Prior to the meeting that evening, a group of us from VERDUNITY and Strong Towns walked Abram Street with Tony and Alex from DAMC. Tony explained DAMC's vision of making Abram a pedestrian-focused corridor, as well as some of the challenges, such as accommodating high traffic volumes and helping struggling local businesses along the corridor. Our team made several observations (some of which Chuck mentioned in his presentation), and discussed some ideas. We all agreed that Abram has great potential.
Here are some of our completely unsolicited, unfiltered thoughts about Abram Street:
WHERE IS "DOWNTOWN ARLINGTON?"
Before we get into specifics for Abram Street itself, let's zoom out a bit and talk briefly about "downtown" Arlington. When you ask people if they've been to downtown Arlington, you will get responses ranging from "oh yeah, I go to Cowboys games all the time" to "where is downtown?" and everything in between. What is now the University of Texas at Arlington was initially established as Arlington College back in 1852. The college grew and evolved into an educational leader in the region that is home to over 38,000 students. About 6,000 of those live on campus, which is located just two blocks south of Abram Street, and roughly another 10,000 live within five miles of campus. City Hall, the City's main public library, Founder's Plaza/Levitt Pavilion and a series of businesses and restaurants are all located along a short stretch of the Abram Street corridor itself. There is also a nice section of Main Street one block north of Abram that has more of a traditional downtown feel to it. An interactive map of the area can be found here.
The City has invested tremendous resources in wooing both the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington. They've played host to a World Series, a SuperBowl and most recently, the Final Four, all of which fixed millions of eyes and billions of dollars on Arlington and the DFW region. Six Flags over Texas is also located in the immediate vicinity. Arlington has some great destination points that could be considered part of a core downtown, and even bigger assets with the stadiums that could expand that into a metro-scale downtown. Right now there is not a clear downtown district nor a core that is branded in a way people from Arlington and the north Texas region identify with. It's a little bit of small town USA meshed with the big city.
There has been a lot of talk about establishing or revitalizing downtown Arlington. It appears that there is some inconsistency with respect to the definition of downtown, and actions are not consistently lining up with words. We believe that the conversation must be laser-focused on creating pedestrian-friendly places where people can get out of their cars, walk around and experience the sights, sounds and smells of a downtown. My colleague Don Raines pointed out during our walking tour that people don't spend money by holding their credit card out the window of their car. They have to get out of their cars and physically walk up or sit down at an establishment to make a purchase. Once someone gets out of their car, they need visual clues and a surrounding environment that helps them locate and safely navigate their way to various destinations.
Right now, the various destinations mentioned above are spread out, surrounding by gigantic parking lots and connected by a series of multi-lane STROADs that move lots of cars in, out and around the area at speeds unsafe for pedestrians. Lots of cars are driving by the local businesses and seeing their signs, but not many people are actually stopping and shopping. There's some basic signage around the stadiums geared toward getting cars to the appropriate parking lots, but these various destinations aren't connected with any sort of pedestrian scale branding or wayfinding. The students, workers and residents who do want to walk or bike somewhere in the area today must do so with cars driving by at speeds well over those that are safe for pedestrians. Downtown Arlington is all about cars in its current form. Abram Street is the perfect project to change that.
Connecting all of these assets together and filling in areas with more dense and pedestrian-focused development will undoubtedly take time, but the Abram Street corridor presents an opportunity for the City to fully commit to the vision of creating a vibrant and fiscally productive downtown core by putting people first.