Ed Wallace

It Can’t Happen Here, Pt. 2


The discussion is always the same: How can we rid our cities of traffic congestion and simultaneously decrease air pollution?

Yet, in this discussion, everyone overlooks the obvious: In terms of road construction, the metropolitan areas that are growing most dynamically are never going to keep up with — much less stay ahead of — their population increases. Dallas and Fort Worth certainly offer proof of this easy-to-understand but unspoken truth.

Making matters worse for our mobile society is that, to our politicians and city planners, developer profits will always come first — often worsening any city’s traffic problems. At least, that’s true here in America, but that mindset could be changing overseas. In any case, capitalism is a great thing and continuing to encourage it is what gives so many people jobs. The downside is that centralizing capitalistic real estate development creates horrendous traffic.

A great example would be our city’s downtown development in the early Eighties. Continental National Bank built its new headquarters, now known as 777 Main Street, finishing it in 1983. But even before that construction was complete, the Bass Brothers started building their twin City Center skyscrapers, opening one tower the year before Continental Plaza and the other a year later. Both Bob Gerrard, then chairman of Continental, and the Bass family firmly believed in our city’s future and in their plans to revitalize downtown Fort Worth. Come to think of it, Burnet Plaza was finished in 1983, too.

All told, our downtown region added 151 stories of office spaces of various sizes, then filled them. In doing so, Fort Worth gave itself the challenge of dealing with that many more motorists trying to get to work in the same small land area every morning. And we’ve been trying to fix our freeway system into downtown to accommodate everyone ever since.

Dallas has the same problems, although they may be about to make theirs horribly worse. For years developers have been jonesing to have I-345 on the east side of downtown condemned, so they can take high-rent blight and turn it into higher end, more profitable, less blighty stuff. (Oh, you don’t know where I-345 is? Don’t feel bad, most don’t: It’s the short freeway that connects North Central Expressway [which becomes I-45 to Houston] with I-30.) And a week ago TxDOT released a new study introducing that very possibility. That same paper looked at potentially rerouting I-30 to south of Fair Park. Now, TxDOT did not make any hard recommendations about what to do, but one has only to look at a map to see that this would make everything north of Fair Park and east, from downtown Dallas past Baylor Hospital, a real estate developer’s dream.

But motorists would pay a devastating price: Years of congestion, possibly forever if they take out I-345 and replace it with a lesser interchange. Not to mention everyone living in South Dallas who would be displaced if Dallas changes I-30’s route. The good news? There’s still plenty of open land for those individuals in the nearby Trinity flood plain.

Sure enough, just as this information came out, Watchdog.org’s Texas bureau released a column on the real cost of mass transit in Texas. According to DART, 29.9 million passenger trips were taken in 2015. The downside is that DART received $619,960,000 in subsidies, or about $21 per rider per trip. No wonder ZipCar thinks it has a future.

As mentioned last week about Los Angeles and its newest light rail, from downtown to Santa Monica, all of our region’s light rail lines seem to have given our highways’ congestion no relief whatsoever. On the other side of the equation, 13 years ago London added a “congestion charge” for those wanting to motor into the city’s central downtown area. Depending on whom you prefer to believe, within four years the number of automobiles that could be charged that congestion tax dropped by 30 percent, but that drop was offset by other vehicles, such as taxis and buses, giving London only a net 14 – 16 percent drop in traffic. So the traffic delays per kilometer only fell from 2.3 to 2.27. And they called that success.

Next week: Countries with no new cars in the future.

© Ed Wallace 2016

Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and hosts the top-rated talk show, Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: wheels570@sbcglobal.net.