Here is a solution to Dallas’ traffic woes

UNTIL ABOUT 3 A.M. yesterday, I was all fired up to write another “this thing will never fly” story about rapid transit in Dallas. I’d read all of anti-tax crusader Norman V. Butler’s polemics to the editor. I’d looked at the $50 million per mile MARTA system in Atlanta, the $60 million a mile Toronto system and the $55 million a mile Washington Metro. I’d looked at the Dallas Transit Authority’s (DTA) projected income, assuming we voters approve a 1 cent transit sales tax next year. I thought Dallas would be lucky to give its bus fleet a lube job and a coat of paint.

But I’d also spoken with members of the Interim Regional Transportation Authority, who sounded, as journalists say, “guardedly optimistic.” Many were predicting that a substantial light-rail system would be ferrying riders throughout Dallas County by the year 2000. John Tatum, one of the more visionary IRTA board members, wolfed down a two-taco lunch so he could devote his full attention to making a case for a MAR-TA/Metro type of heavy-rail system.

“If rapid rail has twice the capacity of light rail, and you can build rapid rail for only 10 percent more than light rail, mightn’t it be better to build it in 1982 dollars? Maybe you can’t even buy it in 2000,” he argued. There are IRTA board members who say that the Dallas area will not need the capacity of a heavy-rail line for the foreseeable future. “Thirty years ago,” Tatum said, jabbing an index finger into the diagram he’d drawn on his place mat, “no one would have believed you if you’d said that any freeways in Dallas would require 10 lanes. I hope we don’t make that mistake in transit.”

“Read the Pushkarev book -you’ll see what 1 mean,” he added, referring to Urban Rail in America by Boris Pushkarev, one of the country’s leading transit planners.

So I sequestered myself for two weeks with Pushkarev, a 3-foot stack of transit studies, several gallons of Coca-Cola and my computer terminal. The machine crunched out the final numbers at 3 a.m. and -Eureka! -I think we’ve got it. An affordable transit plan for Dallas.

Before reading further, a few caveats: First, all the transit-related figures for Dallas and environs are merely educated guesses. They dart about like front-porch lizards and are updated as frequently as stock quotations. Second, given the chameleon-like nature of the numbers and the scores of assumptions behind each calculation, a computer-aided fool is no more reliable than a fool on manual control.

But the general outline of a workable transit plan grows ever more visible. The IRTA is supposed to start drawing its own lines this month; by November it should have two or three ideas on which it will seek citizen comment. My guess is that its notions will look a great deal like what Pushkarev, I and Heidi (my computer) came up with.

It won’t have any $50-million-a-mile price tag. It won’t have any monorails and probably will have less than two miles of subway. It will cost about $1 billion, but Heidi says we can afford it. It will tie the region together from Garland to Irving and Piano to Duncanville with a network of bus and light-rail routes. And a large portion of it will be up and running within seven years.

Within, say, 15 years, the system will have approximately 35 miles of rail lines, mostly along existing railroad tracks. Trains will serve up to 140,000 passengers a day. Buses will feed the train stations and will run express routes on the less-con-gested highways, such as the Dallas North Tollway and I-45 South.

How do we know all this? Truthfully, we don’t. Not for sure. But as Maurice Carter, the IRTA’s new executive director, pointed out, “There’s no great mystery to all this.” Though the overall transit picture might look gray, like a newspaper photograph, it is composed of hundreds of black and white items. The IRTA is in the process of attacking those items one by one, but decisions on most of them will depend on the answers to a handful of fundamental questions, some technical and some political:

I. What do potential riders want out of a transit system?

The IRTA surveyed slightly more than 8,000 residents of the Dallas region and found that “traffic congestion” was the number one travel problem cited by an overwhelming majority of the respondents. It was followed closely by “slow travel” and “high cost.” If the IRTA wants to make people happy, it had better come up with a system that is fast and reasonably priced.

For the benefits of transit to be obvious, the system will have to be faster than expressway driving and cheaper than down-town parking. Heidi says this is possible. By the turn of the century, the Greater Dallas Mobility Study predicts that rush-hour traffic will poke along at 17 miles per hour. Already some downtown parking spaces are $6 a day. On our rail routes the average speed would be better than 30 miles per hour, and the per-passenger cost would be less than $1, in constant 1982 dollars.

If people start riding the rails, the congestion should take care of itself. One rail car can hold the same number of passengers as 154 typical autos.

2. How big a role should public transit play?

At one extreme, public transit could be considered a form of welfare: a tax-supported guarantee that those without autos can get around the city. It also could be viewed as a business, pure and simple, running only on profitable routes and carrying only passengers who fully pay their way. (Cars, of course, are “tax supported” in the sense that taxes pay for streets and the government employees who keep them reasonably safe -though less than half as safe as rapid transit.)

Somewhere in the middle lies the answer adopted by Heidi, who is a nut for efficiency: Bus transit should be provided wherever there are enough riders to pay about half the system’s operating expenses. Half is typical for large urban systems, including Dallas, and the tax subsidy recognizes the favor the bus riders are doing the rest of us auto-drivers by not clogging the highways or causing additional pollution.

High-capacity rail transit should be provided when it is more efficient than bus or auto service in the use of land, energy, labor and capital goods. Any rail line carrying more than 1,900 persons per direction during rush hour theoretically can save on labor costs compared to bus systems. At 3,000 passengers per hour, the rail system will be more energy-efficient than autos and buses (including construction energy) and will use land more efficiently than a freeway. Within 18 years, 10 potential rail lines in Dallas should reach the 3,000-passenger-per-hour level.

3. Where is there a demand for rail service?

Since rail lines are long and narrow, they serve long, narrow areas called “corridors.” The authority carved Dallas County into 10 transit corridors, consisting of nine pie-shaped wedges centered on the Dallas Central Business District (CBD) plus one cross-town route centered on North LBJ Freeway.

They found, to no one’s surprise, that the best transit area was northeast of the CBD, from downtown to Piano. A transit line down Central, on which the pie slice is centered, could draw 89,100 transit trips per day by the turn of the century. Overall, the corridors look something like this:

-Northeast: 89,100 trips a day over a 20-mile route following Central to Spring Creek Parkway in Piano. Or 69,800 following the Southern Pacific right of way parallel to Central.

– East: Along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas tracks to Garland, 29,800 over 11.1miles.

-Southeast: Along I-30 to Mesquite and beyond, 31,800 over 12.4 miles.

– South: Along the Southern Pacific toBuckner Boulevard and Ledbetter Drive,15,000 over 10.8 miles. Or along U.S. 175,10,100 over 5 miles. Or along U.S. 75south, 8,800 riders over 7.3 miles.

-Southwest: Along U.S. 67 and I-35E to Duncanville, 40,000 over 9.6 miles. Or along the Santa Fe tracks to 1-20 and Duncanville, 34,800 over 12.9 miles.

-West: Along the Rock Island Line to D/FW airport, 30,900 over 14.8 miles. Or along I-35E, State Highway 183 and State Highway 114 to Las Colinas and the airport, 26,500 over 15.3 miles.

-Northwest: Along I-35E to Belt Line Road, 26,000 over 15 miles.

– Cross-town: Along LBJ from Irving to Mesquite, 29,100 passengers over 26.4 miles. Or along the St. Louis, Southwestern tracks from Irving to Central Expressway in Piano, 16,700 over 18.5 miles.

All the ridership figures are approximations, which would be lower with less-than-optimal service and higher, if several lines were built, increasing the usefulness of the entire system.

Naturally, the rail and highway routes are not mutually exclusive; in any transit area, riders could be served by a line that traveled on railroad rights of way, on highways or on a combination of the two.

4. How much faith can we put in those estimates?

They’re reasonably solid, as far as they go. They were produced by the North Central Texas Council of Governments (COG) based on accepted mathematical models of traffic generation and transit ridership.

For instance, each single-family home produces about 10 trips per day; each thousand square feet of retail space generates about 60 trips per day; a one-million-square foot office building creates about 15,000 daily trips. Those numbers work together like gravity -the pull of one area on another is a function of their sizes and distance from each other. Knowing that NorthPark will draw 77,500 daily one-way trips, Heidi’s soul-sisters at COG have a pretty good chance of figuring out where the travelers will be coming from. Ditto for Prestonwood (63,000 trips) or Baylor , Medical Center (33,500) or Richland College (31,000) or D/FW airport (43,000). Or the Dallas CBD, where 205,000 workers are expected to compete for transit space every weekday in the year 2000.

To get some idea of how many of those 205,000 workers might use public transit, COG staff members fed their computers information on each area’s distance from the CBD and other activity centers in its transit corridor, its population, household income, and the accessibility and cost of rapid transit, compared to auto travel. They got a pretty good guess at transit ridership, which they are updating every month or so.

Alas, they have not yet estimated rider-ship for each link of each rail line; they cannot estimate whether the Central Expressway line would have 80,100 riders every day even if it went only two-thirds of the way to Piano. And their estimates are only as good as the population and employment assumptions on which they are based. Some IRTA board members have been less than delighted about the manner in which a few of the numbers were arrived at.

Irving, as the most notable example, was projected by the COG staff to have an employment base of 246,000 in the year 2000. No, the city’s staff said, it was more like 454,000. Well, said COG’s staff, after looking at Irving’s data, maybe 320,854. Hmm, said the Irving city fathers, if that’s the best you can do for us, all right. The adjustment, representing an 846 percent increase in Irving’s 1982 job base, enhanced Irving’s chances of getting a transit line later in the process, since projected employment would figure strongly in estimating transit ridership. Ditto for Farmer’s Branch (up from COG’s 84,000 employment to 100,000) and Richardson (up from 82,000 to 99,000). While those adjustments were debated last summer by an IRTA subcommittee, board member John Clark, who represents several smaller towns on the authority, questioned whether his colleagues weren’t just competing with each other to get a transit line. “Let’s put it [the adjustments] on the table,” he said. They didn’t, and the on-paper feasibility of Irving’s transit lines increased dramatically.

The Catch-22 to the whole debate is that if Irving and Las Colinas get a transit line, their development certainly will be accelerated. And if they do not get a transit line, their development will be retarded relative to that of other cities that do get transit.

5. How much money will be available?

The transit system will have two sources of funds: a 1-percent sales tax in the cities where the authority is approved, and whatever it earns in fares. Fares will not even cover operating costs, so sales tax revenues must be divided between construction and operating subsidies.

The accounting firm of Peat, Marwick and Mitchell has estimated that the transit authority would reap $117.8 million in sales-tax revenues if it were approved by the voters by next year. By the turn of the century, annual tax revenues would rise to $191.3 million per year, in constant 1982 dollars. As of mid-September, the IRTA did not have an official estimate of how much bond money its sales tax funds would buy, but a standard transit construction bond issue, such as the offerings by Atlanta’s MARTA, would run for 30 years. The amount of bond money available would depend on interest rates and on the annual income that the authority coula pledge to pay off the bonds. Accountants have a shorthand way of figuring such things out; they look down a table of numbers, find the “30-year” column and run their fingers down the page until they hit the appropriate interest rate, at which time they will be looking at something called the bond multiplier. It’s called a multiplier because, to figure the amount of bond money available, they need only take that number and multiply it by their annual bond-retirement income. The multiplier at 13 percent interest over 30 years is 7.495, so $100 million in annual income would buy $749.5 million in bonds. If interest rates fell to 10 percent, the multiplier would rise to 9.426, and $100 million a year could purchase $943 million in bonds.

Aside from interest rates, the IRTA construction budget would depend almost entirely on the availability of federal or state subsidies.

6. Should the authority wait for state or federal subsidies?

Maurice Carter seems to think not. The San Diego system, from whence he came, was completed in 30 months; he believes it would have taken twice as long had the city waited successfully for federal mass transit funds, which nowadays is like waiting for Godot. Things don’t look much more promising in Austin, according to Robert Dedman, chairman of the Texas Highway and Transportation Commission. “It’s going to be very difficult to get state funds for local public transit,” he says. “Can you imagine people from Dallas voting to subsidize public transit in Houston? Or people from Houston voting to subsidize public transit in Dallas?”

On the other hand, one of the chief planners of the Dallas system privately counts on some sort of construction subsidy. California, he notes, allows localities to decide for themselves whether to devote up to half their state gasoline-tax revenues to transit, as opposed to highways. He thinks Texans, too, may change their thinking from moving cars to moving people. “You’ve got to be optimistic in this line of work, or you’ll never even try to get anything done,” he says.

7. How much of its sales tax money should the IRTA devote to bus service?

IRTA members realize they have to support buses, regardless of whether they build rail lines. Partly, it’s a matter of politics: Not everyone can get a rail line; if they don’t at least get better bus service, why should they vote for the transit authority? But buses can be very efficient people-movers, especially on relatively un-congested highways. Even in areas with rail service, people must be brought to and from rail stations. The authority is considering plans that would increase bus coverage by 65 percent by 1985, with two-thirds of the increase coming in the suburbs. The increased service would require about $200 million in buses and other capital equipment.

It also would require larger operating subsidies. The Dallas Transit System (DTS) currently receives $12.5 million annually in city and federal support. A 65 percent jump in mileage would raise the subsidy requirement to about $21 million, based solely on DTS’ historical per-mile deficit. But the DTS is not in spectacularly good shape-half of its 560 buses are 16 years of age or older and require extra maintenance -and the suburban routes could require higher per-mile subsidies.

If the authority devoted 45 percent of its sales-tax money to subsidies, it could give buses at least $53 million a year in operating support. The eventual support level is likely to be as much a matter of board policy as of economics -a question of whether board members believe that construction (as in rail lines) is more important than low bus fares or high levels of bus service.

Heidi and I opted to spend at least 55 percent of our sales-tax revenues on construction of rail lines. We felt that area residents would want to see something in concrete and steel for their tax money. But more important, we worried about spending a lot of money on buses without ever convincing people to ride them. The 1RTA has said that by 1995 it wants half of the area’s work trips to be made via its transit system. The only way it can come close to meeting that goal is by offering its customers speed and convenience -getting them off the streets and onto rail lines.

8. What kind of rail system can Dallas afford?

Three board members’ remarks come to mind: John Tatum noting that the operating cost per passenger mile of rapid-rail and light-rail systems is very similar, while the reserve capacity of rapid rail is much greater. City Councilman Sid Stahl adding, “If cost were no object, I’d prefer building rapid rail. But it’d be ridiculous to say that, because cost is a very big object.” And John Clark concluding, “There are many perfect solutions to the transit problem, and all of them are very expensive.”

Dallas cannot afford a perfect solution; during its first five years in operation, the authority probably could not sell more than $750 million in bonds. By the year 2000, its bond debt (in 1982 dollars) most likely will have to be less than $1 billion. The transit authority will have to choose between a high-capacity system and a high-mileage system. For that reason, Heidi and I parted ways with John Tatum. Economically and politically, the best solution seems to be a light-rail, medium-capacity system.

With light-rail running as much as possible along existing railroad rights of way, a $750 million bond issue could cover a short downtown subway plus four “Phase I” routes totaling about 35 miles of railline, most of which could be operating within less than seven years. A rapid-rail system offering the same coverage would cost about $1 billion, which would require shortening all the lines or cutting one route. But each mile eliminated would reduce the overall transit ridership and lessen the number of voters standing to benefit directly from the transit improvements.

As for monorail, Heidi and I know the study isn’t in yet, but we say “forget it.” Take the North Central corridor, for instance. The IRTA’s consultants say that the capital cost for a light-rail line along the Southern Pacific tracks would be about $384 million. A monorail would cost $585 million, 9 percent more expensive than even a heavy-rail system.

The monorail costs more than light rail because it cannot take advantage of the opportunities to run at ground level and save money. It is more expensive than heavy rail because its cars hold only about half as many passengers as conventional rail vehicles but cost roughly the same amount per car. Heidi figures that eight light-rail trains could cover the Central corridor at peak hours, but the monorail would require 17. Hence, the monorail also would cost more than light or heavy rail to operate -from 10 to 30 percent more, Heidi has calculated using Push-karev’s rough-cut estimating procedure.

The same objections apply to the new Canadian Intermediate Capacity Transit vehicle, which would be more expensive than rapid rail in all the corridors Heidi and I selected. It seems that the transit planners have two choices: (1) decide on fully grade-separated transit, where the trains run totally unimpeded by traffic or pedestrians, in which case they may as well buy a heavy-rail system; or (2) sacrifice some speed in the interest of economy and pick a cheaper system that intersects with a limited number of streets or other rail tracks (though, for the sake of speed, it should never actually take to the street with traffic, as if it were an oversized bus). In that case, light rail is the only answer.

The beauty of light rail is that it can travel either in mixed traffic-it requires no “third rail” for power -or in a “subway” type of system. It could whisk right through a railroad siding yard (where heavy-rail vehicles would have to be on elevated tracks), get an automatic green light at every intersection as it crosses a half dozen suburban streets, then make an express run downtown. It’s stations need no special platforms; boarding is much like getting on a bus. It could even run through the streets of downtown Dallas. Unlike heavy rail, its tracks do not require a Berlin Wall of protective screens.

Light-rail cars have almost the same performance as heavy-rail vehicles, the main difference being that light-rail trains can be no longer than four or five cars long, while heavy-rail trains can run to 10 cars or more.

The problem, as Tatum says, is that with its shorter train lengths and slower speed (due to interference from other traffic), a light-rail system cannot carry the same number of people per hour as a rapid-rail line. The North Central line is the crucial capacity test. According to year 2000 projections, a line right down the middle of the expressway would require four heavy-rail trains during rush hour, providing 10-minute service at each station. But in practice, passengers probably would want at least eight trains and five-minute service. Which is what light rail would require. In fact, light rail would provide more than three and a half times the rush-hour capacity needed in the year 2000 even in the Central corridor. If all hell breaks loose and even that is not enough, the track could be upgraded to rapid-rail status.

But what are the odds of that happening within the next 50 years? The whole question recalls a quotation by Maurice Carter: “This is a lot like buying an air conditioner for your house. You don’t buy a 10-ton unit if all you need is three tons.”

Having decided to use light rail and having narrowed the list of corridors deserving rail service, Heidi and I found that we also had, in effect, chosen our transit routes. If we were to put a transit line down a highway, it would almost certainly have to be elevated. And if it were elevated, it might as well be rapid rail. The only way to save money was to stay on the ground, and the best way to do that was to stick with railroad alignments, except in special circumstances. This arrangement has some advantages besides cost. It will be faster to build at-grade, and a system built along rail lines would supplement the city’s street network, instead of competing with it.

Here, then, is our plan:

-In the north: Our transit line follows Elm Street out of downtown, then turns north on Central, where it runs above the highway until it intersects Mockingbird Lane after slightly more than five miles. From Mockingbird, it follows the Southern Pacific tracks until it reaches Valley View (or possibly Arapaho, depending on more detailed cost and ridership estimates) in Richardson. It will stop there for the first phase of construction, but eventually will continue to Spring Creek Parkway in Piano a distance of 20 miles. Stations possibly at Lemmon, Fitzhugh, Mockingbird, Northwest Highway, Walnut Hill, Forest Lane, Valley View, Arapaho, Piano Park-way and Spring Creek. Projected cost: $384 million, with a total operating cost of 18 cents per passenger mile, including 45-year amortization of capital expenses. Projected ridership: 65,000 a day.

By the year 2000, Heidi and I would like to start work on a second northern line, running for 11 miles along the MKT tracks from Mockingbird to Garland. From Mockingbird south, it would share the Central right of way with the Southern Pacific line. Stations at Lovers Lane, Northwest Highway, Kingsley Road, Forest Lane, Walnut Street and Glenbrook. Projected cost: $ 152 million, with an operating cost of 21 cents per passenger mile. Projected ridership: 27,500 a day.

Also in the north, we would provide express bus service on the Dallas North Toll-way and on I-35E to the Denton County line, plus frequent bus service along LBJ, at least until growth along the freeway justified a rail line. (If we were to build it by 2000, it would have a total operating cost of almost SO cents a passenger mile and serve 27,000 riders a day along its 26-mile length.)

-In the east, we would start with express bus service to Mesquite, Rowlett and Garland along I-20 and I-30.

This is due to Heidi’s policy on cost-effectiveness. For each line, she divided the expected number of passenger-miles traveled each weekday by the total capital investment, and came up with the capital cost per weekday passenger-mile. (This is not how much it costs to carry each passenger a mile, since there are 260 weekdays in a year and the equipment will last for at least 45 years. Capital cost per weekday passenger mile is commonly used to measure the effectiveness of a transit investment; the national average is about $1,800. But we don’t have a nickel to spare. We’re not going to build any lines costing more than $1,000. The 1-30 route to Garland would run $1,280; the MKT route to Garland would be $876. MKT it is.

– In the southeast, we would modify an idea from Trammell Crow, Ben Carpenter and John Stemmons, and run from White Rock Creek at Scyene Road to downtown, along the Southern Pacific right of way. This line would serve the Fair Park area, and eventually would run almost 11 miles (fewer if we took some shortcuts) from the CBD to Ledbetter Drive and Buckner Boulevard. Projected cost: $83 million, with a total operating cost of 24 cents per passenger mile-the highest on our system, but omitting this line would leave a whole quadrant of the city without rail service, freeze Fair Park out of the transit system and be political folly.

Besides, Messrs. Crow, Carpenter and Stemmons have announced their willingness to contribute up to 100 percent of the right of way and 75 percent of the station costs for a line between Fair Park and D/FW, provided that it services their holdings. Heidi-ever anxious to save a buck -is keeping her circuits open. Projected ridership: 13,800.

-In the south, we would provide express bus transit from LBJ to downtownvia 1-45 and I-35E; rail lines in those corridors fail our $l,000-per-weekday-passenger-mile test, and traffic is light enoughfor buses to provide reasonably fast service.

-In the southwest, we would use theSanta Fe Railroad right of way to travelfrom downtown Dallas to Duncanville.Stations would be at Lamar Street, Corinth Street, Marsalis Avenue and I-35E,Polk Road, Hampton Road, Westmoreland Avenue, Cockrell Hill Road and 1-20.We might stop Phase I construction atWestmoreland, depending on our bankbalance. The line would run for almost 13miles (fewer if we jogged along I-35E coming out of the CBD). Projected cost: $183 million, with a total operating cost of 18 cents per passenger mile.

– In the west, we would take the Rock Island Line from the CBD to Irving, and eventually, perhaps, to the airport. During our Phase I, we would travel northwest along Harry Hines, stopping at Oak Lawn Avenue, Crow’s Market Center, the Park-land Hospital complex and Stemmons’ Industrial District. Then we would leave the Rock Island tracks for a 2.5 mile detour north to Texas Stadium, probably up Chancellor, over the Trinity River and along State Highway 183. Here we would stop, having provided Irving with an ideal park-and-ride lot, until growth in our resources and in Las Colinas’ employment base justified extending the line, either north to Las Colinas or south along the Rock Island tracks. This, of course, is the route for which donations have been promised, and we will need them, even to justify reaching the stadium. Irving’s new employment projections would give the line a year 2000 total operating cost of 18 cents a passenger mile, but its old ones, the ones COG originally formulated, would put the cost at 25 cents a mile.

We are building this line, even though in the short run a line to Garland would serve more people, because the chance to get some help with right of way and station costs is too good to pass up. This line demonstrates exactly the sort of public-private cooperation that we hope the folks in Washington will appreciate, and reward. And Dallas and Fort Worth are lobbying Congress to grant a low-interest loan that would allow them to purchase the Rock Island tracks. That would further reduce our capital costs while opening the door to a rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The cheapest cost-per-mile alternative in this corridor would be shooting straight out to D/FW on the Rock Island. That would carry us 14.8 miles and cost $147 million, with a potential year 2000 rider-ship of 28,500. But we just can’t resist the stadium’s huge parking lot. Our Phase 1 line would run for roughly 7.5 miles and cost about $85 million.

If we were to draw our rail lines on a map now, they would look like two parabolas, sitting back to back at either end of the CBD. The Las Colinas and Duncan-ville lines have a natural terminal point at Union Station, but the Piano and Fair Park lines still need to get into the center city. The question is, should they skirt the sides or come down the middle? Be at street level, in a tunnel or elevated?

Heidi, who up until now has been very frugal, votes for a subway under Elm Street, with three or four downtown stops. The point of bringing people downtown is to get them to their jobs as efficiently as possible, and about two-thirds of all downtown office jobs are within a quarter mile of Elm. It’s true that subways can cost $100 million a mile, but elevated lanes are not cheap or attractive, and turning Elm Street into a trains-only thoroughfare would complicate downtown traffic patterns; within 20 years we’d probably have to build a subway, anyhow.

If we start digging now we avoid those problems and give ourselves plenty of capacity for expansion. Only 1.5 miles of tunnel would be needed to bring the Piano line from Live Oak to Union Station. Or we could run the Fair Park line as a subway and send the Piano line through the Arts District. The important thing is to remember that downtown will be the focal point of the system. Unless our finances are so tight that we have to either cut a transit line or come through the CBD above-ground, we’ll dig a tunnel.

Tatum, finishing his two-taco lunch, noted that doubling a freeway’s capacity costs at least twice as much as building the original lanes, while doubling a rail line’s capacity might cost only 50 percent, and probably would require no new construetion. Maybe it was his vision or maybe it was the beer, but soon he was saying that anyone who thinks more streets can keep Dallas moving “is just a voodoo doctor, jumping around wearing the same old mask. We’ve got to start thinking about the future. We like to think that Dallas is different, and to some extent it is -better in some ways, and luckier than other cities. But we’re not all that different. Gravity still applies here.”

If you made table-top models of American cities, with each city block a certain height depending on the number of people living and working on it, the cities that grew up around rail systems would look like mountain ranges. Younger cities such as Dallas, which came of age during the automobile era, would look flatter and more spread out, like the East Texas hills. That “sprawl” is a natural result of automobile transportation, which does a superb job of serving low-density areas.

But Dallas has ambitions. It wants to be a mountain range. And transportation has become the biggest obstacle to those ambitions. Dallas, quite simply, is outrunning the ability of the auto to move its people around.

The Central Business District, for example, has a theoretical traffic-handling capacity of 88,000 cars a day. Already, 55,000 a day are parking downtown. By 1985 another 24,000 autos will be heading there every morning, as 50,000 additional workers stream toward 45 million square feet of office space – up from 28 million in 1982. When those drivers arrive down-town, they’ll find that the CBD is short on parking-by about 30,000 spaces. They’ll have plenty of time to think about finding a space; rush-hour traffic will be crawling along at about 20 miles per hour.

Throughout the region, the problem is similar. Local chambers of commerce asked for $8.7 billion worth of road improvements in last spring’s Greater Dallas Mobility Study. They predicted that congestion-caused travel delays would cost local citizens $3.2 billion a year by the turn of the century. They also noted that even if all 1,209 miles on their “wish list” were completed to existing specifications, 834 miles of the new traffic lanes would be overcrowded on their opening dates.

Carpools and vanpools can ease the problem, but even with 50 percent employer subsidies it is unusual for a firm to have more than one out of every 15 employees in a vanpool. And all those vans and carpool vehicles still need parking spaces, at perhaps $10,000 a slot.

Buses deliver 30 percent of the CBD’s workforce, but only about 10 percent of all daily bus riders come from outside Loop 12. Roughly two out of every three CBD workers live beyond Loop 12, but for those commuters, buses-traveling only as fast as the traffic around them – are not attractive alternatives to the auto.

Rail would be attractive and, where travel volumes are high enough to offset their capital costs, rail lines could take a big load off the highways. The North Central light-rail line, for instance, could easily carry the same number of passengers every day as 60,000 cars, which is approximately the comfortable capacity of an eight-lane divided highway.

Given the strength and militance of neighborhood preservationists and the high cost of highway construction, Dallas is not likely to get many new eight-lane expressways. Rail may be the only way to keep the city moving, in both senses of the word. “If Dallas wants to be a big-league city,” says the IRTA’s Carter, “it’s going to have to make a commitment to rapid transit, and it’s going to have to make a commitment to rail.”


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