Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A More Multimodal Dallas Is Just A Vision Away

With a Downtown subway in the pipeline and whispers of better bikes lanes, integrated last-mile public transit, amended thoroughfares and sidewalks, Dallas has a lot of plans to make the city more appealing to non-drivers. 

But without a clear vision between public and private interests regarding how to allocate resources toward a common goal, these initiatives stand to make parts of the city marginally more multimodal, without truly transforming the city’s relationship with cars.

  Bisnow: Julia Bunch Surface parking lots in Downtown Dallas Initiatives like DART’s D2 subway, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s 360 plan and CityMap are working to give Dallasites options in how they get around. And while data shows Dallas is starting to loosen its grip on the keys, especially in the urban core, cars dominate all other forms of commuting, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics. 

“Obviously, we’re trying to change that,” North Central Texas Council of Governments director of transportation Michael Morris said. Morris cites vehicle emissions, safety and poor land use for roadways as reasons to increase other modes of transit.  Too Many Choices For Funding = Too Few Choices For Residents Patrick Kennedy wants to see more choices afforded to Dallas residents.

 Kennedy is the urban planner behind Space Between Design Studio and A New Dallas, and he sits on the DART board. He got a lot of attention for his blog called Car-Free In Big D that chronicled the life and times of an automobile-less urbanist in Dallas. Kennedy’s voice has become one of the loudest on transit and urbanist subjects in Dallas.

 He does not want to make cars less appealing (though some of his opponents may say otherwise based on his campaign to tear down Interstate 345), but by making other modes more appealing. “We don’t have enough choice. I don’t think people would drive by choice,” he said. Deep Ellum Foundation executive director Jessica Burnham thinks viable and appealing choices are lacking. 

 “We don’t have to be a car-centric city,” Burnham said. But DART is not very reliable, the new D-Link in Deep Ellum takes a complicated route, sidewalks randomly end, and there are few protected bike lanes throughout the city, she said.  

Many of these transit conversations have become more important in the last real estate cycle because the urban core has reached something it never had before: critical mass. 

It is too difficult to build and maintain good transit without density that creates walkability to drive ridership, according to Greg Lindsay. Lindsay holds a slew of urbanist titles such as senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation and Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, director of strategy for mobility festival LACoMotion, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management and co-author of "Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next." In an ideal world, cities would build better sidewalks, bike lanes, public transit, roadways and thoroughfares all at once.

 But in the real world, you have to build incrementally and innovate where you can, he said. Courtesy of DART DART Bus How decision-makers (and voters, to a lesser extent) choose to fund maintenance and improvements to roadways impacts the car culture in the city.

 Because of this, NCTCOG may be the organization with the most power to shape mobility. NCTCOG, Dallas’ metropolitan planning organization, funds various infrastructure and transportation programs that advance regional priorities. In partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation and Regional Transportation Council, NCTCOG decides how to spend federal, state and local dollars on transportation projects.

  Though NCTCOG holds the purse strings, few would say is it spearheading an overall vision that aligns with a multimodal future for Dallas’ urban core. And that is a problem, experts say. “Every city must decide what it wants to be and what it wants to look like five, 10, 20 years from now,” said Michael Flynn, director of city strategies at Sam Schwartz. 

“It’s impossible to answer that without a vision. Knowing a city’s overall priorities helps you figure out how to use resources.” Mobility 2040, NCTCOG’s road map for funding allocations, identifies regional solutions for travel options. Top priorities for Mobility 2040 include congestion alleviation and regional planning. 

 Morris likens NCTCOG’s role to a three-legged stool. The metropolitan planning organization must balance local, regional and international transportation agendas to make Dallas’ network attractive on all levels.

 Approximately 85% of NCTCOG’s budget comes from federal, state and local grants. (In 2015, the last fiscal year publicly available, NCTCOG spent $154M on government activities.) The organization cannot prioritize one at the expense of another, Morris said.  Kennedy believes the chain of command and breakdown of public dollars is part of Dallas’ transit problem. 

 “The local market always knows better what it needs, but [the] federal government gives most of our [transportation] money, which is then funneled through MPOs,” Kennedy said. 

Bisnow: Julia Bunch Interstate 345 in Dallas Regional and local needs can be in conflict, Downtown Dallas Inc. CEO Kourtny Garrett said. But part of DDI’s job is to find those potential conflict points and determine how regional projects (such as high-speed rail or the future of I-345) can integrate into the local grid in a gentle and interactive way, she said.

 A clear vision for the future should make prioritizing choices of where to spend resources easier, Flynn said. “Is the ultimate goal to offer more mode options in Downtown or is it to offer more options for commuters? Is it to relieve traffic congestion or promote economic development?” Flynn said. 

“If you have one agency focusing on one goal and another agency on a different goal, that can be hard to coordinate. You can do multiple things, but if it starts to be too much, it’s difficult to move any one thing forward.”

 Voices that are loudest, wealthiest and best-connected often find themselves the recipient of new public transit developments, Lindsay said. Many criticized DART’s October decision to fund both the Cotton Belt suburb line and the D2 Downtown subway by saying it showed DART’s inability to prioritize sprawl or urban core density, which could cause both to suffer. 

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Julia Bunch/Bisnow