Not many in DFW know this stat – We have THE LARGEST light rail system in the US (of course we do – everything in Texas is bigger!)
However as in most things, size isn’t everything. Makes for great bragging rights and huge costs, but does not necessarily result in ridership. If you can’t ultimately connect easily from your point of origin to your point of destination, a sprawling transit system that does not “connect the dots” is ineffectual and will be underutilized. [DART ridership per mile is like 28th in the country)
This lack of connectivity is one reason DART ridership is so low. For those of you who have not climbed aboard, I invite you to try DART or the TRE – in stark contrast to drive by a highway stress-induced commute, travel by rail is de-stressing, decompressing, “I don’t care if the highway is at a standstill” relaxation moment. And it allows time for more creative enterprises – like taking a moment and considering how to make DFW a better place and writing fun articles.
Back to mass transit and connectivity – the DART/TRE conundrum is two-fold. One, like fiber optic cable (a different kind of “connectivity”) the most critical part of the infrastructure is the final mile. If it doesn’t get to my house, it doesn’t really matter if there are a guzillion gigs of high speed capacity a mile away. DART to TRE stations a mile or 5 miles from my house are not conducive to my taking the train. If I have to drive to the station, park, wait for the train, etc, the hassle factor takes over, my commute gets measurably longer and I’ll put up with the highway driving stress to gain time (isn’t time our most precious commodity?)
We could dive into the importance of connecting the train stations to their surrounding neighborhoods by better pedestrian and cycling paths. Or better yet better cycling all the way from the suburbs to downtown. I’d love the option of biking from Coppell to Dallas and back. I might actually lose that 20 pounds I’ve been talking about for 20 years (I know, it’s too hot in Dallas to walk or bike – but an aside – what US city. Has the highest percent of people who bike to work? Until recently the answer was Minneapolis — not exactly the best weather in the country to bike to work (NYC may just surpassed Minneapolis)
So why are Uber and Lyft part of the equation? Simple – they are the last mile connection – for example you can take DART from DFW Airport to downtown Dallas, and then have Uber or Lyfy pick you Up and take you to a meeting in Uptown. All by smart phone app (DART has a great app and Uber should get an award for most useful app ever designed) – and Uber shows up in 5 minutes or less – try that by cab. And Uber/Lyft and ZipCar (as of a month ago we finally have ZipCar in Dallas) reduce the “range anxiety” of taking transit by providing travel options that don’t require personal car availability in Downtown. Consider this – if more of us took advantage of these transit options/connections, we could eliminate the ugly surface parking lots and quit talking about how we need more parking (which destroys the urban experience) in our downtown cores (I bet your favorite destination cities in the US relish the fact that parking is hard to find in their cores and that parking is expensive – this just means you have a desirable city). Is parking really the most important issue in enhancing our urban cores? If so we lack imagination and need to spend more time out on the train reimagining our cities.
Which comes full circle to the I-345 teardown dialogue. I recognize this is a highly contentious discussion. The fact that we are discussing whether the Trinity Toll Road should be built and whether I-345 should be torn down evidences that we are maturing as a city, beyond a pure car culture and toward multi-modal transit options (enter Uber/Lyft/ZipCar, bike share, walkable neighbors and overall connectivity) and a greater understanding of the impact of our infrastructure decisions and investment on where & how and with what quality we live and work and play. We are at a crossroads (pun intended) where we can either enhance or impair our future based on the decisions we make over the next few years. Choose wisely as what we do now will have a 50 year impact. DFW has been incredibly forward thinking in our transportation infrastructure decisions with DFW airport in the 60’s and DART/TRE (not to be forgotten, the Denton A-train) over the last 20 years. Where we go with highways and parking and Uber/Lyft are equally as critical to our regional future.
If this discussion about connectivity connects with you, consider attending the Congress for New Urbanism’s annual meeting (CNU23) next April 29-May 2 in DFW. Learn more here. You can also follow CNU23’s Twitter Feed on DFW Urbanism here.