Dallas / Fort Worth
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is one of the most important tech sectors in the U.S. with over 204,000 high-tech employees, making it one of the top five tech labor markets in the country.
But in a lot of ways having to do with housing and transportation, the region is ten or 15 years behind the rest of America. Both cities featured downtowns that are heavy on office space and light on residential units; locals told me that the towering landscape turns into a sort of ghost town in the evenings and the weekends. And the city centers are dominated and ringed by freeways, forming considerable barriers for the movement of people.
That’s changing, though—and if the people I spoke with on my ride around North Texas have any say in it, it’s going to change very quickly.
Our tour, led yet again by the fantastic people at BikeTexas, launched from the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center. With the help of the City of Fort Worth active transportation city planner, we got to see firsthand the improvements that Fort Worth has been making to allow its citizens to better navigate the city spaces.
I know my introduction painted a less than ideal picture of the Metroplex region's transportation system. But please understand that, while transit oriented development hasn’t quite taken hold throughout the whole city, as far as I can Fort Worth is the bike capital of Texas. I mean, just look at Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. She created a Tour de Fort Worth! Instead of coffee and pancakes with constituents, she leads constituent bike rides!!
Cycling along the Fort Worth Branch of the Trinity Trails System, which gets its name from the Trinity River, you understand why Fort Worth’s citizens love their bikes. (And while we didn’t have time to stop for food and drinks at Clearfork Food Park, located right on the trail, I could tell it’s a perfect melding of transportation and development just from the smells wafting onto the bike trail.)
Circling back to Fort Worth’s intermodal station, we hopped on the Trinity Railway Express, a commuter line which connects 10 stations on an east-west line running between Fort Worth and Dallas Union Station. We were joined for the day by Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and the newly-elected Chair of NARP, who explained that double-tracking work would both increase TRE frequencies and improve service for Amtrak.
Arriving in Dallas Union Station, it was very cool to see so many rail modes converge, with tracks serving Amtrak, TRE, and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). The station was the launch point for next day’s ride, where I met with Leslie Wade, membership director for the Greater Dallas Fort Worth WTS chapter. She, and a few of the other local WTS members, spoke to me about the advances that professional women have made in transportation in Texas -- whether in engineering, communications or project management. She also spoke about the evolving attitude towards passenger rail in Texas and throughout the country, and the need to fight back against anti-passenger rail disinformation being distributed to small towns and rural communities (I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Yeah, trains work in Europe, but they can’t work here” and so on and so forth).
Our Dallas ride was organized by BikeTexas (again! I couldn’t have seen so much of Texas without their support!), and led by Zach—who managed to be an amazing bike guide even with a broken arm in a sling. Texas grit, personified.
We started our tour with downtown Dallas which—while it still has a long way to go—has seen tens of thousands of people move into new residential units, with many more redevelopment projects along the way. These green-shoots are bringing life back to the downtown area on nights and weekends. And city planners are working hard to accelerate the process, with innovative projects like Klyde Warren Park. The 5.2 acre park is built over the Roger Woodall Freeway, which sits below-grade. Not only does it provide a lovely greenspace for people to gather, it eliminated a trench that scarred the city, reconnecting Dallas’ downtown, uptown, and arts district.
There’s also a plan to connect Klyde Warren Park to the Katy Trail, a vibrant bike-pedestrian path that was built on the historic Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (also known as the MKT, or the Katy). Our group rode through on a sunny Sunday, and the trail was packed with families, joggers, and couples walking dogs. The Katy Trail even connects to DART’s system, which -- with bike friendly railcars -- allowed us to ride to Mockingbird Station, and from there to White Rock Lake. After a beautiful ride around the sailboat studded water, we had an easy downhill ride past Deep Ellum—a former warehouse district that was the most pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhood that I experienced in the city—back to Dallas Union Station.
The final stop on my stay in Dallas was to the headquarters of Texas Central Railway, an incredibly exciting project that would connect Dallas and Houston, allowing passengers to cover the 240 miles in 90 minutes. I spoke with CEO Tim Keith, who explained that not only would TCR bring high-speed rail to a densely congested travel corridor—with departures every 30 minute—it will build the line entirely with private sector funding. They can do this because Houston-Dallas section of Interstate 45 is so incredibly crowded, and getting worse; TCR is looking to cater, in part, to the 50,000 Texans a week that commute between Dallas and Houston. I was also able to take a roof-top tour with TCR’s Rebecca Cowle and Monty Miller, who were able to show me the future site of TCR’s Dallas terminal—another exciting step in the revitalization of downtown Dallas.
TCR has faced some of the kinds of opposition Leslie Wade described, and TCR is trying to counter this by educating people along the route about the benefits. These benefits include 10,000 new constructions jobs per year over the 4-year construction period; the creation of over 750 permanent, family-wage jobs to operate and maintain the train; and the taxes they’ll contribute to the budgets of cities and counties along the line, and the entire state of Texas—adding up to almost $2.5 billion by 2040. Rebecca and Monty work around the clock to get these facts out to average Texans, attending public meetings across the state. They told me that, since this project will be the first operational high-speed rail system in the U.S., they felt a great responsibility to see it through and make sure it is done right. Once Americans see that high-speed rail works in Texas, they'll be willing to invest billions towards modern passenger rail in their own state. It was inspiring to see how seriously they took the responsibility.
So while the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex isn’t as far along in providing walkable, people-oriented neighborhoods as some other cities I’ve visited, they are even now creating an incredibly strong system of light-rail, commuter rail, and streetcars around which to build those neighborhoods. And the upside of following in the footsteps of others is you get to learn from their successes—and avoid their mistakes. Dallas/Fort Worth is poised to make a tremendous leap into the future, and I’m just itching for an excuse to return to these two cities as they catch up—and perhaps even surpass—other tech hubs across the U.S.
(I’m looking at you, TCR! How about a seat on the inaugural Dallas-Houston ride???)