the pedestrian environment irresistible (wide contiguous sidewalks, tree canopied streets, small merchants fronting the sidewalk, cafe seating). The idea of removing cars seems counter-intuitive and scary to pretty much everyone we talk to, but I can say as a restaurant owner in Bishop Arts that we’ve actually removed parking spaces to create bicycle parking and added additional cafe seating and seen an increase in business year over year. Not a decrease which everyone claimed would happen. If the pedestrian environment is irresistible, people will walk even further (notice Klyde Warren Park). Instead of garages, extend the streetcar to the large surface lots along Centre Street (South of Jefferson). People can begin parking there and use the rail to get to Bishop Arts, or better yet, additional attractions and merchants along the way. If we continue with the “just add cars” mantra, we’re just buying a bigger belt to address a weight problem.
Clearly its about the right mix of automobile users, bus riders, DART riders, bicyclists and pedestrians. I will not disagree that in Dallas automobile users have been given preference. However, wholesale discouraging of parking garages is not the best interim solution. For example, discouraging surface parking in favor of garages might be beneficial. This is particularly the case if a garage can be wrapped with active ground floor uses. Look, for example at the parking structure at the West Village shopping center.
I would say a better mantra is “just add people” – but be mindful in designing for how those people will get there and leave. Its not about removing cars – its about adding options to chose another way to travel.