At last night’s meeting, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board approved its Final Bus Network Plan and January 2022 Service Changes – agency speak for the reimagined bus system we’ve been banging on about for years and years.
The bus system redo has been formally in the works since 2019 when the agency hired the firm of respected transportation planner Jarrett Walker to help lead the effort. Since then, it has heled 15 community meetings, two Facebook Live events, numerous stakeholder meetings, and received nearly 2,500 responses from its “DART Zoom” public input survey. Now we get to see what the new network will look like.
At a glance, the new network is much more lucid and easier to comprehend than the current network. It is a more gridded system, as opposed to the current hub and spoke model. The direction and destination of individual routes are easy to see on a map, and the connections each line makes with outer routes in the system is also clearer. The other big improvement to the system is the focus on frequency. There are many lines that now promise to deliver a bus to riders every 20 minutes and a few lines with a frequency of 15 minutes or better. The southwest quadrant of DART’s coverage area, which includes Oak Cliff and Cockrell Hill, appears to have the most high-frequency routes. Other parts of town have a handful of high frequency routes with a grid of less-frequent bus lines feeding into them.
According to the agency, this redesign is going to both boost access to jobs via transit across all demographics and provide most residents with a bus line within a short walk of their homes. A breakdown of access to jobs via transit by demographics and socioeconomics shows that almost all groups will be able to access 25 to 30 percent more jobs within an hour of transit commute from their homes. Even the highest socioeconomic class – defined by DART as people living at 200 percent of the federal poverty line – will see an 11 percent increase in job access within an hour of transit commute time.
Once the new network is rolled out, about 98 percent of pre-pandemic riders will be able to find a bus within a quarter mile of their homes, and 74 percent of residents living within DART’s coverage area will also be able to access a bus within a half-mile walk from their homes – a 6 percent increase over the current bus network alignment. The argument for the redesign was to increase ease of access and the reliability of the bus system; this new configuration seems to do just that.
So, will it work? The goal of the new bus network is to make Dallas’s public transit system more useful, which will hopefully increase ridership. But that may not happen overnight. As we saw when Houston conducted a similar experiment, the rollout of a new network can create an initial boost, but it takes longer for the public – and current non-transit users in particular – to catch on. In addition to implementing this new plan in January, DART intends to continue to reevaluate the network and make changes where necessary.
I can already see potential for a few improvements. I’d like to see more bus service to entertainment districts that run up until bars close at 2 a.m. Now that DART has straightened out many of its routes and aligned them to existing north-south/east-west street corridors, I’d like to see the city create more bus-only lanes. And improving streetlight timing so that buses never stop at an intersection, spreading out bus stops so that they aren’t stopping every block or two, and improving bus stop facilities would also help make the bus network easier to navigate and speed up transit travel times.
Many of these kinds of improvements, however, take money and further cooperation between DART and the city. One of the challenges facing this current redesign was that there weren’t additional funds available in DART’s financial plan to invest more money in the bus system. Given those restraints, this looks like a fantastic plan. Perhaps it will inspire the city to allocate some of the $377 million in federal COVID stimulus funding it will receive to invest in some dedicated lanes and streetlight enhancements.