Dallas Wants Self-Driving Vehicles for Planned Redevelopment

The Dallas Midtown area was developed with cars in mind, and now developers are working to create a community that is less auto-dependent, and they're doing that through a people mover loop.

by Ray Leszcynski, The Dallas Morning News / December 28, 2018
A rendering of the planned Dallas Midtown redevelopment. Beck Ventures

(TNS) — If Dallas' Valley View Center site is indeed ripe for redevelopment in the thriving neighborhood it helped create, one certain result will be more traffic and congestion in the city's Far North.

But while the mall sits in a state of prolonged decay, transportation planners are busy trying to head off those future problems.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments has invested $750,000 to lay the groundwork for a people mover system to service the site, which will be remade as the Dallas Midtown urban living and retail center, and to connect it to established transit centers.

"Every time we think about this project, we talk about relieving congestion first," said Dan Lamers, the council's senior program manager.

Parking at Valley View has been a problem for decades. If the location continues to be a hot commodity into the 2020s, an area already jammed with automobiles could become overwhelmed.

Lamers said the transit project dates to spring 2017. He credits Dallas leaders who recognized the need to revitalize the mall site and knew also that the Valley View area was "a transit desert," where traditional bus routes are more clutter than solution. Dallas turned to the Council of Governments, which allocates tax money for transit solutions that match a city's targeted land use.

"This area was really developed by the car," said Dallas City Council member Lee Kleinman, chairman of the council's Mobility Solutions, Infrastructure and Sustainability committee. "We're going to redevelop it with alternatives and by adding transit options."

A fundamental goal of Dallas Midtown is to create a community that is less auto-dependent. The project calls for a third fewer parking spaces than currently required under city ordinances.

Residents will be encouraged to use the people mover system, though at this point, nobody is quite sure what kind of autonomous vehicle will be the best fit. During a public meeting at the Galleria, attendees got a look at Drive.ai autonomous vans in use in Frisco and Arlington, as well as portraits of monorail and self-driven bus carriers that offer greater capacity.

"What we want to do now is develop a strategy," said Kevin Feldt, program manager for the Council of Governments. "As fast as the technology is changing, five years from now we may want to build something different. So we want to build a guideway for whatever may come along."

The meeting was also the public unveiling of the preferred route for the people mover.

At its inner loop, the system will circle Dallas' Midtown's planned park feature, connecting to Preston Road, the Galleria and Alpha Road. The loop will have six stops and be a short walking distance from all points in the development. Up to 1,300 rides a day are projected for the inner loop.

Offshoot lines — maybe the same people mover, perhaps a different vehicle — are planned to connect Dallas Midtown to the Addison restaurant district and three Dallas Area Rapid Transit rail lines.

"Nearly 80 percent of commuters see public transit as the backbone to a lifestyle that includes innovative choices," said Paul Skoutelas, president of the American Public Transportation Association. "Autonomous vehicles can serve mobility deserts, places we cannot provide transit."

Dallas Midtown, along LBJ Freeway and with quick access to four other highways, is a quick ride-share to traditional transportation routes as well.

"Now, how to put it all together?" said Gary Thomas, DART president and CEO. "That first mile/last mile is what it's all about when we connect. The train has to stay on the track; buses can only do so much. So we're back to how do you connect this wonderful midtown development?"

The value of area real estate is already pushing redevelopment near the Dallas Midtown site. A Marriott hotel recently opened, two new apartment complexes stand near the site of a former car dealership, and renovations are happening at the Galleria.

But getting rid of the 45-year-old mall has been a slow go.

"There are a few things going on," Kleinman said, noting at least the start of demolition on two Valley View anchor stores. "But we're not where we wanted to be."

©2018 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.