On April 18, the Deep Ellum neighborhood became a no-go zone for companies like Uber and Lyft. The pilot program, coordinated by the City of Dallas and Deep Ellum Foundation, dictated that ride-sharing company drivers would be permitted to pick up and drop off passengers only at designated areas.
The initiative was meant as a measure against the increasing traffic that makes it difficult to navigate the city’s nightlife district, particularly on weekends. After a six-month trial period, the pilot program has been extended until October 2020.
Some of the changes to the pilot program were made July 22, primarily to the times in which the rule was to be observed. It changed from a 24/7 ban on pickups and drop-offs outside of designated areas, to a time frame between Thursdays at 9 p.m. through Sundays at 3 a.m. In addition, a designated area was added on Commerce Street, close to the corner with Pryor Street.
In a statement, Mayor Pro Tem Adam Medrano said: “This pilot is the first coordinated, neighborhood-wide designated ride-share drop-off/pickup zone program in the region, and we have gotten calls both locally and from all over the country from other cities interested in launching similar programs. Launching the Deep Ellum ride-share pilot was a major undertaking. We made strides over the summer as we worked to improve the program based on the performance evaluation and stakeholder feedback.”
The no-zone has been reinforced by the Dallas Police Department and Deep Ellum Foundation’s Public Safety Program, as well through ride-sharing companies Uber, Lyft and Alto.
At the time of its announcement, the program was met with optimism by the neighborhood’s business owners. Artist Frank Campagna, who owns Kettle Art Gallery on Elm Street, called the program “a move in the right direction” in an April 18 Observer article.
“You get one car stopped, like somebody is picking up or dropping off in front of Pecan Lodge or something like that, and all of a sudden the traffic is all the way down to Good Latimer, and that’s unacceptable. People get pissed off and it’s hard enough to find a parking space as it is,” Campagna stated in the article.
But others were concerned that the measure would raise safety concerns for Deep Ellum visitors and employees who'd have to walk alone to the designated areas, leaving them vulnerable to crime.
"We have not had any reported incidents of crime at the zones," says Deep Ellum Foundation Executive Director Stephanie Hudiberg. Hudiberg says that in addition to "congestion relief," the program was also launched to improve the neighborhood's safety. Hudiberg says that the enforcement cuts off at 3 a.m. in consideration of the area employees who'd be at risk walking to the ride-share spots while the neighborhood clears out.
Through the initiative, Hudiberg says, security has increased around the designated areas. "For patrons we put security guards stationed at the zones," Hudiberg says, adding that the organization is currently planning and fundraising to expanding security presence.
"For us safety is foremost always," Hudiberg says. "To walk two blocks even, it might not seem like a big deal in another city but if you're a woman alone at night in Deep Ellum maybe it is, so that's why these safety measures were super important."
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The five designated pickup/drop-off locations, which are identified by signage, are on Good Latimer Expressway (between Main and Commerce); Commerce Street (between Crowdus and Malcolm X Boulevard); Pryor Street (between Main and Commerce); Malcolm X (between Indiana and Junius); Swiss Avenue between N. Hawkins and Good Latimer; and the extended zone on Commerce (between Pryor and Henry).
The program was also meant to clear the streets for emergency-vehicle access. Exceptions allow for passengers requiring handicap access to bypass the assigned spots for pickup and drop-off.
A press release from the Deep Ellum Foundation states that, as they continue to assess the impact, the program is subject to change: “As this is a pilot program, the zones may expand or shift during implementation as the performance of the program is continually assessed.”
The program may not completely rid Deep Ellum of its traffic jam-packed streets — Dallas police frequently closes off the area's main streets to traffic on weekends on a case-by-case basis, usually until 3 a.m., leaving musicians often stranded with abundant heavy gear, outside of closed bars — but like Hudiberg says, Deep Ellum is one of the first (if not the first) entertainment districts nationwide to find a creative solution to at least partially alleviate the increase in traffic.