The Man Who Won’t Just Give DART a Plan

For riders who only use DART to take the train to specific destinations — say, the State Fair or Victory Park — bus service issues may seem remote.

But to better serve those who depend on buses for access to shopping, health care, and employment, the Dallas Area Regional Transit board hired consultant Jarrett Walker, a widely known expert in public transportation planning.

In January, he delivered the keynote address at The Death and Life of Dallas Transit Symposium, a morning discussion provided by Coalition for a New Dallas, founded by Wick Allison, chairman of D Magazine Partners, the owner of People Newspapers.

“I am a consultant who aspires to never make a recommendation,” Walker told the 200 or so gathered at Old Parkland Hospital’s Debate Room.

“Freedom, access to opportunity, usefulness, enduring ridership potential are all the same thing.” -Jarrett Walker

Jarrett Walker

Instead, he works to help transit systems gather the data and input needed to create their plan.

To Walker, transit is freedom.

“Freedom, access to opportunity, usefulness, enduring ridership potential are all the same thing,” he said.

A map of Dublin projected on a screen above the dais where he stood showed the places a person named Jane, who lives near Dublin City University, can get to in 45 minutes or less.

“She’s thinking, ‘Where can I be in 45 minutes?’” he said. “Now, that question isn’t really a question about transportation because what she’s really asking is, ‘What jobs could I get to? What schools could I go to? Where could I shop? Where could I worship? Who will I meet?’”

It might even determine who she marries, he said.

Transit’s goal, for Jane and others like her who rely on it, should be to expand her boundaries, give her the freedom of more choices, Walker added.

“Because what is freedom, but the presence of actual options, the presence of actual choices you can make,” he said. “You are not free as a shopper if you can only get to one grocery store, especially a grocery store that only sells one kind of milk.”

To craft a bus system that is useful, Walker said, DART will be forced to make some tough decisions. The real conversation is about tradeoffs and priorities, and being “aware of what you’re saying no to when you say yes.”

The city, he said, will have to choose between increasing ridership and making the bus system useful to the largest number of people who use it, or increasing coverage, which provides equity.

But Walker also had some sobering news. He had a hand in redesigning Houston’s bus system, where eliminating redundancies allowed the city to find the resources to improve service levels. But DART’s planners have already eliminated redundancies, which is good, but bad if you’re looking to free up resources to redo it.

“This is not going to be as happy a story as Houston,” Walker said, adding Dallas may eventually need to create a city bus system to serve best its residents, “because no regional system can do that.”

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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