Tomorrow the Dallas City Council will choose the city’s new representative on the board of Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The vote comes at a crucial time in the history of both Dallas and the region’s public transit authority.
It is not just that DART is currently balancing a handful of large-scale transit projects that will shape the system for a generation. How DART prioritizes those projects will dictate whether or not DART will continue to pursue a public transit philosophy that mimics the model of highway expansion — building more and more miles of rail to low density suburbs in an effort to drive economic development – or refocus on improving its bus system, streetcar expansion, and downtown subway in a way which could transform DART into something that resembles the kind of well-functioning transit system that most large, competitive cities take for granted.
This is not a question of urban vs. suburban, urbanist activists vs. regional boosters. Yesterday, I wrote about Dallas dismal poverty epidemic. Here’s one date point from that post that really sticks out: Less than 20 percent of jobs in Dallas are accessible by transit in less than 90 minutes and more than 70 percent of HUD assisted properties are unaffordable when housing and transportation costs are combined.
In other words, Dallas’ terrible public transit system is part of Dallas’ terrible poverty problem. Fixing the transit system is a way to address the broader social and economic issues that plague this city. And the person the council picks for the DART board will have a lot of influence on whether or not the public transit organization decides it needs to fix itself.
There are two candidates to choose from, and as Robert Wilonksy has already pointed out, the decision should be a no-brainer.
On the one hand you have Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner and sometimes D columnist, Kennedy has designed transit oriented developments all over the world and is perhaps best-known locally for spearheading the conversation around urban highway removal. In his recommendation of Kennedy as “Texan of the Year,” developer Monte Anderson wrote that Kennedy has almost single-handedly changed the way TxDOT approaches its urban highway planning thanks to Kennedy’s involvement in the CityMAP initiative.
Not only does Kennedy know DART and all its wonky inner-workings, he knows what it is like to have to rely on America’s most inefficient public transit system. Kennedy rose to public attention while writing his Car Free in Big D blog, which documented the trials and travails of using public transit while living without a car in Dallas.
I profiled Kennedy back in 2015 and, full disclosure, in addition to writing for the magazine, he has also been active with the Coalition for a New Dallas, a super-PAC founded by D Magazine publisher Wick Allison.
The other candidate is environmental lawyer Howard Gilberg. Gilberg seems to be a smart, well-meaning, dedicated public servant. He has served as chair of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Water, Energy and Environmental Committee and sits on the board of the Trinity Commons Foundation. He has a deep understanding of environmental and air quality issues in the region. But here’s the thing, he knows very little about DART. Gilberg himself says so much. During his interview with the council’s transportation committee in November (you can watch highlights of that interview below), Gilberg said he didn’t know where DART’s routes go, that his first priority on the board would be to try to understand how DART works, and that he believes DART can increase ridership through better marketing.
You can say this much about Gilberg: the mere suggestion of naming someone to the DART board with his admitted lack of familiarity of the basic functioning Dallas’ public transit system offers one explanation for how DART managed to develop such a haphazard, inefficient system in the first place.
But DART doesn’t have to be the worst transit system in the country. Dallas now has a chance to set things right. The first step is to name representatives to the DART board who actual understand what it will take to get us there.
From what I understand, the mayor and five city council members have not yet declared their support publicly for either of the candidates. That’s where you can help. Below you can find their contacts. Drop them a line. Tell them you want DART to actually work. Let them know you want them to appoint a DART board member who will not rubber stamp a repetition of the mistakes of the past, but rather, Patrick Kennedy, a proven expert who possesses the skills and knowledge to actually help DART become a real, functioning public transit system.
Here are the horseshoe contacts:
Mayor Mike Rawlings email
Rickey D. Callahan – firstname.lastname@example.org
DART Board Nominee Interviews – November 14 from Coalition for a New Dallas on Vimeo.