David Halloran

Transportation

In Deep Ellum, You’ll Soon Need to Catch Your Uber at a Staging Area

Think of it like a really drunk airport.

As too many Dallasites have experienced, trying to drive from one side of Deep Ellum to another on any given Friday or Saturday night could take as long as 25 minutes. Constant stops from Uber and Lyft drivers reduce the neighborhood’s busiest thoroughfares to one very slow lane of traffic.

“You’ll see ride shares piled up, waiting on some of the off streets, on Walton, on Pryor, or Malcolm X,” says Stephanie Hudiburg, executive director of the Deep Ellum Foundation. “And when they’re trying to pick up their rides they’ll go down Main or Elm and they’ll put on their flashers, because they can’t find their person and their person can’t find them.”

In addition to the nuisance, there are public safety concerns.

“I was getting calls from the police and the fire department,” says Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano, whose district covers Deep Ellum. “If there was something major happening, there’s no way that a fire truck could’ve gotten through.”

But now the Deep Ellum Foundation and Medrano say they could have the cure. Starting April 18, the neighborhood will institute pick-up and drop-off locations for Uber and Lyft. For late night revelers and afternoon bite-grabbers alike, that means when you order a ride to or from Deep Ellum, you’ll be picked up or dropped off in one of the five designated zones. It’ll work this way no matter what time of day.

Hudiburg says the rideshare companies have been willing partners in the conversation. After discussions with business owners, the neighborhood has landed on five pick-up and drop off locations. They’ll be at North Good Latimer Expressway, near the neon Deep Ellum sign; on South Malcolm X Boulevard at Indiana Street; on Commerce Street at South Malcolm X; and on Swiss Avenue at North Good Latimer, near the Deep Ellum DART stop.

The fifth stop, the most centrally located, will be on Pryor Street between Main Street and Commerce—near Pecan Lodge. The street was recently changed from a one-way to a two-way, which allowed it to be used as a drop-off.

“We still want (patrons) to get where they’re going,” says Hudiburg. “But we want to keep them off the streets that end up resulting in the worst congestion and redirect them to the streets that are still flowing pretty well.”

At the city’s request, Uber and Lyft have agreed to geofence off Deep Ellum—you can see the geofenced portion (shaded) as well as drop-off points (in pink) in the photo below—and automatically notify riders looking for pick-ups or drop-offs within the no-zone. It’ll all be handled within the app. Hudiburg says someone will be standing there to assist riders at the designated locations, at least during the first couple months of the program. The city will also put up signage.

Shaded area: The portion of Deep Ellum where you won’t be able to drop a pin to be picked up or dropped off. Pink: The new rideshare pickup and dropoff zones. Green: Where drivers will line-up while waiting for a ride.

As reported by the Dallas Morning News’ Robert Wilonsky in February, one iteration of the plan saw the Deep Ellum Foundation asking for use of city parking lots, including one that already exists and another proposed under I-345. During busy times, rideshare drivers would have sat idly in those lots while waiting to be called to one of the pick-up zones for a ride. There was also talk of using the lots for a neighborhood valet service.

But Hudiburg says conversations with staff eventually led to instead stage rideshare drivers along Main and Commerce streets, denoted by the green lines on the map above. The right of way is currently used for bike lanes. Although there is metered parking on the side of the road where rideshare drivers will align, the meters currently sit bagged and unused anyway. (The city transportation staff did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.)

It’s possible that city lots could be used in future plans. The Foundation is still considering valet.

Hudiburg says that in a recent survey of Deep Ellum stakeholders, which included business owners as well as property owners and residents, parking and congestion rated high on the list of concerns. Combined, they topped public safety—“and public safety is always a priority, so that’s saying a lot,” says Hudiburg.

The neighborhood valet would involve a third-party contractor signing on with both the Deep Ellum Foundation and with the city for use of their lots. Hudiburg says the service would be free to Deep Ellum businesses initially but that they could consider asking for financial contributions in the future to sustain the program.

For now, the bars and restaurants in the neighborhood have been enthusiastic about working through congestion issues, says Hudiburg. Omar Yeefoon, a co-owner of Shoals Sound & Service, is favorable to the change.

“In that one- or two-block walk (to your pickup zone), you might discover some of the other rich nightlife that’s in Deep Ellum,” he says. He says he can see some people being upset in the beginning until they understand the benefits, but that in general, “I don’t really think it’s too much to ask for patrons to be picked up and dropped off in a certain place, as long as it’s a safe place.”

Hudiburg echoes that sentiment. She says the longest walk to a pickup point is about five minutes.

“It’s not working well now anyway,” she says. “So it’s not a heavy lift.”

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