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John Crawford: Exciting Changes in Dallas Transportation

John Crawford
John Crawford

Dallas is becoming a national destination for leisure and business travel, and corporations from across the nation are looking to the competitive advantages of our region like low taxation, regulation, and cost of living when considering relocations.

Downtown Dallas is the hub of transportation for the region—where the DART light rail and bus system, the Trinity Railway Express, Greyhound, and the North Texas Highway systems converge. It’s also fewer than 20 minutes from two major airports, Dallas-Fort Worth International and Love Field.

There has been some big news in the Dallas transportation world recently, including the two airports undergoing major renovations and upgrades, the end of the Wright Amendment in October, the completion of the final phase of DART’s Orange Line from Downtown Dallas to DFW Airport, the merger of American Airlines and US Airways, the final phases of the Southwest Airlines (SWA) and AirTran merger, SWA introducing international flights, American Airlines introducing nonstop flights to China, and DFW Airport celebrating its 40th birthday—just to name a few. Our recent Pulse of the City focused on this topic. Here are some highlights from the show:

Love Field and Southwest Airlines

Love Field was the area’s original—and, for a long time only—commercial airport. It was also SWA’s original home base when the airline started out in 1971. Love Field is a vital asset because of its proximity to downtown Dallas (just 12 minutes away), its regional service for business travelers provided by Southwest, its ease of access, and its frequency of flights offered.

Not only is there immeasurable value in Love Field and Southwest’s current operations, but the real news is the Love Field Modernization Program (LFMP), new SWA flights, and the lifting of the Wright Amendment. The LFMP project represents a recommitment of the airline to the Dallas community, also demonstrating their confidence in the Dallas market. SWA has invested $519 million in the LFMP, bringing with it a $1.2 billion economic impact. SWA is an important partner to the Dallas community, employing 7,600 in the city, and is the fifth-largest taxpayer in Dallas.

SWA announced it will start flying between Love Field and 15 new destinations this fall, as soon as the Wright Amendment is lifted. We spoke with Brad Hawkins, and he told us that SWA and AirTran will be fully integrated from the merger by the end of the year. “It’s been one airplane at a time,” Hawkins said.

The largest domestic airline in the U.S., Southwest will begin offering international flights in July. Hawkins also reminded us that with a revitalized Love Field in the heart of Dallas and the end of Wright Amendment, North Texas is poised to be an epicenter of commercial aviation and will become an even bigger draw for convention business.

Mayor Rawlings reiterated the importance of the end of the Wright Amendment, as it will help Dallas attract more and more businesses, progressing us as a city and a region. Kay Bailey Hutchison stated that the close-in airport tends to serve a different group, and that the two airports can serve different customers.

DFW International and American Airlines

We also spoke to David Magana, DFW Airport (DFW) spokesperson, and learned quite a few impressive things about DFW, including that it just celebrated 40 years in January, is the second-largest airport in the U.S., and the fourth busiest in the world. It is the 10th busiest international gateway, connects the North Texas region to five continents, and is one of only seven airports in the world with over 200 nonstop destinations.

Of course, some of the biggest news out of DFW is the American Airlines and US Airways merger, making North Texas and DFW International home to the largest airline in the world.

2014 will be a banner year, as American Airlines begins service to Shanghai and Hong Kong in June. DFW also recently introduced international air service to Brazil and Lima, Peru. Additionally, the airport hosts 16 cargo carriers that import and export goods from around the globe, with cargo accounting for more than $16 billion of DFW’s total $31 billion in regional economic activity every year.

DFW International is in the process of its Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program, a complete overhaul of the original four terminals to the tune of $2.3 billion. Most of the Terminal A renovation, phase 1 of 12, is now complete and  boasts everything from new floors and finishes, power outlets, and work tables to new retail and concessions like Salt Lick BBQ, Teavana, and a unique toy store called Geppetto’s.

Other exciting happenings include the recent launch of the DFW mobile app. The mobile app puts the entire airport at your fingertips with flight notifications, lists of restaurants, and services near your gate, gate changes, available parking, maps, and more. Additionally, its Thanks Again customer loyalty program was launched, which rewards consumers with airline miles for spending money on parking, concessions, and services at DFW.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit

Gary Thomas, President and Executive Director, talked to us about many of DART’s accomplishments, including giving Dallas the largest light rail system in the country with the completion of the final phase of the Orange Line to DFW’s Terminal A. DFW Airport partnered with DART on the Orange Line project, beginning their terminal renovation project with, and building a DART station at, Terminal A, while DART built the tracks and infrastructure to the station. The final phase is scheduled to open this December, but trending ahead of schedule (with a goal to be complete by the State Fair of Texas!).

Once the station is complete, American Airlines passengers arriving by DART rail will have the ability to check luggage, print their boarding pass, and go through security at Terminal A before proceeding to their gate. Passengers traveling on other airlines will be able to print their boarding pass, proceed through security (if not checking bags), and take SkyLink to their gate.

DART is also an important partner when it comes to connecting downtown’s districts. The opening of the Green Line through Fair Park and East Dallas was a huge milestone in connecting downtown to important adjacent neighborhoods. There are five DART stops in the central business district, getting you just about anywhere you want to go, and the Pearl Street station was recently renamed The Dallas Arts District Station, to make it easier for passengers to find their Arts District destinations. And Downtown Dallas Inc. (DDI) is currently working with the City of Dallas and DART to identify a second alignment of DART light rail through the downtown core.

Additionally, D-Link, a new and free entertainment shuttle that launched in November, is a partnership between DART, the City, and DDI. D-Link runs Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., every 15 minutes, throughout downtown’s major entertainment destinations. Keep an eye out for the bright magenta buses!

McKinney Avenue Trolley

In other downtown transportation news, McKinney Avenue Trolley Authority (MATA) recently introduced car 754, or the new “Betty” car, an 80-year-old, 50-seat trolley, to help keep up with the high weekend demand. The McKinney Ave Trolleys serve as not only a fun thing to do, but help residents and employees of the greater downtown area commute on a daily basis. Today, the M-Line is undergoing expansion that will connect all the way to Federal Street in the downtown core, just two blocks from Main Street and one block from the St. Paul light rail station.

Downtown Dallas 360, our strategic plan that guides the future development of downtown for the next decade, addresses transportation and transit-oriented development as one of five “transformative strategies.” The plan stresses creating connections between our districts, key entertainment, employment, and living hubs, and fostering an environment that provides simply an ease in getting around for workers, residents, and visitors. Recommendations include:

• Circulator/Streetcar. The City of Dallas has studied the implementation of a fixed-rail streetcar system that would run throughout the greater downtown area and to adjacent neighborhoods such as West Dallas, Oak Cliff, Fair Park, South Dallas, East Dallas, and Uptown. The Oak Cliff Streetcar project has been approved and is currently under construction, slated for completion this year. Of course, the additional streetcars are a costly proposition, so as additional feasibility is studied and funds are identified, D-Link is filling this void.

• Bike/Trail System. In addition to cars, rail, and buses, the cycling community in Dallas is on the rise, both for recreation and commuting. As we become a more environmentally and health-conscious society, as in other great cities like Portland, Seattle, and New York, we forecast that cycling will become a major mode of transportation in the next few years. To that end, DDI provided the City of Dallas with a $40,000 grant last year to help implement the “Central Core Connection,” on-street shared bike lanes that will connect the Katy Trail with the Santa Fe Trail through the greater downtown area. Check out the start of these lanes along Lamar Street today!

Entertainment/Alternative Uses. The Art Cart, a brainchild of Lucy Billingsley, has become wildly popular. It’s simply a cart that totes folks from downtown office buildings to the restaurants at One Arts Plaza during the day, and helps patrons move between the venues in the Arts District to the restaurants in the evening. Creative and fun modes of transportation like this are key to our future, not only in moving people around, but also in providing something fun to do! E-Frogs is similar to Art Cart, but runs throughout greater downtown. You can simply text or call E-Frogs and they will pick you up and take you to your downtown destination for free (subject to availability). Other transportation alternatives that have popped up recently are technology-based transportation-for-hire and ride-sharing services.

• Parking. We can’t talk about downtown transportation without addressing parking. We understand that parking is perceived as a challenge; however, the perception that there is nowhere to park downtown is not true! In fact, we have more than enough parking in all of our districts, according to the Downtown Dallas 360 parking study. Still, we do recognize that it is difficult to find and navigate. To that end, you will see more branding, way-finding, and technologies incorporated in the future, such as a mobile app that will help guide you directly to available spaces and parking meters that you can pay for and refill from your phone (PayByPhone mobile app now available).

• Walking. With all of our transportation assets today and those coming in the future, we would be remiss if we didn’t also mention the value of getting out on your feet in an urban environment. Downtown Dallas 360 addresses making our streets more pedestrian-friendly.  But in short, this means nicer sidewalks, more landscaping, outdoor cafes, vending carts, and other means to create a more pleasurable walking experience.

Dallas is becoming a world-class city, and the transportation options are improving and changing to keep up with the growth. To listen to this Pulse of the City or previous shows, click here. You can also learn more by visiting DDI’s site.

John F. Crawford is president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc. Contact him at crawford@downtowndallas.org.

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