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City Places for City People
"Don't Walk" Signs in Dallas

by Eric Miller, February 2012

A few months back my parents had been visiting and we were eating at a cafe along McKinney Avenue in Dallas. McKinney Avenue is a busy street, filled with a large number of sports bars and restaurants and also having a streetcar line connecting Downtown with Uptown. There's lots of foot traffic and auto traffic. Just then traffic started to back up, and then came the sirens. Being the curious sort, I walked to the corner to see what had happened. A pedestrian--who appeared to be a young girl with bright-colored hair--lay face down in the street. She had been struck by a vehicle.

It's not that McKinney Avenue in particular is a bad design, and I don't know the actual details of the incident prior to that point, but in this case it's more likely someone wasn't watching, traffic was moving too fast or a car was trying to pass a stopped vehicle, something that is the situation in many pedestrian fatalities.

I didn't see any reports, and didn't know for sure until recently that she had in fact died. This was the second time I had been very close to a pedestrian death in Dallas, and I haven't even lived here a year. The previous incident happened outside a restaurant on Cedar Springs Road. Leaving the restaurant, we saw the ambulance and learned a pedestrian had been hit and, as we later learned, killed there.

The good news is more people are walking in Dallas. The bad news is there have been more pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities. Dallas, it seems, will need to come to grips with its newfound pedestrian culture. It's also a sign that the way we design things contributes greatly to the quality of life, and to safety--in particular for pedestrians.

When we were looking for a place to live, a major concern was finding a unit that didn't require the crossing of busy roads, most notably Lemmon Avenue, and to a lesser degree Oak Lawn Avenue. But even many of the smaller streets are one-way, to allow cars to move on without stopping in one direction, making it inherently dangerous for pedestrians. An immediate improvement could be made by adding additional stop signs, if not making all intersections four-way stops. Even better would be to create streets with two-way traffic.

Yet it's going to take a fundamental change in thinking here. It's clear the movement of pedestrian traffic hasn't, except in a few cases, been of primary concern.

I frequently encounter a section of sidewalk that's non-existent near the intersection of Turtle Creek Boulevard and Bowen Street. If it was a section of road that was missing, well, that just couldn't be, yet it seems ok to force pedestrians onto the roadway. I emailed the city and have been told they'll be "looking for funding" to complete the section. It's things like this additional 30 feet of concrete that go a long way to making a city pedestrian-friendly.

A recent report report issued by the Alliance for Biking and Walking suggests Dallas residents don't like to walk to work, and they don't cycle either. It ranked Dallas 49th out of 51 cities in the share of commuters who cycle or walk to work. I know plenty of people who do it against great odds, and I'd counter that much of the place isn't built to make this feasible. It's not that residents don't like to walk or bike to work, but that it's just not easy.

There's a plan for bike lanes in place, but it remains just a plan. According to the Dallas Morning News, the City of Dallas doesn't have the money to re-stripe 840 miles of pavement for bike lanes. Yet it could have prevented a recent accident that severely injured Dallas Torres, an Oak Cliff resident who had a run in on a bridge slated for upgrades.

Back on Cedar Springs, two recent deaths and two injuries there, as well as an involved and informed business community, have brought about improvements such as additional cross walks, blinking lights, and stop lights and may eventually result in narrowing the street. These are the kind of things that need to happen to make Dallas a great place to live. And they need to happen everywhere, to make pedestrian and bicycle travel as practical and possible as travel by car.

Until now its been assumed that even if one were to use public transit, upon deboarding, they'd get in a car. More and more, however, that's not the case. People are out there walking and biking despite the odds. We need the infrastructure to accommodate them.

Eric Miller