In West Dallas Yesterday, Yet Another Argument Over How the City Remakes Itself

Rebecca Dugger, director of the Trinity River Corridor Project, was out and about on Thursday afternoon, selling the citizens on the need to redo the N. Beckley Avenue-W. Commerce Street intersection. But Belmont Hotel owner and developer Monte Anderson wasn't buying.

"I'd rather have nothing," he said. "I'd rather have gridlock. I'd rather have nothing than have what you're going to give us. We've lived with second-rate infrastructure in Southern Dallas County my whole life, and I'm tired of it, and I think mitigating ... mitigating is not good enough ...This is a bad, bad, bad plan."

Here, incidentally, is said bad plan -- city engineers' proposal for the intersection that sits at the foot of the Commerce Street bridge, close to the banks of the Trinity River. As it stands right now, the bridge arcs over Beckley's two single lanes in an unremarkable, bunkered overpass; the city wants to make those two lanes into six, reinventing Beckley Avenue as the outlet for all the congestion that will surely be the outgrowth of the upcoming I-30 construction.

But to those with interests in developing West Dallas, from Oak Cliff residents to developers who see Fort Worth Avenue as the next Congress Avenue, the total lack of pedestrian crossings in the city's original plan was simply untenable. 

Supposedly, the city's engineers had rethought the whole thing, but they didn't have a chance to unfurl the revamped drawings before Scott Griggs, president of the Fort Worth Avenue Development Group, presented his own excoriation of the plans, which included a weird fuzzy-math calculation that crossing a six-lane Beckley Avenue would really be like crossing eight lanes.

The problem, in Griggs's estimation, was that all the rezoning and development in the world wouldn't do squat if a freeway blocked people from shopping, eating, working or living in whatever 11-story buildings they're planning. When Griggs had finished, Dugger made a go of it.

"We've incorporated your concerns," she said, explaining that a nice, covered pedestrian bridge was "going to go up and over and kind of through and behind" the abutment. Plus, there were medians now, so pedestrians could just hang out there until the traffic stopped. The I-30 traffic, that is.

The merits of medians were debated; it was generally agreed that nobody wanted to hang out on a median and that people in wheelchairs were unlikely to benefit even from the city's new plan.

"This is a temporary fix," Dugger protested; badinage ensued about the definition of "temporary." (Twenty years? Thirty?) What it all boiled down to, in the end, was an old, familiar issue: Dallas has to decide whether it's going to be a city of buildings built around roads (highways, rather) or a city of roads that accommodate buildings. Or as former council member Ed Oakley put it, "Once development starts, you can't move this 'temporary' road. It's too late."

So Dugger headed back to City Hall with a lot of complaints and options apparently limited to building the intersection or ... not building the intersection. May temporary discord not leave West Dallas in a state of permanent indecision.