The future of any city depends on its ability to attract and keep bright and innovative people. So said Richard Florida of the University of Toronto. If he is right, and I suspect he is, then one thing that will really make Dallas a Mecca for young talent is the Katy Trail- Arts Loop. This is a walk-and-bike promenade that connects the Katy Trail not only to the Arts District but also to Victory Park, the Harwood buildings and, eventually, the Trinity River. Using existing streets, it would separate cars from walkers and bikers in a way that keeps everybody safe and happy. How often can you do that? More often than we know.
It all began last summer, when Deedie Rose, of the Center for the Performing Arts board, remarked by chance to Eric Van Steenburg, executive director of Friends of the Katy, that she would love to ride her bicycle from her house near the Trail to her office in the Arts District. “Can you make it happen?” asked Ms. Rose, never one to fool around. Eric Van Steenburg thought he could if Mia Birk, once of Dallas, now with Alta in Portland, OR, would join the parade. Mia Birk proposed a study and Deedie Rose was quick to fund it.
By the time Alta was ready for serious listening, a central gang had been assembled in the office of Councilwoman Angela Hunt to guide the show. In addition to Ms. Hunt and Mr. Van Steenburg, it ranged from Philip Henderson, president of Friends of the Katy Trail, and Downtown Dallas head John Crawford to developers James Boots Reeder and Bill Mabus of Crescent Real Estate, creator of the Ritz Carlton.
Mia Birk’s idea, germinated from time with several neighbors of the Katy, was to concentrate on five pieces of the puzzle and come up with three practical options for each. The question was how to get from the Katy to the Arts District (Cedar Springs, Routh or Fairmount?); from there to the south side of the Katy (Flora, Ross or Main to Lamar Record or Houston?) and back again. Ms. Birk wanted to take the Trail to American Airlines Center, and keep on going. She also envisioned an inner loop from Harwood down St. Paul or Olive to Peak Park.
Soon Ms. Birk will recommend one route for each leg of the loop. She’s also estimating costs, which, though neither firm nor official, might come to about $10 million. That’s well within the range of money that could be raised from interested developers, who have everything to gain from this project, as well as others in the city who want to see it happen. Thus the loop could be born from private contributions applied to public right-of-way, just like the Katy itself which is relying on two-thirds of its funding from local citizens and the other third from government.
Ms. Birk plans to be in Dallas with her proposal in July. Of course, nothing will be gained without giving something up. To create space for walkers and bikers, Ms. Birk pointed out, sidewalks must be widened, on-street parking eliminated or travel lanes narrowed or ended. But it works, she argues. “Businesses not only survive, they thrive.” When you provide separate areas for walking and biking, you clarify who goes where, she explained, and with clarity comes safety. “The crash rate plummets.”
One enthusiast for the loop believes it should include horseback riding too since “that’s who we are.” It’s a possibility, said Ms. Birk, but it must be done with care. “Horses are skittish in a car environment,” she said. They need an area that’s more controlled–perhaps near the Trinity or White Rock Lake–with a softer surface and a way to clean up after them. But it can be done, she agreed, pointing to a big equestrian plan currently underway for Las Vegas.
The Katy Trail- Arts Loop is a fantastic idea that’s not only brilliant but doable. Those who want to know more–not only about the loop, but also street cars and other action downtown–should watch for a community open house planned by Angela Hunt and John Crawford for late August or early September. These are exactly the sort of imaginative efforts we need to keep Dallas, Texas alive and jumping, fed by the innovation, energy and youth that are drawn to cities endowed with the joys of everyday.