Back in the days before the great recession, optimists launched some excellent ideas for neighborhood rejuvenation. One of the best was a national movement called “complete streets.” According to completestreets.org, the vision is “streets that are safe and comfortable for everyone: young and old, motorists and bicyclists, walkers and wheelchair users, and bus and train riders alike.”
You may have noticed that we don’t have a street like that anywhere in Lake Highlands. Recent stories of pedestrians killed by cars certainly highlight our neighborhood challenge.
The really good news is that last year the City of Dallas launched its own Complete Streets Initiative. Fifteen pilot areas were identified throughout the city, in areas such as Downtown (Ross, Pearl and Grand), Uptown (Knox-Henderson), West Dallas (Royal Lane) and South Dallas (Lancaster Road, and Camp Wisdom).
Last on the list — alphabetically — is our own Skillman, between Northwest Highway and Walnut Hill. (The entire list is at dallascompletestreets.com.)
The complete streets concept is not one-size-fits-all. At the end of the process, Skillman isn’t meant to look like Ross or Knox or Henderson. Bike lanes may be appropriate in some areas but not others. The goal is to enhance the street in ways that make the most sense for the community.
Peer Chacko, assistant director for Dallas’ Department of Sustainable Development, told me why Skillman was chosen.
“One key was the new Dart station at the Town Center, and the recreational trail plan,” he says. “Also, [Skillman] is a mix of residential and commercial use.”
In addition to light rail, Skillman has a bus route. And Skillman’s excess width and available right-of-way land on the west side provide excellent opportunities for bike lanes, either on the street or on dedicated paths.
Chacko mentioned one of the goals would be to slow traffic. I stopped him to make sure I had heard correctly.
“Yes, that’s right,” he says. “One of the conscious goals is to make the streets safer.” He explained that wide streets like Skillman encourage people to speed. Proponents of complete streets advocate for “calming” traffic via features such as landscaped medians and crosswalks.
In November 2011, some LH residents attended a public meeting at the Freshman Center to offer their input on improvements to Skillman. The highest priorities they identified were the need for more lighting, a desire to feel safe (from crime, presumably), and maintaining traffic flow. Also on the list were hopes for wider sidewalks, “calmed” traffic, bike lanes and trees.
It’s hard for some people (including me) to believe that Skillman could ever be pedestrian or bike friendly because right now it seems almost impossible to imagine such a desolate strip of road could be good for anything except a detour around school zones — and even in those, we travel at the highest speed that won’t get us arrested. We’re so conditioned to the desolation of big boxes, run-down apartments, speeding vehicles and desert conditions (if you see a watering hole, it’s a mirage) that we can hardly imagine asking for anything better than a few more lights and maybe some police.
Nowadays, we’re used to watching projects like this sputter and flame out due to lack of funding, but so far this project is on track. In April (yes, this year) the team presented its community-input findings to the Dallas City Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee. They acknowledge that their plans are a work in progress and will be refined over time. This means that if you can’t imagine a better Skillman yet, you have time to re-adjust your thinking before the next public hearing, which is likely to take place in June or July (at this writing no date is set).
After this summer’s hearings, the City Council will face the task of prioritizing which projects will be included in a bond initiative planned for the fall election. This means proposed improvements to Skillman will be weighed against the other 14 areas.
If you’d like to see Skillman transformed into an inviting oasis instead of a pedestrian’s nightmare, let’s make sure our council knows we care.