There's a Design Contest to Connect Downtown and the Trinity River. You Should Sabotage It.

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When I read a story in The Dallas Morning News this morning about a contest for ideas to link the Trinity River to downtown and saw that the contestants were required to include the city's stupid underwater proposed toll road on top of the river in their submissions, my first temptation, of course, was to write something sophomoric, irresponsible, counter-productive and unbecoming of a citizen of my years. Actually, that was also my second and third temptation.

The contest is called the "Connected City Design Challenge," sponsored by the CityDesign Studio, a worthy outfit as far as I know, and the Trinity Trust, a pro-toll road lobby and huckster outfit that I privately refer to as the Trinity Untrustworthy. So how much can we really expect?

But the challenge is intriguing. The contest offers serious money (the Untrustworthy is always about serious money) to people who come up with ideas for re-connecting downtown with the river in spite of the Maginot Line of freeways and levees sealing off the river from all human or humane contact. I may be a little off on the exact numbers, but I think the Untrustworthy is offering $17 million to anybody with a fairly OK idea. When you go down there with your bill, quote me.

The toll road, of course, is not built. I say it will never be built. Apparently the forces behind it will be able to cover the more than $2 billion shortfall in its budget by using their influence to hack financial limbs off a crucial rebuilding of the existing freeways downtown called Project Pegasus, which at that point will be re-named Project Peg-Leg. So if they can get the money, why do I say it won't happen?

Some things are just to stupid to be. In the case of the Trinity Toll Road, the U.S. Army Corps of Engines will be obligated at some point to say publicly what it has been whispering privately for years to anyone who would listen: the proposed toll road is too stupid to be built because the basic concept calls for it to be built out between the levees in the flood zone.

The flood zone is called the flood zone because it floods. If you put a highway out there, it will flood. It will be under water -- Davey Jones' locker, as the sailors say.

The day the Corps gets honest with the public about the Davey-Jones-locker problem, this undead, grave-rising, night-stalking, neck-biting nightmare of luridly bad urban planning finally gets the stake in the heart it so richly deserves. But until then we are all required to behave as if it's actually going to happen. Therefore, the companies and individuals who submit ideas for connecting downtown to the river are required -- required -- to include the nonexistent toll road in their designs. What kind of design contest requires people to include something that isn't there?

A design contest funded by the Trinity Untrustworthy, that's what kind.

So let's say I yielded to temptation and came up with some of my own ideas? I might have suggested a design that incorporated an underground urban guerilla group that would facilitate access to the river by sneaking down there every so often at night when hardly anybody is on the toll road and blowing up sections of it with Gelignite. Or some other suitable substance.

Ok, that would be sophomoric, right? I might enjoy saying something like that, right? But, no. You know what, soldier? This is actually an interesting thing. So I think I shall depart from my script and say something interesting about it for a change.

First of all, that CityDesign outfit involves Larry Beasly of Vancouver, a city planner and urban thinker who is pretty much globally respected. He's been down here in Dallas off and on for some years sucking consultant fees out of the Untrustworthy people, an enterprise I wholly endorse, and I can tell he's tried to stay under the radar on the undead tolload issue, but I got that guy's number anyway. I heard him speak years ago the first time he came to Dallas.

He said stuff like traffic congestion is a good thing, because it forces people out of their cars and draws them in from far-flung suburbs to live instead in stacked-up walkable urban environments. Don't ever build highways downtown, he said. He said it's good for people of different social classes to rub elbows on the street.

Most of the crowd that day was made up of Park Cities Untrustworthy types. I watched their faces. They were giving each other these brow-furrowed looks, like, "He's a nice-looking man, but why doesn't he speak English?"


Beasley and Dallas city manager Mary Suhm are both quoted in Rudy Bush's story today about the design contest. First, I may have exchanged a few words over the phone with Mr. Beasley years ago, but I have never discussed the toll road with him. Second, I have never heard Suhm say anything oher than that she favors the toll road and will fight for it to be built.

But let me tell you something. He and she are just like every other smart, thoughtful, even modestly sophisticated person who has ever looked at this idea. I know that they know the toll road is too stupid to be built.

In 2007, when city council member Angela Hunt led an almost-successful citizens crusade to have the toll road alignment taken out of Davey Jones' locker, she accomplished one enormous social good, even though her referendum failed at the polls: She got the truth out.

The Untrustworthies spent a king's ransom on lies and conned the public into voting to keep the road between the levees. But once the genie of truth was out of the bottle, it could not be squeezed back in. Now, finally, in this contest, I believe we see genie moving back toward center stage.

Everybody with a brain knows putting a toll road out there is a stupid idea. Somebody with a lot of money and juice has been able to bully all those people into silence for a long time, but now they are beginning to whisper. That's what this contest is. It's all the people who have been biting their tongues finally beginning to open their lips and whisper the word. Stupid.

Why is the Trinity Untrustworthy involved? Oh, listen: you can't even pick up trash out there without their grim oversight. They own the river. Or think they do. There's no way anybody could have pulled off a contest like this and not had the Untrustworthy standing by with a baseball bat. They're entirely the reason why the contest calls on contestants to use their imaginations except for the toll road.

But Beasley is quoted in Bush's story saying a very rascally thing, sort of suggesting there's no way to prevent contestants from breaking the rules and suggesting ideas that do not include the toll road.

"We need to give the freedom to designers to tell us what's essential and what's not essential, and I don't know how the toll road will fare in that," he told Bush.

Thank God for Canadians. A Dallasite who said something like that would be riding out of town on a rail covered in goose down tomorrow night.

People are starting to say it. Cutting off downtown from a potential waterfront, the only significant natural feature in the city, is more than stupid. It would be a sin. Almost any idea that helped kill that prospect would be a good idea, fully deserving the approximately $21 million prize that I think is being offered.

This contest is interesting. That's why I am not going to be sophomoric about it. I am Googling Gelignite as we speak, but only because I have always wondered if it's true you can really make it easily and cheaply in the comfort of your own kitchen.

Trinity + Dallas = BFF


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36 comments
Jaborah
Jaborah

As long as I get my free birth control pills what difference does it make?

Clay
Clay

people ride bicycles, dirt bikes, and 4 wheelers up and down them all the time, they seem to be connected rather well allready.. . oops am I not suposed to say that?

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

Very impessive Jim, a story on the Trinity River project and nary a mention of the bathtub and the drain!

MattL11
MattL11

I've never understood the need for all this fancy shit. Can't we just make it so that it's easier for people to go down there to walk around and bike and paddle and stuff? Maybe some amenities here and there, but nothing that can't be underwater every once in a while. 

[For the record, I know "why," but it's nice to get some perspective from time to time. "Imagine all the people..." type stuff.]

John1073
John1073

We can connect downtown to the Trinity by zip line. You have your option to land by dropping into the toll road lanes or into the flooded river.

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

You know what's funny? The toll road would already be built if the commercial developers, the City of Dallas and construction companies would have sold it to the public as a highway project instead of a fictitious park

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

How about the John F. Kennedy Memorial Shooting Range and Deck Park. 

Just build a 300 foot wide concrete path from the grassy knoll on over to the levee.

mcdallas
mcdallas topcommenter

I thought the solar-powered water taxis were going to make the connection.  

Well, since that won't work, why don't we just put the streetcar line in there and avoid all this confusion of closing bridges and rerouting traffic?  Maybe we could make solar-powered water streetcars so that they could alternate between running on tracks and running on watertop?

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Just brick up the pump stations on the Irving Blvd Riverfront  Corridor you will be well connected to the Old Trinity Rivers natural  Course the next time we have a heavy rain

observist
observist topcommenter

So they've planned a toll road between the city and the river, and now they're having a contest for designs connecting the city to the river.   That's like someone having a contest for pain relief ideas while they're punching you in the face. 

if6were9
if6were9

I believe the great rock-n-roll band, Led Zeppelin, had a song written about levees and that one day they're gonna break; and to come to think of it, would make a splendid jingle for this endeavor of the "Untrustworthy" and their ilk. :)

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

I don't think the City will have to worry too very long about how to link the Trinity to downtown.

We come out of this drought and the next big frog floater will link it for them.

In March 2009, Dallas became one of the first U.S. cities to receive an “unacceptable” rating of its floodway system from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In essence, the rating meant the Corps was withdrawing its support for the flood system’s continued 100-year flood accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As a result, FEMA would begin the de-accreditation process by remapping the area as if the levees did not exist. 

That includes 17,000 acres of prime downtown real estate from being reclassified as residing within a 100-year flood plain. 

Have we fixed the levees yet? 

New Orleans opted to blow their levee money on pretty stuff and Katrina collapsed their levees. 

They too were warned by the Corps of Engineers long before the Act of God.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

Dallas voted twice for the toll road.  It should be built no matter the cost.

WillR
WillR

The whole contest is silly to start with. Dallas is never going to have a "waterfront" for the same reason it's never going to have a toll road between the levees: seasonal flooding.  Once or twice a year, the water comes right up to the levees, where you could conceivably have public amenities that make it a "waterfront", but 99% of the time it's a thousand feet away across a muddy floodplain that you can't build anything on because it... (duh) floods.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog 

 Damn it! I knew I forgot something. Now the whole ceremony is off. 

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@John1073 or a gondola...wait what, thats going in at the new midtown development which is nowhere between downtown and uptown

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@holmantx The newest attraction in Texas will put San Antonio to shame.

The Dallas River Walk. It's Everywhere!

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@holmantx wait, didnt they come back last year and tell us, nothing to see here, the levees are fine, we wont flood now?

downtownworker
downtownworker

@WhiteWhale They voted for it when they thought it was free. It would not pass now that it costs $2 billion.

baker24
baker24

@WillR I guess the real irony is that Ft Worth is going to get just about everything Dallas said it wanted from the river: a new development north of the county courthouse with fairly dense urban living and at least some canals through the place for boats to travel, a marina, a riverwalk, and improved flood control. They just need money, but even the Dallas crowd might not be able to prod the bucks from DOT once they start working on Pegasus - after all, once they start, they have to finish or the mess will freeze traffic all through the Stemmons corridor. I'd love to see what this contest will bring forth.....

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Montemalone @MattL11 

Imagine all the people. . .

trapped in their Hum-Vees. . .

Down between the levies. . .

in the Trin-i-ty.

Looking fo-o-or a Stabucks ~ or some - good - su - shi. . .



You - hoo - oo oo oo, You may sa - aa - ay I'm a dreamer

but I'm not the only one. . .

Imagine wa - a - ater taxis ~ powered - by - the - sun . . .


Lorlee
Lorlee

Bob -- maybe you weren't listening 15 years ago -- those of us who opposed it kept saying over and over and over and over that it was a road project.  And back then the entire project including the water taxis was $246M -- now the road alone is in the billions and the City has been anything less than forthcoming on how they have spent the money so far. 

We even put out a brochure showing cars on a road -- although there were fish swimming past the windows. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Montemalone @holmantx

Apparently they applied the new and improved AP Stylebook method of solving the problem by changing the name but leaving the problem.

http://tinyurl.com/crx9fbd

The City "partnered" with an engineering company to cook up a plan which allowed the levee system to be "re-accredited".

Problem solved.

Until it floods and the levees break.

Meanwhile the City spends the levee money for a Riverwalk ala New Orleans.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

"They voted for it when they thought it was free."  Can you really say someone is thinking if they believe a Dallas politician?    Seriously, everyone knew that this money pit turkey was going to cost big.  They just thought that some other poor slobs were going to be stuck with the bill either though highway money or tolls.  Maybe this will serve as a costly civics lesson.

WhiteWhale
WhiteWhale

@ScottsMerkin @downtownworker @WhiteWhale Heck that little no yes trick on a ten point scale barely ranks a one.  Jim even wrote a column or two on it before the election.  Anyone that did not take 5 minutes to educate themselves should not have voted.  If they were tricked by their leaders then maybe they should have held their accountable for once.

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