Getting Around Dallas: Evolving Solutions to Mobility Challenges
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Getting Around Dallas: Evolving Solutions to Mobility Challenges
Mobility issues currently being debated in pockets across Dallas range from toll road expansions and I-30 growth to the potential teardown of IH 345. “While there has been much discussion and debate, little is being done to find a comprehensive solution that factors in the economic, social, and environmental impacts to the Dallas community,” says Lisa Lamkin, AIA, a principal with BRW Architects and the 2014 president of AIA Dallas.
In response to this perception, AIA Dallas partnered with the Greater Dallas Planning Council to bring in local and national transportation experts last September to spend two days exploring ideas, issues, and best practices. The program, Choices for a 21st Century Dallas: Connecting People and Opportunities, brought together a diverse audience and a wide range of opinions. “This summit was a starting point to bring disparate points of view together to help us work toward a common goal of designing Dallas in a way that will make Dallas stronger and of greater value to future generations,” says AIA Dallas Executive Director Jan Blackmon, FAIA.
A key presenter at the summit was Jeff Tumlin, who has helped cities worldwide explore their transportation options. He is also author of Sustainable Transportation: Tools for Creating Healthy, Vibrant and Resilient Communities, a book critiqued in this publication.
Dallas’ Multiple Dilemmas
Tumlin contends that Dallas has unique issues, but faces many of the same challenges as other cities and can learn from their experiences and successful initiatives. He reminds us that “One more traffic lane will not solve the congestion problem; congestion isn’t an infrastructure problem, it’s an economic problem.” This is underscored by research which affirms that the difference between free-flow conditions and gridlock is about 10%. Therefore, if you reduce congestion by 10%, you remove gridlock; but then the city grows and gridlock returns. “A 12-lane gridlocked highway is actually moving less people than a congested 2-lane street,” Tumlin contends.
He further underscores the issue by pointing to Dallas’ “north/south divide.” Since many people live in South Dallas and commute to jobs in North Dallas, they spend all their expendable time traveling to and from work. This means they have little or no opportunity to cultivate family relationships, engage in continuing education, or have time for themselves. In addition, the affordable housing on the south side is offset by the vastly more expensive transportation costs involved in daily commutes.
What is the solution? Tumlin says that if we make South Dallas a great place to live, then employment will follow. He envisions many options there for specialized manufacturing and for the growing onshoring /re-shoring opportunities.
Dallas’ Changing Demographics
Another area of particular consideration is the needs and expectations of millennials and those who follow after them, a generation currently referred to as “posts,” “homelanders” or “Generation Z.”
Both millennials and those who follow directly behind them are swinging the pendulum back to simplicity—even while relying on a knowledge source that revolutionizes thinking like never before. Still, they value simplicity and options. Tumlin reminds us that the seductive power of automobiles has dissipated in post-baby boomers. They see a car as a tool, not an extension of their personal identity.
They are more likely to bike to work, take an Uber to a client meeting, and ride the DART home.
Returning to his interest in South Dallas, Tumlin offers a best practice scenario from the city of Fresno, CA, which used ARRA funding to repave street. During the process, they reduced striping and added bike lanes. This low-cost effort attracted young people and created a positive spiral in local entrepreneurism. “There are no silver bullets—just 1,000 small things that make a difference,” he said.
He also points to San Francisco’s success in fostering the ecology of retail neighborhoods. He contends that “less than 20% of our trips are for work: the majority involve things like grocery shopping, visiting friends, going to the pharmacy, taking kids to events.” He says that when we put the needs of daily life within walking distance we automatically increase neighborhood housing values.
The Pulse of Public Transportation
The logistics of travel are influenced by many factors, not the least of which is physical shape and size. As Tumlin’s Space Needs graphic visually displays, a moving bus full of people only requires about 75 square feet of space per person, where a single passenger car moving at 60 miles per hour needs 5,000 square feet of space. Logically, public transportation has many advantages, socially and economically, but wait times remain a challenge in a society built on instant gratification.
This underscores the potential for a combination of services, including synchronized bus and transit systems. Tumlin cites the Los Angeles bus system which he refers to as the “work horse” of the city’s public transportation system and a “huge contributor to the city’s economic engine.” There, busses run on two-minute schedules to be responsive to light rail arrivals and departures. The vehicles (spacious and clean, by the way) are linked to the city’s traffic signals and the signals respond by adding or subtracting a signal length by a second or two in order to keep busses on their schedules.
Houston’s light rail has been a source of anger, a brunt of jokes, and a life-taking system due to its lack of grade separation. Still, Tumlin warns that Houston may outpace Dallas in bringing its multimodal commuter options to a higher level within the near future. To learn more, begin at www.tiny.cc/houston-plan and also view a comprehensive PDF at www.tiny.cc/plan-complete.
In 2010, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) released a significant report entitled, Transportation Reboot: Restarting America’s Most Essential Operating System. In it, the authors affirm that “significantly increasing transit service will be an important component in ensuring affordable transportation and access to jobs and other services in communities all across America.” The document cites congestion and emission reductions and service needs of a graying population as critical components of system enhancement. However, they go on to say that “even massive investments in transit capacity and a quadrupling of transit ridership cannot substitute for additional increases in interstate highway capacity needed to accommodate longer-distance passenger and freight movements and the through-trips that continue to grow.”
Defining a Dallas Solution
In the time it’s taken you to read this article, another person has moved to Texas. If we are going to care for the needs of an exploding North Texas population, we must think with intelligence and long-term perspective. Tumlin gives us a structure worth considering:
1. Define your vision as a community
2. Determine how you will measure success
3. Define your capital projects and score each against your objectives
4. Reveal to policy makers how current approaches might not be serving the highest public and social good
5. Focus on outcomes
The summit, Choices for a 21st Century Dallas: Connecting People and Opportunities, was intended to “ignite continued conversation toward comprehensive solutions,” says 2015 AIA Dallas President Bob Bullis, AIA.
Join the conversation by responding to this article in the comments section.
Also, for a well-rounded exploration of the topic of transportation and mobility challenges in Dallas, check out the background information and extensive list of published news and opinion articles created by AIA Dallas and the Greater Dallas Planning Council, organizers of Transportation Summit 2014. www.aiadallas,org/columns/primer
Linda Mastaglio is managing editor of Columns and owner of TWI-PR.