Into Downtown's Tunnels, A Horror Story


From time to time we've revisited the damage done to downtown Dallas by Montreal urban planner Vincent Ponte, who proposed in the June 1968 issue of Esquire that downtown Dallas bury its businesses underground -- a decision then-Dallas Mayor Laura Miller referred to in The New York Times in '05 as "the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made." The Downtown Dallas 360 plan intends, somehow, to rectify that.

The harrowing, beautifully done YouPlusDallas video you see above -- recommended this morning by several Friends of Unfair Park -- tunnels into the back story of the tunnels with the help of UCR Realty's Jack Gosnell, who helped convince Forest City to redo the Merc and is leading the charge to bring downtown retail back into the daylight. Turns out, Gosnell was there with Ponte sold the city on digging downtown's grave, and he says that had Neimans not survived all by its lonesome, "we would be nowhere today."

Says Gosnell, Dallas is now "a family with an eccentric cousin living in a basement," but how do we deal with that cousin "in a thoughtful, compassionate and fair way"? Gosnell has no answer to that question, at least not at the moment. "Car-Free" Kennedy says he has some forthcoming.

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65 comments
Louise
Louise

What most of these comments seem to say is that they want to force people onto the streets of Dallas. Has anyone bothered to ask the people who work in the downtown are what THEY want? I get fairly tired of self-proclaimed activists and experts telling me that I have to live their way.

Ryan
Ryan

the tunnels were awesome if you went to high school in downtown. :D

SB
SB

Putting in my vote for "really liked the tunnels when I worked downtown." They're useless otherwise and I see the damage they do, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy the convenience when it was raining, hot, or the wind was bitingly cold.

WCGasette
WCGasette

Maybe the tunnels made sense in 1968 when the City was still reeling from the Kennedy assassination ~ a City that would be forever identified with this tragedy and wasn't all that confident about which way to go. I can imagine sitting in that room and listening to a developer suggesting going "underground," just when the world was in so much chaos from more assassinations, political unrest and a war spiraling out-of-control. Not a hard sell at all for that time in Dallas's history..

Jgosnell
Jgosnell

I very much appreciated the energy of the dialogue here. Of course the tunnels were not the primary cause of the abandonment of Dowtown. First white flight generated the exodus from DISD to the north. Completely sane and smart residents told me then that Downtown would just become a complete office environment, similar to the Financial District in Manhattan. Finally we evolved into a building machine that could tear down anything, build six lane divided roads forever and huge intersections glutted with more retail per person than anyone could ever use. We bladed much good stuff.When David Levey of Forest City finally came to town for the first time, I took him to see the Mercantile building and then to Mayor Millers office. She asked him how he liked our fair city. He responded " It's like a Fellini movie, there are no people in it." That was eight years ago. Now we are moving a bit.We are working on some future videos that will address solutions about the future use of the tunnels and how to energize the street to pull people out of them.

Nuancey Asseta
Nuancey Asseta

Just charge a toll to work & peddle underground like a troll and be done with it. A policy like that would be in good-ol' Dallas fashion.

Sharon Wilson
Sharon Wilson

This was almost as bad an idea as fracking Dallas. Maybe us the precautionary principle and think things through better.

amberdiann
amberdiann

I've lived downtown for about a year, but work outside of downtown. I've yet to experience a tunnel or much else since almost EVERYTHING closes on the weekend. Especially on Sunday. I find myself waking to Deep Ellum quite often for lunch/dinner on Sunday.

There is a customer base of Dallas residents who enjoy spending money within walking distance of our home if you'd give us a place to spend it.

yeah, I said that
yeah, I said that

Stunning video. Beautifully done. Everyone who lives in Dallas and those who work in Dallas but choose to live somewhere else should see this.

shrubstex
shrubstex

I grew up in this part of the country and learned to be an avid shopper at an early age. In the 60's I would drive downtown with my new drivers license, park in the Medical Arts Parking Garage, and walk the streets and shop up and down Main Street. In my never ending search for the bright and shiny, I left downtown in favor of the Quadrangle, and Northpark. I would say that many residents of this city did the same thing. The unique shops of the Quadrangle, and the pairing of many downtown stores at Northpark is what killed downtown for me. Raising rents killed the Quadrangle entrepreneur just as the internet is killing brick and mortar retailers. We will never have a CBD like I remember. And just like using the internet to post opinions, I do most of my shopping here too.

db
db

I believe that the tunnels and the skybridges are a huge problem for our city. They simply take people off of the street which results in reduced vibrancy and safety and the result is that we really don't have a city. I make it a point to not frequent the tunnels and skybridges or the restaurants and shops that inhabit them. If more people would move to the surface the restaurants and shops would all follow and we would have a wonderful city again.

busterkeaton
busterkeaton

I'm guessing, 3013A.D., will be the year that downtown is a contender with the likes of NYC, Tokyo, London, etc...can't wait!

RustyShackleford
RustyShackleford

I can't watch this video because it keeps stopping every 5 seconds. Is it on You Tube?

Byter
Byter

Ban pedestrians and make them bike tunnels

Voteshamrock
Voteshamrock

This conversation is ludicrous. Am i to believe that the Chicago's 40 blocks of pedway destroyed downtown Chicago? ...Chicago has a vivacious downtown. ...so the problem with an underground pedway is?

Our summer and winter temps are too extreme, people want to be away from these extremes for a reason, they are unpleasant. Explain to me what compelling international business is moving to Dallas so their employees can sweat through their suits at an urban sidewalk cafe or waiting on the Green line.

If we want retail on the street level, fine. But we should glass box it for year round use. The effort to kill the underground to serve a street level fantasy must stop. We should be expanding our underground and skyways to be more compelling, not fighting the people that enjoy them daily. This could include street level access points and windows of activity.

http://www.spiegl.org/pedway/p...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

-Re: Dallas being hot. Rome is hot in the summer, too. Very hot from June on. Thousands of people manage just fine. Spain is pretty damn hot, too. And NYC; I've been there in June, July, and August when it was sweltering. On the flip side, I've been to NYC and Chicago in the winter when it was shockingly (to me) cold. Again, millions of people were out and about. You just eat lots of pasta and drink hot coffee.

Yeah, Dallas is hot and sometimes windy, cold, rainy, and/or humid. But I'd rather be hot a month or two a year than have a dead downtown.

Re: Persuasive public speakers. What amazes me is our propensity as human beings to fall for charismatic people and their schemes generation after generation. I see it happen at DISD year after year.

There is no "new" solution for most issues. Eat less, exercise more.Spend less than you make.If you're not early, you're late.Promise less, deliver more.No one will take care of you as well as you will.If you can't replace it, insure it.If you want a street life like NYC's, call an NYC urban planner in.If you want to pretend you're in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, build tunnels underground.

Guest
Guest

I'm all for the tunnels. I think there's enough foot traffic topside and underneath. What I wonder is why every You+Dallas feature, regardless of subject matter, is edited and scored like some trailer for a "quietly magical" kids film?

Informed Citizen
Informed Citizen

Could we get our urban planners from a place other than Canada? First Vincent Ponto (Toronto), now Larry Beasley (Vancouver). Should we try Calgary? At least there's some synergy there with oil and gas and that sort of thing.

Montemalone
Montemalone

I still say the tunnels should be flooded and then we can have gondolas plying the route. And put some of that heavy duty glass in place of the street level pavement and we can see the people in the little boats as they float by. It'll be just like one of those under the floor fishtanks in one of those 80s houses up in Willow Bend.

Jss
Jss

Why shouldn't workers have the quickest options in and out of downtown? Why they hell should workers be stuck in downtown for the sole purpose of area businesses obtaining more exposure. Sounds like a form of kidnapping to me.

Dallasite
Dallasite

Why do the tunnels take all the heat for Dallas being what it is? I was born and raised in Dallas and I work in downtown now. I love the tunnels and want more of them. They should be expanded and open all the time. Streets in Texas are not for people. We need the streets for our big pickup trucks and Suburbans. Our cities are just not set up for European-style pedestrian zones. Let the people walk around down below (or above, as the case may be). I say put in more tunnels and add more stuff to them. I want grocery stores, night clubs, restaurants (that are open for dinner), movie theaters, fun shops, art galleries and all the other great things that come with a big city. I also want to be able to get to and between every major building without breaking a sweat in the oppressive August heat.

Right now, the City of Dallas is paying management companies to reduce the rent in downtown lofts in an effort to "revitalize" the CBD. Seriously? How much sense does that make? You have to make very little money to qualify for this housing, but the buildings are required to have a certain percentage of their units reserved for the program. Is this really how we want to get Downtown going again? Are these really the people we want to encourage to come down here?

The problem isn't that Dallas lacks people on the streets. The problem is that the Metroplex it too decentralized. Just looking out my office window, I can see a dozen or so clumps of office towers scattered about. And I'm not even talking about the likes of EDS, Frito Lay or JC Penny, right up the DNT. Some people want to live in Plano or Frisco or McKinney and they're perfectly happy working up there too. Those people don't stay up there because downtown has tunnels!

I think we went through all this is 1692. Only this time, it's not John Proctor and Giles Corey getting the finger.

We have a real asset in our tunnels downtown and we need to run them right. Don't think of them as a way to get the downtown workers from their cars to their cubicles and back. Think of them as additional downtown real estate and use them. Let the cars have the streets. Give the people the tunnels!

Harvey
Harvey

I've worked in Dallas for two decades (and walked the downtown tunnels for part of it) and I'm still of the survivalist mindset to get in and out of downtown as fast as humanly possible.

John McCaa's Tie Knot
John McCaa's Tie Knot

More shots of his hands in the next video please. In all seriousness, I am glad there are people like Jack who are actually taking action instead of just complaining about the issues downtown. Keep up the good work!

Daniel
Daniel

It's true that if you got rid of the tunnels, there would be more pedestrian traffic at street level during lunch hours from Monday through Friday. And that's about all that's true.

Susie
Susie

I worked in One Main Place and Energy Plaza and loved the tunnels in the summertime. I also walked plenty on the actual sidewalk to lunch and took Dart to downtown, but loved me some tunnels.

Buddy
Buddy

Convert them into a subway,

rubbercow
rubbercow

I would make comparisons and arguments to the contrary but, given prior attempts, it is clear that everyone wants to (wrongly) blame the tunnels for downtown's many shortcomings.

Guest
Guest

It's easy to blame the tunnels for the loss of downtown retail, but it seems like that trend of moving from centralized, downtown retail to suburban-area malls happened all across the country whether those cities built tunnels or not.

Of course, that has no real impact on what to do about them today.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

But the tunnels aren't open on the weekend or after business hours. Where are the people then? Out in the suburbs, where we live, and have the ability to shop and eat. If the tunnels weren't there, Downtown would still be empty, except during the week at everyone's lunch hour and during the commute.

Tunnels aren't the problem. The problem is a combination of lack of services, lack of affordable living space, and the huge amount of available space outside the city. Dallas is unlike the other major cities in this country that everyone seems to want to emulate. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, wherever: they're all bound geographically in one way or another, and their growth happened vertically. They're also much older, and developed before the car culture.

Dallas is young, has an effectively unlimited amount of horizontal room to expand, and no real significant mass transit. People don't go downtown because they don't need to. There has to be a reason to go, and right now, there isn't one.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

15 years from now we will revisit the issue again.Then it will be the need to revitalize the tunnels.

MGTRRZ
MGTRRZ

If YOU"VE Ever been on a BIKE-You Would Understand that the Whole Idea of Riding - Isthe FREEDOM - of the Experience...of being FREE and OUTDOORS...While a Detour thru the Tunnels might be a Novelty...The Idea of Riding my Mountain Bike thru Tunnels just doesn't Appeal to ME...I'll Take The Fresh (polluted) Air, Sunshine and Great Out-doors---Thank You...

Lee
Lee

ON this same point I heard someone say once that Highland Park Village seems to have the same weather as downtown and it works just fine. The weather is not the issue in downtown Dallas.

Ed D.
Ed D.

Nah, the solar-powered water taxis won't work well underground.

Jay
Jay

Think longterm. "Quick drives" are not 100% compatible to urban life. You're not a hostage in New York because you decided to drive your car into Manhattan or the City and get stuck in traffic. You're an idiot. By promoting density and life on the street you end up with neighborhoods and vibrant city spaces. You end up with better and more varied transit options, whether it be bicycle, light rail, or subway. You end up with more on-street retail, more people wanting to move downtown when they see it come back to life. More tax dollars from a new thriving part of town, money that goes to schools and infrastructure. It's a chain of positive affects in the urban context. If you don't like the urban context that's fine, there's plenty of suburbia to choose from. But density, street level traffic, etc. are positives for cities in myriad ways.

EDM
EDM

... And since I do not live or work Downtown, taking my tax dollars to make improvements Downtown sounds like *gasp* socialism. :-P

Stacy Phillips1980
Stacy Phillips1980

streets in TX aren't for people???? That has to be the stupidest quote I have seen on this link...Hate to break it to you but streets and people have been just fine for TX for the last 250yrs...Does Austin, San Antonio, Lubbock, Midland, El Palso have tunnels....NOPE....are they're downtowns successful w/ retail and residential....YES...

Jay
Jay

That's...a lot. It's kind of the whole point...

luniz
luniz

You can say that they are wrong, but on the other hand, is there even a shred of evidence that the tunnels have benefited downtown Dallas a single bit?

Downtowner
Downtowner

You're right, and the video makes it seem like the tunnels were the only reason that downtown retail died. But if Neiman's survived, maybe Sanger Harris or another one could've made it as well.

rubbercow
rubbercow

And Calgary has the Plus 15 to fight tooth and nail so it can have a vibrant street level scene (being sarcastic). Their version of tunnels is among the many, many examples of successful integration. Oh, but the tunnels in Dallas are the entire reason that Dallas lacks a vibrant downtown.

rubbercow
rubbercow

The retail in the tunnels continues to be there, so I would guess the onus of proving that they harm downtown is on those who want them closed. There are many examples of tunnels/skywalks that are successful. There is something about Dallas that makes its downtown not so good.

Jeff
Jeff

The tunnel system was in part proposed because it was part of an effort to revitalize downtown Dallas. There were other issues and they are chronicled in this video: http://www.youplusdallas.com/s....

Stacy Phillips1980
Stacy Phillips1980

the only reason Niemans survived downtown was because that store IS they're corporate headquarters....In it's hey day all 9 floors were retail...when I was a kid 6 floors were retail...now only 4 are retail and the rest corporate offices.. basically that store is a prototype/style store.that is the only reason why they stayed and survived..

Guest
Guest

It seems to me that the main problem is that downtown is a central business district filled with office buildings and not a whole lot else.

I walk for blocks and blocks without passing anything that would draw me inside. If I have reason to be downtown, there's very little to make me stay there beyond my initial reason for going down there in the first place.

And, in my opinion, it's difficult to put in the kind of things that draw people inside because there's no way to create the needed density of shops or whatever based on what's currently there. A lot of those buildings that had storefronts on the first floor are long since gone and, frequently, replaced with large office buildings with large lobbies on the first floor.

EDM
EDM

"There is something about Dallas that makes its downtown not so good."

Could that something be cheap land in the suburbs? ... That and the fact that downtown sits on the intersection of two independent street grids.

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