The city of Dallas and DART have devised an alternative for the east side of the planned downtown subway that will no longer surface in Deep Ellum.
The previous alignment of the subway, called D2, was to emerge from below ground along Good Latimer just east of the elevated IH-345 and travel a few blocks north until it reached Swiss Avenue. There, DART would build a Y-shaped confluence of the rail lines called a “wye” junction that would require a significant amount of land and potentially damage one of the primary ways in and out of Deep Ellum.
After pushback from the nonprofit Deep Ellum Foundation and other neighborhood stakeholders, the city asked DART to reconfigure this portion of the subway. The western portion, which extends south from Victory Park into downtown and then east along Commerce Street, remains unchanged.
The transit agency and its partners considered 17 different alignments, 16 of which ran into some sort of problem. Some required seizing land, others caused too much disruption along existing streets, and some just flat-out cost too much. The alignment recommended by DART and city staff would create a subway station under the existing bus transfer center, just west of IH-345 above Pacific Ave. The subway would then continue onto the existing CityPlace station. The new alignment also won’t interfere with plans for I-345, whether it be depressed or removed altogether. And any effects to neighboring Carpenter Park will be minimal.
One problem: there is no way to orient the existing Green Line train onto the D2 track if the alignment doesn’t go through Deep Ellum. That means riders coming from Pleasant Grove and South Dallas won’t be able to get to the Medical District or UNT Dallas, as they would in the original plan. Kay Shelton, a DART project manager, told the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that this would affect about 20 percent of riders departing from that part of town.
They would need to transfer at the new subway stop by walking up to the street and marching a quarter mile north to the Pearl/Arts District Station. That didn’t go over well with some, particularly South Dallas/Fair Park Councilman Adam Bazaldua.
“I’m not going to support this with such a substantial impact to service when it comes to southeast Dallasites,” he said. “I’d like for DART to come with a more equitable option for us to explore so we can make sure we don’t see that impact.”
DART argued that it has that very option. The transit agency could increase frequency on Green Line trains that would be direct lines north to Bachman Lake, hitting the Medical District job center on the way, and south to UNT Dallas and the Lancaster/VA Hospital corridor. Doing so would cost about $8 million a year, which the transportation committee directed staff to include in its resolution approving the new alignment.
“If they can tell me with confidence that we will be making adjustments to the current lines to accomplish what it is they would like to see accomplished yet still providing the same opportunity that exists now for the riders, then that’s something I can get behind,” Bazaldua said in an interview after the meeting. (In March, Bazaldua spoke in support of the previous alignment outright.)
As I’ve written before, the subway will double the system’s capacity by acting as a release-valve for the cluster of trains that bottleneck through the single line downtown. It’s a significant investment: the changes will likely make it more than $2 billion, a little less than half of which is eligible for federal funding.
The reason we’re having these discussions now is because of that federal funding; deadlines are coming, and DART needs to get moving on an environmental clearance to keep up with those dates. Or risk losing out on at least $800 million. The agency thinks it has a really good shot at a grant, considering it would double capacity. (Remember, increasing capacity does not necessarily increase ridership.)
The project dates back to 1990, when the city said it would prefer a subway if lightrail were to go through downtown. DART couldn’t afford it, so the city allowed for a surface line along a transit mall that crosses along Bryan Street, but ordered the agency to build the subway if it hit hourly ridership of 8,000 people each way. It started planning D2 in 2007, but it still hasn’t reached that milestone.
Ridership was less than half that before the pandemic. Now it’s down 45 percent further. So Councilwoman Cara Mendelsohn, of Far North Dallas, issued DART an edict. She wants more operational services in the interim.
“That means more bus routes, that means increasing the Love Field shuttle, that means taking over our streetcar, that means the senior ride program we’re operating out of our general fund, which is clearly something that should be happening from DART,” she said. “These are ways you need to partner to serve and live up to your part of serving the people of Dallas.”
Mendelsohn has been outspoken about DART’s obligation to the city of Dallas. In March, she spoke up about the agency’s priorities, even saying, “I don’t think a single one of us would say, ‘Oh, D2 is our pressing issue.’”
“Every council member, city staff executive, and DART board member should be able to rattle off Dallas’ top five transportation priorities,” Mendelsohn told me back in March. “I hope those will address factors like population density, poverty, transportation dependency, existing rail, employment centers, the full geography of our city, and mobility needs of residents of all ages and abilities.”
She’s still beating that drum. D2 will likely happen. As DART board member Patrick Kennedy noted earlier this week, this is the first time since the project began that all the stakeholders are supporting the alignment.
But what Mendelsohn is saying is important too: the little things matter and really matter more. They affect the people who use the service, the transit-dependent residents who need DART to get all over the city. That is the essential service, Mendelsohn wanted DART to remember. It owes it to its residents to get it as right as it can, subway or not. Maybe start with improving last-mile connections near transit stops?