6 takeaways from the Gaston-Garland-Grand redesign ‘charrette’

Gaston Garland Grand

The intersection where East Grand meets Gaston and turns into Garland Road has been called the gateway to East Dallas. It’s not an easy intersection for cars to travel, however, let alone pedestrians and cyclists. And for a gateway, it’s not much to look at.

Because Grand and Garland are one and the same as State Highway 78, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to transform the intersection in the near future. It already has conducted traffic studies and this week held a design charrette — essentially an interactive meeting with maps and markers — that allowed neighbors to break up into groups and share their concerns and hopes for the area. Several themes emerged from the exercise:

1. The ‘3 Gs’ also is the intersection of several political interests — and that could be a good thing. Two state representatives (Eric Johnson and Kenneth Sheets), three city councilmen (Mark Clayton, Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston) and one county commissioner (Theresa Daniel) are involved in this project, and three were present at Monday night’s meeting. It meant, of course, that the event included several somewhat superfluous speeches, but it also means that several entities will be working together on the project and could increase the project’s budget. In her speech, Daniel explained that the county often is the glue that holds together a project like this. When Tim Starr, an assistant director in the City of Dallas’ public works department, came to the mic, he quipped, “Dr. Daniel, not only are you the glue but a potential funding source.”

2. There were lessons learned from the Buckner-Garland intersection redesign. TxDOT’s Dallas director of transportation planning and development, Mo Bur, told the gathering that when TxDOT worked on the Garland-Buckner intersection redesign, it made the mistake of coming up with designs before consulting the community. This time, TxDOT is taking neighbors’ feedback into account before coming up with design alternatives. “This is your meeting,” Bur said. Participants also referenced Buckner-Garland’s aesthetics, such as changes in pavement colors to indicate pedestrian crosswalks, when giving feedback on a future design for Gaston-Garland-Grand.

3. Pedestrians and bicycles are a top priority in the new schematics. As Terry Watson from Kimley-Horn, the firm commissioned by TxDOT, went over the initial traffic studies, he highlighted the lack of pedestrian and bicycle access. “We found one,” Watson said of a photo slide showing a cyclist struggling southbound on Grand amid heavy vehicular traffic. “He’s traveling legally — has a right to be in the traffic lane — but we haven’t done much to accommodate him.” Pedestrians have no choice but to cross the intersection illegally, no matter which way they are traveling. “This is a situation we will make some recommendations to correct,” Watson said.

4. Fixing only Gaston-Garland-Grand is too narrow. Broaden the scope. Neighbors argued that it’s futile to address Gaston-Garland-Grand without addressing Gaston and Tucker, Garland and Winsted, Grand and La Vista, and so on. They want TxDOT to take into account how the Santa Fe Trail, which loops around the intersection, could interact with the new design. They asked that the intersection be designed for the future, not the present, pointing out the booming retail nearby, new apartments being built both west of Grand and east of Grand, nearby schools growing and opening, and so on. “If it’s built for current conditions, it’ll be a failure in a week,” one neighborhood presenter said.

5. A basic ‘T’ intersection is the preference, but don’t write off a traffic circle just yet. Most neighbors indicated they favored a simple T-intersection, but a few requested that TxDOT look seriously at a traffic circle. Lakewood resident Alex Winslow, also an investor in The Lot at Gaston and Grand, called the redesign a “once in a generation opportunity” when advocating this position. “This intersection has been underutilized for decades. A traffic circle should be considered strongly,” Winslow said. Others also conveyed concern that a T might not be enough to address traffic issues over the long-term.

6. Don’t slow the flow. Most of the morning traffic travels from the east side of the lake to Gaston (half as many cars continue down Grand toward I-30), and most of the afternoon traffic comes from Gaston and turns north onto Garland. Drivers heading in these directions during peak hours don’t typically experience traffic backups, according to Kimley-Horn’s studies, and residents don’t want that to change when the intersection is redesigned to address safety issues and traffic flow in all directions.

TxDOT will return to the community with potential designs later this summer, then another to finalize the design in late fall/winter.

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