As state lawmakers meet in a third special session to consider new road funding North Texas planners are staring at some sobering facts.
The population of the DFW region is expected to grow almost 50% in the next two decades. But planners say the new money would only pay for one fifth of what’s needed to eliminate the gridlock.
It’s why they’re encouraging drivers to park their cars and change their lifestyles.
Five mornings a week Sean Wilson boards a DART train in Richardson, then kicks back. It delivers him to the front door of his job in downtown Dallas.
Wilson says he has a car and could drive but riding the rail “is cheaper and less stressful.”
And if he had a coveted downtown parking spot?
“I would probably still take the train. It’s about a third of the cost,” said Wilson.
DART says its ridership grew 10 percent last year and Sean is typical of three-fourths of its passengers. They use mass transit to get to work.
Keila Crawford, 20, also rides DART to reach her community college classes downtown.
“I don’t know how to drive,” said Crawford. “I live down the street from two train stations so it’s real convenient.”
Crawford in particular is part of a new mysterious trend that may be promising for transportation.
“We don’t fully understand but we have a whole cohort of 23 to 30-year olds with 20 to 25 percent of them not getting their drivers’ licenses,” said Michael Morris, the transportation director for the North Texas Council of Governments.
Morris says this group is often choosing “an urban lifestyle” that includes more walking and mass transit and that reduces the number of miles traveled on congested roads.
The council of government’s Mobility 2035 report says reducing the miles traveled by vehicle is important because North Texas will not be able to build its way out of gridlock.
In the next two decades North Texas will need $395 billion -four times the amount of funding it’s identified- to eliminate the congestion that’s coming.
The report predicts the average commute time will increase 45 percent by 2035.
What Morris and the report see as a promising alternative is the placement of mass transit stations near multi-use developments that include housing, offices, shopping, dining – all reachable without getting in the car.
Morris says there’s a push for local governments to focus on that kind of a one-stop community.
“If we continue to develop like we did with huge, homogeneous residential neighborhoods where if you want to buy a box of Kleenex you have to get in your car, it’s not sustainable,” said Morris.
Morris says transportation agencies are also talking about something else that may sound a little crazy: giving airlines frequent flier miles to drivers who car pool. They may test that idea with drivers who use Interstate 30 west of Dallas.
They’re also encouraging more bike lanes and ways for cyclists to travel further distances. Christina Jones is a bicycle messenger who rides about 150 miles a week.
“I’ve watched many changes happen in the past five years,” said Jones. “I think they’ve all been positive. (There are) definitely more accommodations on DART for bicycles.
Sean Wilson, who is already riding DART to work, also sees a role for businesses with big centralized work forces. He suggests creating smaller offices away from the urban center so employees could work closer to home.
“Its’ cool being downtown,” said Wilson, who added, “but there’s too much concrete.”
In case his boss is listening, Wilson thinks an office in Richardson near his house would be great.