DART Forward 2035

Mass Transit Plan makes housing more affordable

DART Forward 2035

Big changes are in store for Greater Des Moines’ mass transit system, with many potential benefits for developers and advocates of affordable housing.

Better Service

Over the next nine months, a completely redesigned network of bus routes will be implemented by the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART). The changes are outlined in the recently adopted DART Forward 2035 Services Plan, a blueprint for one of the most significant expansions in public transit service in decades.

The plan calls for more service, to more places, more often and with quicker travel times. Service will be more highly concentrated along major corridors throughout the metro. New crosstown routes will enable faster travel from one side of the metro to the other. And more transfer points throughout the region – not just downtown – will vastly expand the number of connections from residential areas to schools, businesses, public services and other major destinations.

(Nine public meetings are being held Feb. 6-9 for the public to provide feedback on the proposed service changes in June and November. More information is available at www.ridedart.com.)

“Bus-Rapid Transit”

In addition, DART is pursuing a proposal to develop “bus-rapid transit,” which is rail-like service using rubber-wheeled vehicles. The service would be developed along a planned new Route 60, a loop with buses running in both directions on Ingersoll and University Avenues between downtown and 42nd Street. The buses would run every 10 to 20 minutes, all day.

The loop route will pass through or by 11 neighborhoods and reach many key destinations, including three institutions of higher learning, two major hospitals, multiple shopping centers and the central business district. To make the service more rail-like, DART is proposing to use specially branded hybrid buses, build full-size stations along the route, and use technology to more smoothly blend with traffic and minimize delays.

The basic bus service will be launched this fall. The stations, technology and upgraded buses could be implemented in the next two to three years, depending on the outcome of a capital campaign to raise $25 million. That would include $5 million in local match money, which could potentially leverage a $20 million federal grant.

More Features

This fall, DART will open a new Central Station at 6th Avenue and Cherry Street in downtown Des Moines, replacing the Walnut Street Transit Mall as the primary transfer point of the entire network. The facility will be reminiscent of a modern-day airport, complete with indoor waiting areas, public restrooms, a customer-service desk, covered bus bays and digital signs with real-time arrival and departure times.

DART will be launching a new online trip planner this year, as well. Anyone with an Internet connection or smart phone will be able to easily plan their trips by transit simply by entering their origin and destination. In addition, through the use of GPS technology, the online trip planner will be able to show customers, in real time, when the next bus will be to their stop.

The Housing Factor

These improvements will do more than provide better bus service. The broader benefits are huge, especially as it relates to the overall affordability of living in Greater Des Moines.

Transportation is one of the biggest expenses for households, with housing being the largest. According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average American household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation. That represents a significant share of income for low and medium wageworkers, leaving less money for housing.

Put another way, DART’s investment in public transit presents an opportunity for improving and protecting affordable housing. Housing can be made considerably more affordable if it’s located along the major transit corridors of the new and improved transit system, providing residents with easy access to convenient, reliable and affordable transportation.

These corridors are all laid out in the DART Forward 2035 Service Plan, providing a clear picture of the public transit system that is being developed. Advocates, developers, city planners and elected officials will be able to look to it when making decisions that affect development and housing.

Of all the improvements to public transit, this is arguably one of the most significant – having a common vision for growing public transit and, by extension, how that can fit into the overall development of the region.

Gunnar Olson is the Public Information Officer at the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority.