Last night, the DART board met to discuss this and that, and about 200 people clad in green t-shirts showed up to let the board know how much they don’t want a second surface rail line through downtown. DART spokesman Morgan Lyons told me that several years ago the board faced a similar standing-room-only crowd as it considered another rail alignment, but board member Bill Velasco told the DMN’s Brandon Formby that the turnout was the biggest he’s seen in his 15 years on the board.
Read that Formby story for more details. It’s a good recap of what happened last night. Then, if you’re so inclined, read this Robert Wilonsky story on the same topic from today’s paper. It’s a total mess. The prose is a killer. Example: “On the surface (get it?!), the streetcar probably makes the most sense, right? Goes farther than a Dak Prescott deep pass …” But, far worse, the content seems in some places to have come straight from the desk of Gary Thomas, DART’s executive director. I wrote last week about how Thomas used fear tactics at a Dallas City Council briefing to try to steer them away from making that second downtown line a subway. With that in mind, read this passage from Wilonsky:
The Federal Transit Authority doles out around $2.3 billion in federal grants every year divvied up in three categories: New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity. The first two are for projects costing less than $300 million where the local ask is less than $100 million (which means streetcar and platform extensions). But ostensibly, it’s all the same stash of cash. And Dallas is only going to get so much.
DART rushed the council to pick that [surface] D2 alignment last year because it wanted to be first in line for some of that Core Capacity money. A subway means the city goes to the back of the line and crosses its fingers the feds like the idea.
That stuff came straight from Thomas. No one knows whether altering Dallas’ application for federal funds would put the city “at the back of the line.” But Thomas has been saying that because it sounds scary. And the notion of crossing fingers is just ridiculous. A second rail line through downtown Dallas (on the surface or as a subway) is projected to increase capacity by 100 percent. Of the other applications from cities around the country for the same pot of money, San Carlos’ comes the closest to increasing capacity as much as Dallas’ application. Theirs would increase capacity by only 20 percent. Third place is Chicago, at 15 percent. There are other factors that go into the feds’ evaluation of applications, but capacity is important. That’s why it’s called a Core Capacity grant. Dallas doesn’t need to cross its fingers.
I know all this, in full disclosure, because the Coalition for a New Dallas, the PAC advocating for a subway, has a cozy relationship with D Magazine. I sometimes play basketball at the downtown Y with the coalition’s executive director. They hold meetings in our office. In fact, last night, the coalition had a pre-DART board meeting happy hour in our office, and I drank three Dallas Blondes paid for by the coalition. Plus I took a free t-shirt. Oh, and I controlled the iPad mini that was being used to play Pandora through our sound system. So technically I have DJed at an event thrown by the Coalition for a New Dallas.
Anyway, as I said, a sea of green washed over the DART board meeting last night. Thirty minutes into the affair, you could still hear a steady stream of periodic electronic buzzes in the lobby, as people continued to pour through the metal detecters. Nearly the entire meeting was given over to public remarks. You can watch the whole thing here. The Rev. Karl Schwarz, executive director of First Presbyterian; Michael VanHuss, project director of the Statler; philanthropist Vinay Jain — they all told the board how a surface rail line would ruin their church or their hotel or their planned museum. Plenty of regular city dwellers got up to talk, too, people who live in downtown and Deep Ellum and want DART to do right by the citizens of Dallas for generations to come, not just grab the quick, easy cash from the feds and jam another barrier through the heart of the city. Really, it was inspiring. Most of the board seemed to enjoy the evening. As board member Velasco told Formby: “What was really interesting was to see the passion and the excitement.”
If Thomas shared that sentiment, he hid his feelings well. For the majority of the time that the public had the lectern, his head was lowered, his attention focused on something on his desk, a computer monitor perhaps. Maybe he was updating his LinkedIn profile. I’m just guessing.
One final word about the awkward ending to the meeting. When board vice chair Richard Carrizales called out the name of the penultimate speaker who had signed up to address the board, that person was not present. It was sort of a “Bueller?” moment — except the name he was calling was Tim Rogers. You can watch it happen at about the 44-minute mark of the last video posted here. I had already left the meeting by that point, because I am a good father who wanted to see his daughter before she went to bed and because I support the troops and love eagles. I assure you, though, that I did not sign up to speak last night. I have learned the identity of the prankster who did this. Well played, sir. But you’d best keep your head on a swivel.