Imagine smooth-flowing traffic and student-populated sidewalks.
I’m thrilled about the ongoing project to reimagine the intersection at Skillman-LBJ where today, no driver escapes unscathed by doubt or fear. Where pedestrians — and there are many — face a no-man’s land of jagged concrete corners and dismal parking lots.
North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) and the City of Dallas are working jointly with Omniplan, the architectural firm that redesigned NorthPark Center. So far this year the groups have held two community meetings, in January and May, where they invited feedback from the neighborhood on our hopes and concerns.
First challenge: traffic. A TXDOT plan calls for smoothing out the surface road snarl at the site. Omniplan’s Tip Housewright says realignment of the interchange will produce “normal corners,” along with 27 percent more developable land.
Although the intersection suffers from too many roads happening at once, in the mega-blocks of apartments just north of LBJ, there aren’t enough. That’s because the huge complexes were built adjacent to one another without intervening roadways. Drivers and pedestrians have difficulty penetrating the area, but the lack of nearby amenities forces residents to make the difficult trek southward for groceries and the DART station. The solution? Planners say building three or four north-south roadways through the area would create a more functional grid. (That’s right, I said grid. Face it: If we don’t use our imaginations, we’ll never get out of this mess.)
Second challenge: Those same mega-blocks of apartments. It’s fair to say a majority of neighbors believe the area cannot improve unless the mire of problems resulting from the apartments is addressed, including the high crime rate. What might provide incentive for redevelopment in the area? Kevin Glasscock of Omniplan replied, “The market’s going to drive this.” (Presumably he means a different and better market than the one that already drove this.)
Third challenge: Retail. Feedback from business owners says improving the traffic flow is important, but they also want to see better curb appeal. They hope for greater diversity of demographics, with more emphasis on owner-occupied condos and homes. They want better signage from the highway and more upgrades to the existing buildings, like those currently planned at the Tom Thumb market.
The challenges are so daunting, it’s easy to forget there are stellar assets in the area that aren’t yet leveraged to their full advantage.
The DART station is surrounded by a parcel of land that provides a golden opportunity for additional retail and amenities.
The future Town Center already is connected to the area by DART rail and Skillman Ave.
Another asset is Richland College, which is not far from the DART station as the crow flies, although north-south access is cut off by the impenetrable apartment complexes.
In one of the breakout sessions, Eurico Francisco of Omniplan listened as neighbors cited Mockingbird Station as a desirable example, along with its proximity to SMU. Francisco asked us if we thought Richland College might be to SMU as our DART station is to Mockingbird Station.
By this time, we were so enamored with the idea of new and better retail, owner-occupied residences and new north-south thoroughfares we could actually envision the now-isolated DART station abuzz with student life, bike traffic and shuttle buses connecting to the college.
There is no question opportunity abounds. Today at Richland College, the only restaurant on the campus is one lone Subway. And the DART station attracts people who might be willing to spend money on snacks and coffee, although neither is available now.
Involved residents such as Susan Morgan and Don Scarborough (Lake Highlands Area Improvement Association), Kathy Stewart (Highlands Café), Cindy Causey (Dallas Media Center) and Les Hall (Copperfield Homeowners Association) have helped push for positive change, and the visionaries at the city and Omniplan recognize it will take a similar level of neighborhood interest to achieve the follow-through. The biggest difference between today’s vision planning vs. the market mish-mash that got us here is that finally someone is asking the group of stakeholders who are in it for the long haul — the homeowners.