When people toss around the word “streetscape,” it’s generally understood to mean the off-road aesthetic elements that fill the space between the curb and any building line. That off-road stuff, however, involves more than just beautification.
Widening sidewalks improves the walkable environment, making it more inviting to pedestrians and the retailers that depend on walk-in traffic — while the addition of trees and shrubbery mitigates urban heat islands, thus improving the ambient temperature.
Streetscape design also takes the road itself into consideration. Narrowing a street’s width to make more room for pedestrians, plant life and cyclists slows down traffic, giving drivers breathing room to browse and choose where to pull in for a meal, or do some shopping. Converting a one-way street for two-way traffic can augment that effect. The addition of bicycle lanes also tends to slow traffic, as well as giving travelers another option to get them out of a carbon-emitting vehicle.
The Complete Streets Design Manual, a document that required five years of city staff and community involvement to draft before it was finally adopted by Dallas City Council, became the bible for urban street design as of January 2016. However, local city planners and developers were well aware of the document before 2016 and several projects in the works have attempted to live up to the spirit of the document.
Among these were the streetscape projects in upper Oak Lawn on Cedar Springs Road between Oak Lawn Avenue and Douglas Avenue; in Deep Ellum on Elm Street from Good Latimer Expressway to Exposition Avenue; and Pearl Street in the Dallas Farmers Market.
Certain pending projects have drawn great interest and are widely anticipated, including the Commerce Street conversion from Good Latimer Expressway to Exposition Avenue, which is the sister project to the earlier Elm Street conversion; Knox Street from Katy Trail to the Central Expressway in Uptown; and the Tyler and Polk Streets two-way conversion on the west end of the Bishop Arts District.
The Knox Street project was highlighted during the city’s adoption of its Complete Streets manual, because as a development it had the most advanced timeline at the time. This four-block project had an estimated cost of $734,700.
However, Senior Planner Mark R. Brown, who had a major role in drafting the Complete Streets manual, notes that he produced the preferred concept for Knox Street’s “Road Diet,” and states it will cost $1.4 million. The Knox Street project will convert the road from four lanes to three, with final designs expected by December. A contractor is scheduled to be selected by March and the project completed by April 2019.
The Commerce Street conversion in Deep Ellum is not quite as far along, nor is it funded, but it remains a priority of the city’s Mobility and Street Services Department.
Tanya Brooks, the department’s assistant director, has been circulating a presentation explaining how Commerce Street’s status as a one-way, fast-traffic conduit to and from downtown will change to a narrower, two-way street with reduced pedestrian crossing distances, more traffic signals, improved ADA access, lighting and streetscaping.
The Commerce Street project is also the lead project of a bicycle connectivity plan that would provide east-west bike lanes from Exposition Avenue westward via Commerce Street to Jackson Street towards Union Station and beyond.
In Oak Cliff, the Tyler Street/Polk Street project takes on two parallel streets that run north-south from Canty Street to Pembroke Avenue. Both are one-way streets in a zone that is predominantly neighborhood commercial in character, and the proposal converts them to two-way streets in order to support existing retail, along with encouraging growth in this direction from the bustling Bishop Arts District.
Traffic signals would be modernized, and a roundabout that would double as a neighborhood gateway would be constructed at the north end of the project where Tyler Street splits at a fork leading southbound traffic onto Polk Street.
None of the aforementioned projects compare in scale to the Texas Trees Foundation partnership with the Southwestern Medical District and their Urban Streetscape Master Plan.
“This would be the largest urban streetscape, at a little over 17 miles,” said Janette Monear, executive director of Texas Trees Foundation.
The seed for this project began in 2015 when the Foundation released a report that accounted for the density of what became known as the Dallas urban forest. The study found that the Medical District’s tree canopy was less than 7 percent of its total land mass and it was shown to have the hottest urban heat island in the county.
The Foundation approached the Medical District about initiating a major urban streetscape project.
“We have taken the Complete Streets manual and used that as a baseline. But we are creating what we feel will be a model project,” Monear said.
The Medical District, with its cluster of hospitals, anticipates at least one mission-critical benefit from this project.
“It’s more about human health than beautification. Patients that look outside at nature have a 20 percent higher outcome, post-operative.”
Janette Monear, Texas Trees Foundation
The scope of the project would create an urban forest within the district and streetscapes on five major boulevards that crisscross the district. “It’s not just about the footprint of the hospitals. When you do this kind of project, the ambient temperatures are a lot cooler and flooding can be reduced,” Monear said.
Because of the scale of the project, these ambient temperature and flooding issues extend to the adjacent neighborhoods—the Design District and Oak Lawn. The project also takes into consideration various modes of connectivity, such as the DART light rail Inwood/Love Field Station and the section of the Trinity Strand Trail that cuts through the Design District, Monear said.
The neighboring districts have been very supportive, she added, because they know it will be a driver for more development.
Austin-based Design Workshop was selected to develop the master plan. Monear said the selection committee was particularly impressed with their work on Houston’s Bagby Street. The first phase of design is expected to be complete by January, then it’s on to the implementation phase. Monear said there are two phases to the project, beginning with a $60 million streetscape. The entire project has an estimated cost of $260 million and will take 10 years to complete.