Friday, August 23, 2013

Humorist on DART

If you don't know or have heard of Gordon Kieth, You are in a decreasingly smaller pool. He started out at Sportsradio 13010 The Ticket, a station I used to work for back in the day. Keith was known as a humorist. He didn't talk or know much sports, but was up to date on current events. Despite his occasional annoying, confrontational style, he was a likable guy as well. He has been at the station since the beginning, 1994.He has the ability (but doesn't always do it) to have a deep discussion with a side of laughter. In the last few years, he has been increasingly on TV and in print, branching out.

Why do I bring this up on a planning-related blog? Well he commented on DART on the page.

While it isn't meant for an academic discussion, I bring it up for several reasons. One, it does come from a common man perspective. When he says:

The buses and trains don’t run frequently enough, far enough, quickly enough, or close enough. DART can’t correct those problems until enough people ride it. And enough people won’t ride it until DART corrects those problems.

it has the depth that shows there is more to it than he can get to in the column.

There is only one thing I take excpetion to and that is:

There’s also a psychological reason beyond the practicality. Cars are our independence. They’re our bubbles. They give us a justifiable aloneness in a day filled with the needs of other people. They get us door to door and leave when we want to. Texans are rugged individualists. We like our horses hitched outside and ready to ride at a moment’s notice. Life on another man’s schedule doesn’t sound much like freedom, and nobody likes to share a horse. So we settle into our commuting routines.

If you read my blog enough, you will know why. If you don't, let me explain. People, regardless of race, culture or status, will do what is convenient. Here, we have made only one thing convenient. It has nothing to do with independence. Are you really independent if you have to rely on something, in this case a vehicle? Yes, they may provide you with isolation, unless you consider there are three million other cars in our region a driver has to share the road with in their solitude.

So, I hope you take it for what it is worth and read it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is Arlington on the Bus?

Small bit of transit news I have to relay and comment on, something that is near and dear to me. I love my Alma Mater UT-Arlington, which obviously happens to reside in Arlington, a city I happen to dislike. It creates a very big conflict for me. One of the big reasons I dislike Arlington is that for all intents and purposes, having a car is mandatory.

That really hasn't changed, but the City, UTA and business leaders funded and worked up plans to launch a shuttle bus that runs from downtown Arlington, specifically near UTA's new arena in the College Park District, to Centrepointe Station on the TRE commuter line. That debuted on Monday. It runs weekdays, 6am to 10pm. Since Centrepoint is the fare boundary on the TRE line, riders need only one fare, regardless of destination.

Website here
DMN story here

This continues a trend of area suburbs, without a full time agency providing service, contracting with Dallas Area Rapid Transit for some form of shuttle. With Mesquite, it was a commuter shuttle to the Green Line. For Allen, they want to funnel shoppers to their shopping centers. McKinney is a hybrid. Only Mesquite has gotten their service off the ground so far. As of this week, they now aren't alone.

First, I want to say I am proud of my Alma Mater. They convened something akin to a sustainability council several years ago and were able to get a lot of things done to lower their environmental impact. One of their recommendations was a transit service of some kind. They operate a shuttle service within the campus, but there are no broader connections. I thought this particular point was going to rest in the report and stay there. But, to my surprise and happiness, they were one of the main driving points in getting this shuttle running. My campus is now like many of the Dallas County Community College Campus and has at least some form of rudimentary transit service. Kudos to them for finding a way to get it done.

For this particular route, I really like it, especially when taken into context. Unlike the Mesquite route, this runs all day. Love it. Wish the frequencies were better, but they were timed to coincide with the TRE train, which is commuter and therefore a transit service with long headways, and that has nothing to do with this shuttle route. UTA is a school of 33,000, and since roughly 20,000-25,000 don't live on campus, it should have at least some using the service. Selfishly, I can now attend a weekday basketball game and not drive. Awesome.

But, as was my problem with Mesquite, this is still just a piecemeal approach, and is still plagued with the same political stumbles.

The rest of Arlington is still suburban-oriented. A car is still a must to be here and this bus doesn't change that, though there are plans for a stop in the sprawling entertainment district (I hope there is more than one, because the distance between the stadiums and amusement parks are great and a freeway even bisects the area. If it is just one, that will assuredly lower the ridership).

A lot of Arlington leaders recognize the shortcomings, and say that this will help change the attitude of Arlington residents toward transit. They have voted against transit initiatives three times after all. However, I debate that.

They voted against the 1980 Lone Star Transportation Authority, 741 for to 5,381 against but so did about 60 other area cities. Only four approved it. It was too vague and no details about service, governing structure or day-to-day managing made it very sketchy.

In 1985, a serious proposal came through that would have had only Arlington bus service, with a light rail line on Cooper or Collins with a Commuter rail connection to Dallas. Other than the lack of regional connections, just one on a commuter line, I liked the proposal, but it was defeated, 4,507 for to 5,735 against.

Then in 2002, a city-only bus proposal was put forth and it failed. In my opinion, it was so pitiful that I couldn't support it either. The vote totals were 7,716 for to 10,576 against.

So, of the three rejections, a transit proponent like me would have voted against two of them. Does that make them anti-transit?

Looking at the vote totals, the closest outcome was in 1985, when 44% supported it. That was also the best overall service proposal. With the change in times and demographics, I seriously believe that a simple yes or no vote to join either the Fort-Worth-based T or DART would be successful.

I can't say for sure if this made a difference in the votes, but a local bus service isn't worth much if there aren't regional connections. In a region this size, very few stay within municipal borders. There are also economies of scale at work. Look at the northern DART suburbs as an example. One route can cut through Garland, Richardson, Dallas, Addison and Carrollton. That route would be far, far less effective if it was only in one of those. Making the citizens vote on a regional transit service will likely change enough minds that it would pass.

In many ways, I think it may be the addition of something I believe to be a waste of municipal dollars and energy that is responsible for the renewed focus of Arlington civic leaders, Cowboys Stadium (or whatever the latest corporate name is for it). The auto traffic is so bad there that there is no choice but to realize the car is not the only piece here.

There are a lot of reports that contain Arlington is the largest city in the country without transit and that Arlington is hostile to the idea of transit. I would say that is somewhat inaccurate. Arlington leaders are very receptive to transit, but they don't have a lot to work with. Their sales tax doesn't allow for them to join the T, which needs a half cent, let alone DART, which is a full penny. Within the framework of how North Texas provides transit, what are their options. Until just recently, they couldn't even contract for bus service like they do know.

In the end, it doesn't matter if this helps change negative minds about transit in Arlington. If there isn't sales tax room, there can never be a vote, unless somehow a different funding mechanism is found AND agreed on by all parties. I don't think it is impossible, but the provincialism that runs rampant in DFW is no small mountain.

For what it is, I think it is really solid. This is a route I will use, as will several more since it hits one of the denser parts of Arlington, specifically the University and its potential student population. It will require multiple transfers if they are Dallas bound, since Union is adjacent to very little.

I'm often asked if something is better than nothing, even if it isn't perfect or near it. In this case, I would have to say yes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Central Teardown

I am ashamed to admit this, but what I am about to post was published in the Dallas Morning News in early June.

The Texas Department of Transportation has its eyes on the roughly 1.5 mile stretch of highway between Woodall Rodgers Freeway and Interstate 30. Officials have presented nine rebuild or repair options. But some of us favor a 10th option: demolition.

As an individual with a master’s in planning who isn’t actually working in the field, I certainly am not the most eloquent spokesman for this project. That more aptly belongs to Patrick Kennedy, who has written about this on his blog and been the featured crusader in this paper on the topic. He even has a website devoted to it, anew

I, however, do have a unique perspective. I have lived in downtown Dallas for seven years and worked in the core almost as long. In all that time, I have used the freeway only a few times.
I have endured the long, lonely walk between downtown and Deep Ellum far more often, and almost every time have lamented the vast emptiness the freeway spawns between two important Dallas urban neighborhoods.

That is what this is about.

Some drivers do use this stretch of highway to get downtown, but most are just passing through. Why are we sacrificing our urban neighborhoods to continue to help Plano, McKinney or Lancaster grow? They are doing great and don’t need Dallas to destroy its urban fabric to help them.

Meanwhile, something the entire region is facing a shortage of — a true, urban, walkable neighborhood — is divided. Imagine if we developed the freeway area. It could be transformed from something that requires money to maintain into something that provides tax revenue.

To some degree, we in Dallas already know this. Look no further than Klyde Warren Park. It has been hailed as a wild success exactly because it un-freeways the area. Instead of dividing these neighborhoods, the park stitches them back together.

So if we can make that case that demolition can be a good thing, why is it not even an option? The answer is really twofold, but both lie in the planning process.

First, TxDOT has built highways for as long as its officials can remember. It is their first responsibility. That works in outlying areas, where there are real estate prices to consider when opening up new land for development. But that doesn’t work for Dallas. What new land will be ready for development if this freeway stub is redone?

The other reason demolition is not considered is how the planning process actually works, usually with an objective listed. With this project, as with almost all of TxDOT’s, officials start with how they can move as many cars as possible for the lowest cost.

Many of the options will require a complete teardown anyway, so the project costs for this option would be drastically lower. And certainly this option has the best return for the city of Dallas and for cash-strapped TxDOT.

Ultimately, the best way to get TxDOT to consider this option is local pressure. The city of Dallas has to care enough. Otherwise it would be a long and bruising battle. There are those who are skeptical that a city that thinks with its car would actually pursue freeway demolition as an answer to some of its urban problems. I think it is possible, but those who are its advocate have to be loud and convincing.

As I alluded to in the article, there are better spokespeople than I. I leave you with the site.