Look on the bright side

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Then there was the matter of the property next door. City documents show that Nasher had long demanded that the city acquire the property east of his proposed garden site, presumably in order to guard against tacky development. (As usual, Nasher did not respond to Dallas Observer requests for comment on this or other matters.) The city quietly ignored Nasher's request until the fall of 1997, when Nasher went ballistic over a marketing brochure showing a 50-story "monstrosity" towering just east of his beloved garden.

According to Suhm, that snafu has now been smoothed over. "I think he's content with the [development] proposal that's there now," Suhm says. But just as that issue was resolved, the question over whether to close Harwood was coming to a boil.

City documents show that the city, the museum, and Nasher had been talking about closing Harwood for some time to accommodate pedestrians walking from the DMA to Nasher's garden. At various times, the DMA's and the city's draft plans for the garden site have included a walkway, along with an estimate of $100,000 to build it. (It has never been clear who would pick up the tab.) An early pitch to Nasher included among the city's duties a promise to "construct a pedestrian connection across Harwood street"--a provision that was replaced by a vague promise to "modify Harwood and Olive streets."

Once more, however, neighboring downtown property owners were apparently not brought in on the plan. (Indeed, city officials had long tried to soft-peddle the news. "There may be some small street closures, but nothing major," Mayor Pro Tem Mary Poss told the Observer last year.)

Although Nasher has yet to complete the design for his garden, the overhead walkway plan apparently has been scrapped, as have subsequent plans to create a tunnel. "There are big utilities easements under Harwood Street, so you can't do that," Suhm says. If the Harwood closing doesn't work, she adds, there is one more possibility: a "berm," or little hill of dirt that motorists would drive under.

According to Suhm, the Central Dallas Association's big concern is access to buildings from Harwood Street. CDA officials did not return calls for this story, but there may be another, unspoken factor here. City documents show that the CDA did its own economic impact study of the proposed garden--and the numbers show that the boon to Dallas from Nasher's garden may be small.

The upshot: between the real estate and street-closing snarls, it is now 23 three months after the big announcement--and the first bulldozer has yet to dig its maw into the first mound of dirt on the proposed garden site.

Though the deal could yet change, the city's study assumes that the relevant stretch of Harwood from Woodall Rodgers to Flora Street will be open from 7 a.m. until 10 a.m. Monday through Friday only. To study the effect this schedule would have on downtown traffic, employees from the city's Department of Public Works and Transportation counted the number of cars using each of four major downtown traffic arteries. From January 7 until January 18, they counted vehicles traveling the north-south arteries of Pearl, Olive, St. Paul, and Harwood. They found that Harwood carries the least traffic of the four--about 6,000 cars a day, compared with about 7,100 a day for St. Paul. Pearl is the workhorse, carrying an average of 9,790 motorists southbound and another 12,853 northbound each day.

As proposed, a two-lane Harwood open for three hours would carry 856 vehicles a day between Woodall Rodgers and Ross Avenue--leaving some 5,100 commuters to find another route. The city estimates that 80 percent of those--some 4,000 or more--would be diverted onto St. Paul Street. In other words, St. Paul would resemble Pearl Street at rush hour, only worse. (The report alludes to another study done by the North Texas Council of Governments, which suggests that traffic would tend to disperse over a far wider variety of alternative routes.)

As the report concedes, running the morning and afternoon gantlet down Pearl is no simple task. Yet under the proposed Harwood closure plan, 1,000 vehicles a day would be diverted onto Pearl. Engineers assigned each intersection an "LOS" ("Level of Service") rating--in their own words, a "standardized attempt to define in terms of delay the discomfort, frustration, and lost travel time experienced by a motorist." They created an A-F grading system, with A being "an intersection with very low delays" and F being "delays in excess of 60 seconds per vehicle, considered unacceptable to most motorists." Using this system, at peak times, portions of Pearl already receive Ds and Fs. Woodall Rodgers' eastbound service lane gets similarly failing grades.

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Christine Biederman