It’s just an idea at this point, but one that’s gaining ground. The mayor remains unsupportive, but he isn’t against it. Investors may be salivating at the prospect of untapped real estate in one of the most booming areas of the United States and typically motorists can’t imagine where all the traffic will go if the freeway is removed.
I’m talking about taking out a portion if I-345 that divides the Deep Ellum neighborhood from Downtown Dallas. The freeway has reached the end of its structural life and the replacement cost has brought many to ask, do we really need it?
My answer is a firm no.
Looking back at the intro credits for the television show Dallas, it doesn’t seem like a place I would want to live. Since then, Dallas has begun developing differently. From the State Thomas neighborhood to West Village and the Arts District the places here have improved remarkably. The DART system, which was non-existent when the original TV show aired is nothing other than impressive. Sure, not enough has been built around the stops, but these transit connections are a major way Los Angeles has combated sprawl.
Did You Know? DART is the longest light rail system in the United States. The first line opened in 1996.
Then there’s Klyde Warren Park, which opened in the last year and now serves as a magnet for residents and a symbol of all that is right with the city. It covers up a sunken portion of Woodall Rogers Expressway. It has also connected downtown and the Arts District with Uptown.
Elevated Freeways are not so easily covered up. They create dark shadows, threatening places and barriers void of life. I know of no successful efforts and beautifying these places or making them attractive from the street. They serve only as a vehicle for people to pass over a place, without consideration for the people who live in a place. And they don’t always do that very well.
To answer the question of where all the traffic would go, it disperses. Freeways concentrate traffic, boulevards and roadways with multiple and frequent access points disperse it. The best system for dispersing traffic is a grid, and while Dallas doesn’t have a formal grid, the freeways here block the ability for traffic to disperse through a network of streets.
Take the Oak Lawn exit off of I-35 for example. If traffic turning onto Oak Lawn Avenue is backed up, a right turn into the design district will not provide any means of going around the mess. The highway impedes access to Oak Lawn with the only access point being Oak Lawn Avenue itself.
Historically planners and government officials have been accused of placing freeways through poor neighborhoods and using the projects as a method of slum clearance. How things have changed. A more recent claim in the debate over the removal of I-345 has been the impact on hourly workers in South Dallas trying to get to jobs in the more prosperous north.
It is only because of the transportation system, namely freeways, that hourly workers are required to travel great distances for this type of employment, or have the added expense of owning a car in the first place. It is only because of the transportation system that the contrast between north and south in Dallas is so stark.
Take the recent study Measuring Sprawl 2014 by Smart Growth America and the National Institutes of Health. The report concludes that people in compact, connected urban areas live longer, are healthier, have greater upward mobility, walk more and have lower overall costs of living. Freeways are a barrier to this.
By attempting to provide rapid transportation from far flung suburbs to each other, we are limiting the connectivity between close-in neighborhoods. That connectivity between Downtown Dallas and East Dallas and near points in South Dallas and Downtown Dallas is far more beneficial to quality of life (and apparently longevity). Its because interactions between people are increased, more trips are able to be completed by walking or transit, and there’s more interaction between members of different economic classes.
Most recently the talk about removing I-345 seems to be on repairing it in the short term, then studying the removal for ten years. It needn’t take that long. Other freeways were removed much more quickly, development spurred instantly and connectivity improved without any serious effect on commute times.
Few would want to see them put back.