A Walkable S.M. Wright Freeway is Not Happening, But the Fight is Far From Over

Categories: Transportation

sm-wright-parkway-design-txdot.jpg
TxDOT
The proposed redesign of the S.M. Wright Freeway, a stretch of Highway 175 that runs parallel to I-45 south of Fair Park, will solve a lot of problems. It'll turn the road from an indisputably ugly slab of concrete into a landscaped urban boulevard, and will straighten out the connection with North 310 known as Dead Man's Curve. Everyone agrees those things need to happen, but not everyone's happy with TxDOT's plans for a six-lane road.

Michael Lindenberger has an excellent recap of last night's public hearing, and boils the the debate down to a single question: what are highways for?

Unfair Park caught up with Hank Lawson, one of the more vocal proponents of a scaled-down S.M. Wright. He's still mad that TxDOT and the city ignored the South Dallas Action Plan, which called for a four-lane thoroughfare.

To Lawson, this is all part of a historical pattern. When S.M. Wright was built in the early 1960s, it was designed to move cars quickly to and from the city with little heed for the mostly poor, black neighborhoods it passed through. Those communities were unceremoniously divided. The resulting dislocation may not have caused the downward spiral of crime and economic stagnation that has befallen much of the area south of Fair Park, but it was a contributing factor. Even now, you have to be careful where you turn. It's the dead-end streets that run into the highway where the drug dealers congregate and crime festers.

Tearing down the existing S.M. Wright will help regardless of the final plan, Lawson says, but TxDOT's six-lane version still places the emphasis on moving cars through the neighborhood. "I've made it clear we don't want a Lemmon Avenue," he says.

Instead, he wants to reconnect the streets separated by S.M. Wright, build wide walkways to make the street more pedestrian-friendly, encourage mixed-use developments where people can live and work and hang out, maybe add bike lanes. Fewer cars will come through and traffic will probably suck, but Lawson's fine with that. "Let 'em go bumper to bumper on I-45." After all, it's quality of life, and not the ability to move quickly from one point to another, that attracts the type of new blood that can revitalize neighborhoods.

Lawson knows he's probably on the losing side of the argument. Purposely limiting a road's capacity goes counter to conventional wisdom, and TxDOT's plan has many supporters, such as Councilwoman Carolyn Davis and S.M. Wright, Jr., the son of the reverend for whom the roadway is named.

Still, Lawson told me he's not shutting up. He and some other are going to keep telling TxDOT the agency's wrong. After all, he says, it's the neighborhood's only chance to truly heal.

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21 comments
RTGolden
RTGolden

Not a traffic engineer nor a social one, but they've got to do something down there.  Almost every day there is a near wipeout as one of the unfortunate residents along Wright invariably makes the attempt to run across the highway, not realizing the Beamer barreling down on him is going much faster than it appears and the driver is probably texting someone about dinner.

 

I haven't seen anyone creamed or even a near miss yet, my neighbors tell me it happens a lot.

TXdotMeetingAttendee
TXdotMeetingAttendee

I actually attended the meeting. There is a 12' sidewalk on <u>both</u> sides of the redesigned S.M. Wright Freeway. There is a 14' bike path along the outer edges of both sides of the freeway. Someone might have misunderstood the numerous plans presented at the meeting.

 

6 lanes instead of 4 makes sense because TxDot is about 'moving traffic safely' not economic development. There will be a lot of traffic diverted to I-45, so let the business and retail shops line the highway there. When businesses look to relocating to an area they look at traffic counts, among other things, this is actually beneficial to the area. It's already fully funded, so why not let it happen. If you're not a fan of the extra two lanes, don't drive along them.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I thought Hank Lawson was a concierge doctor in the Hamptons.

WylieH
WylieH

Interesting contrast in Oklahoma City, which has been recently recognized as one of the most successful urban redevelopments in the U.S.

 

Two years ago, the City of Oklahoma City successfully pushed back against the state's Department of Transportation to get a proposed new boulevard that is replacing a high-speed highway reduced from 6 lanes to 4 lanes.  Now, City leaders are bringing in an independent expert to study whether or not a roundabout can also be included at a key interchange.

JeezeLouise
JeezeLouise

How about this from Lindenberger's post:

 

"Still, for all the logic of TxDOT’s traffic numbers, Lawson’s plan has soemthing else going for it: It’s part of a movement across the country known as highway removal. In a score of cities, highways have either been turn down or are being considered for removal as communities come to the conclusion that massive highway infrastructure can sometimes ruin an area just as thoroughly as highways have in other instances sparked development."

 

I guess this doesn't apply to the highway in the Trinity.

NaiveWhiteGuilter
NaiveWhiteGuilter

"Walkable"...Why the fuck would anyone want to walk around in that neighborhood?

Guest
Guest

heh, a landscaped boulevard? Central Expressway looks like shit. If the city won't maintain the most important road in the city, I can only imagine what this boulevard in South Dallas is going to look like a few years after it's built.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @TXdotMeetingAttendee business doesn't exist along highways, big box stores do.  But, there's not the zoning for those type stores, nor is that zoning appropriate for that neighborhood.  Many homes and other streets would have to be wiped out. 

coachbranden
coachbranden

@TXdotMeetingAttendee That's still the backwards thinking that keeps us in the "American's love our cars" mindset. I don't care how wide the sidewalks are. No one likes walking next to a lot of fast moving cars. Period. Same thing with bikes. Some tolerate it, some do it out of neccesity, but no one plans to go walk by a highway for recreation unless it isn't designed to highway standards. As for traffic counts and business, you seem to imply either 1) South Dallas doesn't have any high traffic highways or 2) that only people in cars have money, neither of which is true. Downtown, Uptown, Lower Greenville and the Bishop Arts District are all highly walkable and their spines are small streets. Business goes where customers are. Increasingly, as researchers like Brookings point out, people's preferences are for walkable places. If these plans don't change, this place will not be walkable.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 @WylieH Roundabouts aren't walkable, they are physically larger than conventional intersections, and there isn't much development that occurs on them.  I'm not utterly poopooing the idea of roundabouts, but they DO result in a larger footprint than a conventional intersection. 

 

Of course OKC is the 2nd largest city in America, and we aren't talking population, and clearly not density.  Hence, the area in (Dallas) question is likely far more densely populated than OKC's densest neighborhood.  Those highways are a blight on that neighborhood, and definitely sever the neighborhood. 

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @Guest I'm guessing it will look like the rest of South Dallas that isn't trees.

movinondown
movinondown

 @scottindallas What a tragedy that would be. Did you read the report that says almost all of the houses/lots in the "neighborhood" are abandoned?

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

darn, I was hoping for a good retort from Wiley.   That just stuck in my craw in college, to chat up a girl and have her tell me that OKC was the 2nd largest city in America.  I don't think I could stop myself from rolling my eyes.  Had a few different chicas say that, and each time, it was an ender.

JeezeLouise
JeezeLouise

 @movinondown   I know - I drive thru there everyday.  What I'm talking about is how ironic it is that the DMN "admits" in this article what a lot of us have been saying about the effect of the Trinity Tollroad:  that when other cities are removing highways, we're building a "massive highway infrastructure can sometimes ruin an area".

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

 you should actually go down there, that report is evidently wrong.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

 @scottindallas I've spent quite a bit of time in OKC and other than Nik's, the place useless.  Their Fair Park neighborhood is less of a pit than Dallas', though.

 

OKC is a monument to mediocrity.  Which, by the way, is why the state license plates used to say "Oklahoma is OK" (Because they couldn't spell mediocre)

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