architecture critic Mark Lamster’s plan for Dallas


If you want to understand just how misguided American priorities are when it comes to planning for a sustainable future, you need look no further than the funding breakdown of the $548 billion federal infrastructure bill. Of the $35 billion Texas is due, according to White House calculations, some $26.9 billion will go to road and highway repair, and just $3.3 billion to public transit. Another $408 million is slated for electric vehicle charging stations. Which is to say, at the moment we should be encouraging people to be less dependent on automobiles, we are spending to promote driving by a nearly 10-to-1 margin.

This ratio goes a long way toward explaining why, according to the city’s Strategic Mobility Plan, just over 6.2% of Dallasites commute by “alternative” forms of transportation — walking, cycling and public transit. A long-term goal should be to invert this paradigm. Certainly, no rational culture should consider walking an alternative mode of transit. Legs, after all, come with our bodies.

If nothing else, the pandemic has shown us how essential it is to have walkable neighborhoods and places for outdoor recreation. That won’t change when the pandemic ends, and with new strains developing, it is unclear when that will be.

The bill passed by Congress in November does promise to fund a variety of critical priorities, among them the weatherization of the electric grid, the safeguarding of clean water supplies, protection against cyberattacks and the expansion of broadband access. That list, unfortunately, only begins to address the region’s essential needs. With that in mind, here are nine ways we should spend our share of windfall from Uncle Sam.

1. Fix the sidewalks and create pedestrian-friendly streets. The infrastructure bill calls for the repair of roads. Fine. But the first part of the roads we should repair are the sidewalks. According to the Dallas Sidewalk Master Plan, adopted by the City Council in June, the city is missing 2,046 miles of sidewalk. This does not account for the miles of sidewalk in poor condition or fouled by obstacles (especially Oncor utility poles). This disastrous state of affairs helps explain why so many Dallasites are reluctant to walk (and thus, rely on cars) and why those who do so are so subject to injury or death due to traffic accidents.

According to Smart Growth America’s 2019 Pedestrian Danger Index, Dallas is one of the worst cities in America to walk, with a score of 124.2, more than double the national average, and an increase of 11% over its score in 2016. Fixing the sidewalks is the most important thing we can do, and it’s also the most expensive, with a price tag of $1.984 billion.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and a group of cyclists ride their bikes during the opening of the eastbound and westbound pedestrian and bicycle bridges on the Margaret McDermott Bridge in Dallas in June.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and a group of cyclists ride their bikes during the opening of the eastbound and westbound pedestrian and bicycle bridges on the Margaret McDermott Bridge in Dallas in June.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

2. Build protected bike lanes. In a ranking compiled by the cycling advocacy group People for Biking, Dallas ranks 97th out of 104 major American cities for biking. It’s no wonder: Dallas has few protected bike lanes and continues to build roads and bridges without them, even as it gives lip service to the idea of becoming more bike friendly. A good example: In October, the City Council celebrated the budgeting of $2 million for bike lanes. A decade ago, the city’s first bike plan promised 1,000 miles of protected bike lanes. Today, the city has about 20.

3. Implement a Bus Rapid Transit system. Among the projects lawmakers are considering for funding is the expansion of DART’s light rail system — the so-called D2 downtown alignment. Conceptually, it’s a good idea that would increase frequency of ridership on the perennially underutilized system. But money might be better spent enhancing bus service with an expanded network of dedicated express lanes. It’s far cheaper, easier to implement and services a broader population than rail.

High winds blowing in ahead of approaching storms buffet Lisa Wall (left) and Loyd Collier at a bus stop on Pearl Street in downtown Dallas.
High winds blowing in ahead of approaching storms buffet Lisa Wall (left) and Loyd Collier at a bus stop on Pearl Street in downtown Dallas.(Eve Edelheit)

4. A bus shelter for every stop. In a news conference on Monday, DART president Nadine Lee promised infrastructure funds would go towards “projects that enhance the rider’s experience,” including a maintenance backlog and the furniture (or lack thereof) at DART stops. As it stands, DART recently proposed a point system weighing various factors (frequency of service, ridership, neighborhood crime rate) to determine whether a stop should have a shelter, a bench or dedicated lighting. This is a good start, but the wealthiest country in the history of the world should be able to afford shaded benches with lights at every stop.

5. Remove I-345. Instead of a major highway building project, Dallas should move forward with a major highway un-building project. I-345, the connector between I-45 and U.S. 75, is past its useful life, and a needless barrier between Downtown and Deep Ellum. That space can be developed into a vibrant community, bringing affordable housing to an area directly adjacent to the city’s core. Earlier this year, a TxDOT feasibility study proposed five options for dealing with the highway: slimming it, depressing it, depressing it and slimming it, leaving it as is, and removing it. The last option, removal, is the best option, and can be accomplished with minimal increase in commuting times.

6. Support the entire park system. Dallas has done a superb job, over the last decade, of expanding its park system downtown, with the additions of Klyde Warren, Pacific Plaza and West End parks. Two more are on the way, with the remake of Carpenter Park and the future Harwood Park. The greater park system has not fared as well. In May 2020, as the pandemic took hold, the Park and Recreation Department furloughed 25% of its permanent staff. Reinstating those employees should be a top priority.

7. Increase Dallas tree coverage. Earlier this year, with the support of the Texas Trees Foundation, the Dallas Park Board approved its first Urban Forest Master Plan. Among its goals is the increase of the city’s tree canopy from its current 32% to 37% by 2040. Granted, trees grow slowly, but that is too modest a target. This is the chance to expand it.

Volunteers work to plant a tree as part of a community growth program, which attracted volunteers from area organizations and companies to plant trees and clean grave markers. Texas Trees Foundation and TXU Energy sponsored the event, which was held at the DFW National Cemetery.
Volunteers work to plant a tree as part of a community growth program, which attracted volunteers from area organizations and companies to plant trees and clean grave markers. Texas Trees Foundation and TXU Energy sponsored the event, which was held at the DFW National Cemetery.(Steve Hamm / Special Contributor)

8. Move forward on the Trinity Park. The park between, on and adjacent to the Trinity levees is the most transformative infrastructure project in Dallas. Strengthening those levees and engineering the flood plain and river so they might accommodate the proposed park is an essential funding priority.

9. Plan for high-speed rail. The infrastructure bill puts $66 billion toward rail service. Much of that will go to upgrade Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but Texas should use its portion toward proposed high-speed rail service between Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth. Dallas will need a rail station integrated with DART, ideally downtown.

That is, admittedly, a long and expensive wish list. But the truth is, it shouldn’t be necessary. When it comes to taking care of the physical environment, we behave like a guy who sits on the couch all day watching television and eating junk food, and then finds himself in the hospital looking at an unpleasant and expensive procedure. If we had taken better care of ourselves — maybe if we had invested in that gym membership and ate a better diet — we wouldn’t be in the position we are in today. So whatever does come from this infrastructure bill, we’d better take care of it.



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