Dallas Eyes "Complete Streets, "Better Blocks"

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Monday, Feb 28, 2011  |  Updated 11:33 PM CDT
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<a title=Dallas city leaders are promoting a new way of developing streets that's a throw back to the past. It calls for wider sidewalks and room for bicycles instead of cars." />

Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com

Dallas city leaders are promoting a new way of developing streets that's a throw back to the past. It calls for wider sidewalks and room for bicycles instead of cars.

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Foot traffic and bicycles would get a larger part of the public space in a new way of designing Dallas streets.

Big D grew very big on cars in the past 50 years, and most of the city is now designed for drivers and parking lots.

"A lot of folks think that our development pattern is the only one that’s around," said Andrew Howard, a private transportation planner. "Many people haven’t been able to go to Europe or see the old world cities of America on the East Coast."

The 2010 Census showed that Dallas hardly grew at all while other North Texas cities and rival Fort Worth boomed.

Community activist Jason Roberts said many of his friends have left Dallas.

"A lot of this is a response to seeing the best and the brightest that we know go on, saying, you know, 'We’re just going to go to Austin, because they're already doing it right.' Or, 'We're going to go to New York or go to Portland,'" he said. "So there’s frustration on our part to say, 'What is it we can do to get people to stay? How can we help revive areas?'"

Howard and Roberts are organizers of the Better Blocks campaign, which includes strategies city leaders hope will attract more people to Dallas. They presented the program at a Dallas City Council Transportation and Environment Committee meeting Monday.

Two Better Blocks demonstrations on Davis and on Tyler streets in Oak Cliff last year put shrubs in a lane normally reserved for cars.

It also created wider sidewalks for pedestrians and for street-side dining outside restaurants. Bike lanes and mock businesses were added in vacant storefronts.

"People frequented the spaces," Roberts said. "We had seniors come out and say, 'This is how it used to look when I was little.'"

He said some of the mock businesses staged for the temporary demonstrations became successful.

The city is launching a program called Complete Streets with the same approach.

Nearly $800,000 in state and federal grants will pay consultants to research and formulate the extensive changes in existing city rules that will be needed to implement this different approach within about a year.

"A lot of these things are just carryovers from the '70s or '80s," said Theresa O'Donnell, Dallas Development Services director.

"We are very car-centric in our policies and procedures right now, so we are definitely opening up that discussion to see what it is we need to do to make those things happen," Councilwoman Delia Jasso said.

But taking street lanes that were used by cars will not happen quickly.

Future city thoroughfare construction would be done differently, and developers would be expected to follow different priorities once the revised rules are adopted.

"You have to have a very good plan with a strong vision and stick to it," O'Donnell said.

Roberts said a greater focus on bicycles and walking is healthier and cost-effective.

"It allows people to save more money and spend it more locally in their area," Roberts said.

The steps come after several years of discussion at City Hall about making denser urban development a priority while also improving quality of life.

"This will definitely show the suburbs and the cities that we are focused on people," Jasso said.

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