As an offshoot of the Goals for Dallas program, urban planner Vincent Ponte was commissioned to prepare a report setting the guidelines for a new downtown Dallas circulation system. Published in August 1969, this document emphasized the separation of different transport modes and focused on several components: shopping malls and plazas, green spaces, streets and traffic, parking, mass transit, and trucking.
As major public and private developments were taking place in downtown Dallas, city leaders saw an opportunity to use redevelopment to modernize the central city. Fresh off successful projects in Montreal, Ponte’s recommendations for separated pedestrian corridors kicked off what would become the Dallas Pedestrian Network.
These development guidelines urged new and existing buildings to focus attention on underground and overground pedestrian connections, and the network grew organically in segments. The large One Main Place development became one focal area, and Thanks-Giving Square (the city’s first public-private development partnership) became another. The City of Dallas granted easements to provide connections over and under streets and emphasized routes that would tie into an eventual subway transit system.
During the building boom of the 1980s landmark skyscrapers included shopping arcades and marble-lined halls underground. Other segments were less flashy and included long stretches of glass corridors above the street. The City of Dallas funded a few segments to form a continuous route.
In the 1990s the Dallas Pedestrian Network received criticism for killing street life and accelerating urban decay. When retail moved to the suburbs, the network became an easy scapegoat for downtown’s troubles (a task force in 2012 determined the tunnels are not an issue with surface level viability). Expansion of the pedestrian network halted as economic conditions changed and office construction slowed.
With a revitalization of downtown Dallas and its transition to include a residential neighborhood, more emphasis was put on street-level activity and the pedestrian network’s importance declined. Vincent Ponte’s pedestrian network in Montreal connects to other built transit components to compliment the street. In Dallas the pedestrian network grew organically and failed to build other transportation elements, leaving it isolated from the public (DART light rail was built at street-level along Pacific Avenue in the 1990s). While it still remains a useful amenity to downtown employees, the City of Dallas does little to promote the network or its access points. Many of the privately-owned segments in office buildings have changed, closed, and reopened throughout the years.