Rouging the Corpse

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Having lived through it and been a part of it, he feels passionately that the two most important elements in the modern history of Toronto have been the defeat of the road hustlers and the advent of mass transit. Roads--that is, big highways--just don't work in the city, he says.

"Part of the problem is that you can never have enough roads," Sewell told me. "The minute you build a road, it's always crowded.

"The other problem with roads is that they eat up an extraordinary amount of land. They pollute the air because of the things that go on them called cars. They cause health hazards in terms of accidents and so on."

Mass transit, on the other hand, he said, is cheap, efficient and provides "an opportunity for the people in the city to get to know each other.

"Toronto is known for its ethnic and racial diversity. We have numbers of different people from different countries, different languages, different cultures, all living together relatively peacefully. I believe it's because of the public transit system.

"What happens is you get on the bus or the streetcar or the subway, and you are forced to travel with a whole bunch of people that you don't know, and they are forced to travel with you. And you get to realize that there's nothing wrong with them. They look a bit weird, their kids look a bit weird, but they aren't scary at all."

By putting "lots of people in the same place at the same time," mass transit facilitates the fun part of urban life: sidewalk cafes, the simple art of strolling a crowded sidewalk.

"I think people like urban environments," he said. "They're fun. When you say, 'Let's go visit Toronto,' people don't go stay in the suburbs. You pay good money to go to Paris and London, not to be on the edges but to be downtown. Because it feels nice."

He cited his own son as a product of the urban environment he helped create in Toronto.

"My son is 27. He got the very first drivers license he ever had last week. His girlfriend does not have a drivers license. These are very hip people. My son has a very very popular band in Toronto. They are not lacking for money.

"They don't have a car. They just haven't wanted to do it. As they say, 'Well, most of our friends don't have cars either.'"

Michael Morris, you tell me how building "radial improvements" will help my son have a band and a hip girlfriend and no car in Dallas 10 years from now. Then maybe we'll talk.

When one thinks of what the city could do instead of building a multilane toll road along the river, some of the underlying assumptions in the toll-road plan are all the more disturbing. Here are some items I would be willing to bet our esteemed city council knows nothing about: Does the Dallas City Council, which is supposed to vote up or down on the toll-road project next month when it returns from its summer hiatus, understand that it will be expected to sign a "no-compete" agreement with the toll authority? I'm talking about an agreement by which the city would legally hamper its prerogative to build other roads downtown in the future.

A study of the proposed toll road completed in October 2000 by Wilbur Smith Associates, contractors to the North Texas Tollway Authority, included as one of its core assumptions that the city of Dallas would agree that "no competing limited-access highways will be constructed in the Trinity Parkway study area." I asked the tollway authority if they will demand the city sign a no-compete contract, and, after thinking about my question for three days, they conceded that some type of non-compete agreement would be needed.

And does the city council understand that all of the financial viability data for this proposed toll road assume and require that it will be eight full lanes of traffic, with a 55 mph speed limit but traffic allowed to travel at actual speeds of at least 60 mph? And the data assumes much less connectivity with other roads than what the council has been shown?

Let's say Miller does succeed in trimming it down to six lanes from eight. Maybe she keeps enough people happy that way and keeps enough political contributions rolling in to ensure her next office-seeking adventure. But her legacy in Dallas will be of greatness lost, for the city and for herself.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze