Notes from the DART Forward 2035 public meetings

Good morning, readers.

Your editor has been utterly consumed in recent weeks with the planning, preparation and execution of the nine public meetings held across the metro last week about the DART Forward 2035 Recommendations. Now that they’re over, I hope to resume my regular posts to The Bus Blog.

A few notes from the public meetings:

  • We met with nearly 200 of you. Many were happy with the direction that the redesign of the transit system is taking. Others, not so much. DART is proposing big changes, and change is hard, especially on those who are affected most adversely. Our goal is for the new transit system to be a net gain, improving services for the most people possible.
  • These are draft recommendations. It is fair to say that the final Transit Services Plan will likely resemble the recommendations fairly closely. However, adjustments will mostly probably be made based on feedback from you, the loyal riders of DART. (Yes, we really are listening to your comments, emails and letters.)
  • Once finalized this fall, the Transit Services Plan would begin to be implemented in 2012.

If you haven’t already, spend a little time with the DART Forward 2035 Recommendations — click here to review them — and feel free to shoot me an email with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Gunnar Olson, DART Public Information Officer and The Bus Blog Editor

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New Register reporter on the DART beat

Good morning, readers.

The Bus Blog is pleased to report that journalist, blogger and editor Daniel Finney of The Des Moines Register is now covering DART.

Finney’s primary role at the newspaper is a cops reporter, but like so many in that newsroom, he wears many different hats, and his rack now includes a DART cap. As a former colleague of his, I can tell you that he’s sharp, fair-minded and a talented writer, as the many readers of his popular blog “DM in the PM” know.

Check him out on Facebook, Twitter, and his DM in the PM blog for the Register.

Finney’s first story is an important one for DART. It’s on the DART Forward 2035 planning study and the potential it has to reshape public transit in Greater Des Moines. He was reporting on it this week and the piece should publish in the next week or so.

In other media news, your editor recorded an interview this morning with Adam Hammes, host of GREEN CITY on KFMG 99.1. We talked about DART, its service, its projects, new technology, and about how I use DART’s service personally. The interview airs at 9 a.m. Friday, April 15.

 

 

This week’s meetings: Asking big questions about future of public transit

Good morning, Readers.

Your editor of The Bus Blog is incredibly excited for this week. DART staff and the DART forward 2035 planning consultants will be out meeting with riders and the general public, asking some pretty big questions about the future of public transit in Greater Des Moines:

What key destinations should DART serve?

Should the service focus on work trips or other types events such as social events and shopping?

If you had to choose between more frequent service or a larger area of service, which one would you pick?

Should the Des Moines region invest more or less in public transit?

If you care about the answers to any of these questions, please join in the discussion.

Fill out the online survey if you haven’t already: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/DARTforward

And definitely come to at least one of the public meetings:

  • Des Moines Central Library, 1000 Grand Avenue
    • 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 5
    • 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 6
  • Urbandale Public Library, 3520 86th Street
    • 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 5
  • Ankeny City Hall, 410 West First Street
    • 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7

Your editor had the opportunity to meet with several members of the media last week to tell them about the planning study and its potential for bringing great change to the transit system as we know it today.

(Check out this piece on ABC 5 this weekend: http://www.myabc5.com/global/category.asp?c=190187&clipId=5718505&autostart=true)

One question that more than one reporter asked: What can meeting-goers expect at the public meetings this week?

This round of meetings will be about reviewing the research done by the consultants so far, and then imagining the possibilities. In other words, at this stage, the proverbial route map of the future is a blank slate.

We want to hear from the public before the consultants start “putting lines on the map.” Specific service recommendations will  drafted in time for this summer, when we’ll hold another round of public meetings to get feedback on those.

But for now, put on your planner’s cap and tell DART how you want public transit to develop over the next 25 years.

See you at the meetings!

— Gunnar Olson

Please join the discussion: Future of Greater Des Moines transit is being decided now

Dear Readers,

Now is a great time to be a transit advocate in Greater Des Moines.

Starting next week, the public is being asked to help DART and a team of nationally recognized transit planning consultants develop a long-range regional transit plan called DART Forward 2035. When complete later this year, the plan will serve as a guide for the DART Commission on near- and long-term investments in public transit in Greater Des Moines over the next 25 years.

We hope you join the discussion. We will be holding four public meetings in the first week of April to gather public input. Basically, we’re asking what you think the transit system of the future should look like.

  • Des Moines Central Library, 1000 Grand Avenue
    • 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 5• 5:30 p.m.
    • Wednesday, April 6
  • Urbandale Public Library, 3520 86th Street
    • 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, April 5
  • Ankeny City Hall, 410 West First Street
    • 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 7

In addition, we would encourage you to also fill out a survey: www.surveymonkey.com/s/DARTforward.

The information gathered from these meetings and the survey will be used to develop specific recommendations for updating DART’s transit system. Those recommendations will be complete by this summer, and a second round of public meetings will follow for the public to give feedback.

More information about the planning study is available online at www.ridedart.com/dart‐forward‐2035.cfm.

Start thinking: What kind of transit do you want?

Good morning, readers.

Please join The Bus Blog in welcoming Transportation Management and Design to Des Moines for three days of … planning meetings.

Yes, yes. Sounds like a three-day snooze fest. Actually, it’s pretty interesting.

The consultants are helping DART through the DART Forward 2035 long-range planning study, which will ultimately result in a map for expanding public transit throughout the Greater Des Moines region for the next 25 years.

This week, the consultants are meeting with several local leaders in both the public and private sectors — DART Commissioners, mayors, council members, city managers, business executives, among others. They’re asking the local leaders to think big:

What kind of city do we want to grow?

Are we competing amongst ourselves or with other metros around the country?

Should transit be focused on moving commuters during peak times, or should it be more than that?

Are there corridors in the metro that could be built up as major transit lines?

Start thinking about the questions, because DART will be holding public meetings in the next couple of months to get your answers.

2010 in review: Year of big changes at DART

Good morning, readers.

Below is a column of mine that appeared in the December issue of DART’s newsletter:

DART faced a great deal of uncertainty at this time last year. The latest pedestrian accident was less than six months behind us. A budget shortfall lay ahead. The Transit Hub existed on paper but there was no money to build it. And the City of Grimes wanted out of DART.

Now look at where we are.

The accident rate is low and the only serious accident involving a pedestrian (actually, a kid on a bike) was completely unavoidable by DART’s operator and was covered as such by the media. The Transit Hub received not one, not two, but three grants in the past year — enough to build it start to finish. And Grimes decided to stick with DART after the launch of a Park and Ride lot at a new Walmart there.

Not to mention this year’s discovery of Ron Cheatem, who is becoming a household name since he started doing a morning segment on WHO-TV on how the buses are running, reporting live from dispatch each weekday morning with his smooth baritone.

Of course 2010 wasn’t perfect — let us not forget the service cuts in April — and there could still be surprises before next year arrives. But I can’t help but look toward 2011.

We’ll be launching a big-picture planning study, dubbed DART Forward 2035, that will see the system map redrawn from scratch.

We’ll start installing GPS technology on the buses, which will translate to real-time departure and arrival information for customers.

We’ll break ground on the new Transit Hub in the spring and construction won’t stop until it’s finished, likely in 2012.

So where will we be at this time next year?

I don’t know, either. But I do know that we’ll have a better idea of what is in store for DART’s future, as all of these plans inch closer to becoming realities.

If this past year is any clue, it’s going to be another sweet view next year.

Happy New Year!

Widen I-235? Register article prompts debate

Good afternoon, readers.

A favorite line of DART General Manager Brad Miller’s is, “Decreasing congestion by widening roads is like trying to lose weight by buying a bigger belt.”

You can see that sentiment on full display — among other, counter opinions — in the online chatter following today’s article on desmoinesregister.com that highlights the increasing congestion along Interstate 235 just three years after its $429 million reconstruction. Reporter William Petroski reports that the Iowa Department of Transportation is now “seriously considering” widening the stretch between 63rd and 73rd from three to four lanes. The story does not include a cost estimate.

Click here for the full story.

DART gets a mention in the story for its ridership, which was down in fiscal year 2010 compared to fiscal year 2009 but was still the third highest year since 1984. You can attribute that one-year decline, of 11 percent to 4.5 million annual rides, to three primary factors: gas prices falling from record highs, which had caused a spike in ridership; to the construction of new parking ramps downtown, causing ridership on the LINK shuttle to and from the Center Street Park and Ride to drop (the service is being scaled back in response); and the service cuts in April.

What this shows is that many people choose between public transit and personal automobiles based on factors of cost and convenience. The easier a city makes it to drive to work — be it through private parking garages or publicly funded highway expansions — the more likely people are to choose that option, perpetuating congestion.

Similarly, the use of public transit directly correlates to convenience — that is to say, to the level of service. Cut service and transit ridership drops. Expand service and the use of public transit grows, easing congestion.

DART Commissioner Christine Hensley was quoted in the Register article questioning whether widening I-235 was the best way to spend taxpayer dollars.

Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley, who served on a steering committee that oversaw the freeway reconstruction project, lives adjacent to I-235 and can watch freeway traffic through a solarium in her home. She said she’s been caught in the traffic bottleneck between 63rd Street and 73rd Street a couple of times. But she still believes local officials made the right choice in supporting a “balanced growth build” that limited the size of the freeway reconstruction project.

“I don’t think that we are at the point where we should be spending money” to construct a fourth lane in each direction on the freeway in Windsor Heights and West Des Moines, Hensley said. She said she would prefer to use road money to improve other area streets and highways, and to focus on boosting public transit ridership.

It should go without saying that DART’s long-term goal is to expand service so it’s convenient to more people to commute by transit instead of in their personal vehicles, although these things don’t happen overnight. The DART Forward 2035 planning study, when completed in late 2011, will give local and state officials a road map for how best to add service in order to grow ridership.