There have been many versions of the Trinity Parkway throughout the years. It can be difficult to keep up with the constantly changing and growing list of alternatives and plans. At one of the recent Trinity Parkway public input forums, we the attendees were introduced to the Dream Team plan. See the pdf here. The Dream Team is comprised of a group of planning, design, and traffic experts from other cities across the US and Canada. This team was assembled to make design recommendations for the Trinity Parkway, given the waning support for the road.
According to what we saw at the meeting, the dream team plan differs significantly from the road that we had all grown accustomed to and know by its heartless name: Alternative 3C. In the Dream Team plan, the six lane highway gave way to a 4-lane, "meandering" road (still the same 55mph speed limit though) sitting atop the bench of Alternative 3C.
This proposal locates linear parking lots at points where the road bends, providing direct access to the park and its network of trails and lakes. It advocates for more pedestrian connections, more trees, adding U-turn opportunities, and providing transit access to the park, among others. Additionally, it calls for designing the flood walls at the road's low points for 10 year instead of 100 year floods. This will allow greater visual connection while only closing the road once every few years. The amount of "fly over" ramps was greatly reduced from 6 to just 2 interchanges. With the reduction in scale and the focus on increasing park use, this proposal does a much better job of responding to its context and serving the park than the full six lane highway described in alternative 3c.
However, despite all of the improvements, the objective of this road continues to be for traffic relief of the existing freeway system around downtown Dallas. As long as this road is a traffic reliever for downtown freeways, it will never live up to its full potential as a park road. The need to move large amounts of traffic through the parkway corridor inevitably conflict with providing gracious and convenient park access. A true park road should be 35-40mph, have numerous pedestrian crossings, and be free to the public.
The Dream Team plan was billed as the "tollway for this generation," and it was stated by urban planner Larry Beasley (Dream team member and spokesman) that this plan can be phase one, leaving the possibility open for the full six lane high-speed toll road to be built later. That was the most worrying statement in the entirety of the meeting. Building the full six lane highway would be disastrous for the park and for the urban fabric of Dallas. To create a more vibrant city, connection is needed between downtown and Oak Cliff, between downtown and the Trinity. Highways are barriers; that is a fact.
So, while the dream team proposal is a step in the right direction, there are still reasons for concern regarding this latest plan. They are:
- The full six lane buildout is still on the table (which would eliminate all vehicular access to the park)
- The proposed speed limit is 55 (I'd like to see 35 or 40)
- No at-grade pedestrian crossing
- Lack of clarity from the city regarding what comprises 3C
- It is tolled (Proposed toll forgiveness for stays of 1 hour +)
- Limited thought given to public transit throughout the corridor
Aside from the design of the road, the format of the meeting provided little in the way of dialogue, and I left feeling as though the conversation was one-sided. After the Dream Team recommendations were presented, there was a brief wrap-up statement and then we were dismissed to go have discussions at the 4 tables manned by city staff. There was no opportunity for public questions.(There are comment cards however, on which every staff member repeatedly asks you to write down your thoughts.) A Technical Committee is supposedly reviewing the Dream Team’s recommendations as well as the input coming from these public meetings. In a few months, they will release their conclusions. Let’s all hope that the City does an adequate job of making that information public.
I am generally hopeful about the direction of the Trinity Parkway at this point. We have seen the reduction of the size of the road from 6 lanes + interchanges to 4 lanes. I am encouraged that the momentum seems to be shifting away from the full Alternative 3C design. I appreciate that the city is actively seeking public input. But despite all of the positives, I am wary of the process. The meeting came across more like a pitch by the city to get attendees on board with their idea. And I still can't shake the thought that the answer may be to not build any road at all...