Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dallas Looking to Vancouver for Urban Design Ideas

Among major metro areas, Dallas has long had one of the cheapest downtowns for parking and office space, a good indication that not much is happening there. The city itself is very spread out, with a population density of 3,600 per square mile, about the same as suburban Fairfax County, VA just outside Washington. But with DART light rail now carrying over 70,000 passengers a day, and expanding to 90 miles over the next four years, Dallas' light rail system will soon rival DC's metro for route mileage.

While office vacancies and rents both remain in the 20s, downtown population has grown in recent years to a modest 5,000 residents. Now with its transit use growing, the city is looking at other regions with large rail systems to understand how to create a more vibrant urban core. One example is how Dallas has turned to Vancouver to learn more about planning for density.

While most academic urban planners are in love with Vancouver's dense center city, just 5% of its metro population lives downtown. However, its SkyTrain rail system now carries nearly 300,000 passengers a day on just 30 miles of track, and it's just 24 years old. The lesson, therefore, from Vancouver is not just about downtown density, but providing transit choices to the vast majority of people who live outside the urban core.

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