Where Should We Place the Second Downtown Dallas Rail Line? Maybe (Someday) Underground?

dart-light-rail

I’m well on record as saying the second downtown rail line is probably the most important piece of transportation infrastructure in the city of Dallas.  Since I’ve now been asked my opinion on the various routes about five times this week, I thought I might as well share my perspective.  I suspect people are seeing the pros and cons with each and there are some making it difficult to discern a preferred option.

The most important thing is that it gets built because of the ripple effects it allows up and down all of the lines. Because we can’t fit any more trains on the existing line through downtown means we can’t fit any more trains on any of the lines, which means we can’t reduce headways which is critical to convenience and ridership.  Getting it built and having multiple ways around downtown might even allow for ‘new’ lines.  For example, every line runs back and forth on its set line.

Now think about London. There are several lines that run on the same track for some length before veering off in different directions.  Depending on your needs, you might be able to catch different lines to get to the same place.  This allows for putting lots of trains on tracks and low headways (the time you wait between trains).  Having route “D2” built means we could do different things like have a red-green line where the red line from Plano runs down to downtown and then switches to the green path to Fair Park and points south.  Having the colors means these alternate routes would require a different nomenclature (red + green = Christmas line?).  Or the Blue line from South Dallas could take the orange line to DFW airport.

With that said I’m somewhat ambivalent on routing.  Some make more sense than others from a phasing standpoint.  We have to define our goals.  Is it immediate ridership needs?  Or is it redevelopment potential.  The most vocal camps seem to be split on these needs and B4 in some form or fashion seems to be somewhat of a compromise.  Because the most important thing is getting the full thing built, I’ll support whatever wins provided it isn’t completely batshit.  Like the elevated route.

Transit is always difficult to plan for precisely these reasons.  Do you serve existing needs and potential riders or use it to try and leverage new development meaning new riders.  That can be quite a gamble with lots of money.  Taxpayers want useful things with their dollars.  With that said, transit hasn’t shown the ability to leverage development as much as say walkability does, which then brings the kind of density necessary for ridership.  Walkability 1st. Density 2nd. Transit 3rd.

B4 was the preferred alignment when I was on the original design team back in 07.  What I’m not sure makes a lot of sense is why we would spend half the phase 1 money to build something we will shutter when it is time to build phase 2.  From that standpoint, I’m liking C3 because it reaches Union Station, which would serve as an increased hub with D2 and HSR (theoretically) terminating by it.  Its phase 1 is part of the eventual phase 2, which is wise from an expenditure standpoint.  It would also do something with that useless Reunion Boulevard.

With that said, I’m sympathetic to those who want a subway below Commerce.  I suspect in 20-30 years we will wish all of these lines were underground.  To say that is unrealistic from a financial standpoint to me is potentially short-sighted.  I could see a shift in the next decade or so in how federal transportation dollars get apportioned.  I did some quick math yesterday if the USDOT budget was distributed directly to cities on a per capita basis.  However, I would weight a bit more for bigger cities due to their economic significance.  If USDOT budget were sent directly to cities for cities to spend how they feel best serves their needs would mean roughly $500 million to city of Dallas every year.  Surely the feds will still want some sort of oversight that money isn’t vanishing into rat holes, but of course, it is now anyway.

With that kind of money, our maintenance problems go away quickly.  And we can build a subway line with just a few years of revenue, maybe even one from CityPlace under Uptown to Victory, with a station or two along the way.  Using the London tube as a model again, with stations about every half mile and depending on alignment if this was feasible would mean stations near Hall/McKinney as well as Cedar Springs/Maple.  Point being, it’s time for Dallas to be a big boy city meaning we have to think about it like it will be one and pursue that path rather than letting defeatism, doubt, and short-sightedness get in the way.

Comments

  • dallasmay

    I don’t really have a dog in this race either, and agree with you that the most important thing is that we build a second downtown line.

    That said, I don’t really see the Victor-Union option being viable. It would be too expensive and just doesn’t serve enough people. I do like the idea of a Super Union Station, but I don’t think it’s realistic. I think DART is most likely going to move forward with one of the Lamar-Young alternatives. They have BIG issues too, mega-ED problems, but that’s probably the best direction, in my opinion.

    Ah, to heck with Downtown. Let’s go with your City Place-Victory Subway proposal. 😉

    • kduble

      When you say it’s not viable, what I’m hearing is that America’s cities aren’t worth the resources. This is only a tiny fraction of what our country spends on highway resources, even in the NCT region. I agree with Patrick. It’s time we put on our big-boy pants and look ahead.

  • lakewoodhobo

    Is the elevated line that completely batshit? It’s not like it’s the width of 345 and it does reduce the chance of vehicle collision. As an added bonus, once DART becomes obsolete we can turn the tracks into our version of the High Line.

    • The elevated B4e alignment is terrible. No one who has seen it likes it. Take a look for yourself on page 10: https://www.dart.org/maps/pdfmaps/D2AlternativesDetailedMaps.pdf

      We have enough problems with urban division already; no need
      to create more.

    • kduble

      There would be issues of vibration and obstruction of views which would devalue nearby buildings. Lack of sunlight so vegetation can’t grow, and it would provide shelter for vagrants. If you like I-345 then you’d love an elevated D2 line.

      • mrEmannE

        Hear Hear! The very LAST thing we want to do is provide shelter for vagrants! I mean, it’s not like they were real HUMAN BEINGS or anything. They’re just wild creatures that need to be put down like mad dogs!

        • kduble

          If your solution to the human need for shelter is building an overpass for people to sleep under, I’m speechless.

          • mrEmannE

            Something tells me you’re the kind of person that would cut down a tree to keep someone from stealing the shade.

  • Los_Politico

    Have you updated your fantasy DART map to include the Uptown subway? That would be a fun post.

  • kduble

    What would really tip the argument toward C3/C3a would be bringing HSR service to Union, or at the very least, to the site of the old Reunion Arena. Yet, the HSR guys seem intent on envisioning their terminal as a Park-n-ride rather than tying it into the existing network.

  • As a long-time downtown resident, I agree that D2 is a critical step for the future of public transit in Dallas. However, speculating how federal funding might change in 10 years is a pointless exercise, unless you want to start this project in 2030. DART has to realistically operate within the parameters the federal government gives them today. What that means is a fully underground option (like B7) is simply not feasible from a cost perspective, especially given ridership projections. You can’t responsibly push forward on your back-of-the-napkin calculation that hinges on wishful thinking about future federal government policy.

    Given that, the alignments as drawn up in 2005-2007 don’t reflect what progress the city has made in bringing residential development to the core since that time. My Farmer’s Market neighbors and I, along with success stories like Green Door Public House, and community fixtures like 1st Presbyterian, all stand right in the crosshairs of proposed alignments. Bulldozing the very pioneers and advocates making urban renewal a reality in downtown is the worst of ideas.

    Recognizing, as you say, that “the most important thing is that it gets built” we’ve been working in good faith with DART to find solutions, and I feel they are listening. A slightly modified B4 alignment, the details of which should be forthcoming, is the only alignment that makes sense with respect to ridership and cost, all whilst maximizing DART’s chances for USDOT funding. A modified B4 would allow the entire project to be built, without resorting to ED against families homes/businesses. Finally, the modified B4 has the potential for even higher ridership than basic B4, and makes best use of available land, with better alignment with nearby development such as the Statler, Downtown360 plans for the Farmer’s Market promenade, and proposed plans for Harwood Park.

    • kduble

      Stop the hyperbole. First Presbyterian is not in the crosshairs. What DART would require is the corner of an ugly parking structure which is largely empty most of the week and contributes little to the life of the neighborhood. DART would have to compensate the church for the loss. The church could then use the revenue to raze the affected portion of the structure and add another level or two to the remaining segment, or else, tear the whole thing down and build a newer, taller structure on the remaining land.

      The church should expect DART to pay for this, and DART should oblige. This is an old parking garage. It has no historical or visual merit.

      • The church would disagree with you – but that’s not the point. The larger point is that there’s room to take base B4, make some modifications to partway go along Jackson, avoiding ED, and further increasing ridership without appreciable cost. There’s certainly no hyperbole about B4a, B4b, and C3a taking out many homes and businesses.

        Now if you can scare up a billion via any method other than wishful thinking, and go a B7 style underground route, I’m fine with that too.

        • kduble

          First of all, this isn’t even my preferred route, so I’m not going to launch into a spirited defense of a route I’m not advocating. But I gave you the facts. Nothing I said is in dispute.

  • zephyrs2005

    As someone who knows a coworker who was robbed at gunpoint at the DART Cityplace station, I think more underground rails would be a bad idea. I know many women that avoid the Cityplace station after 8pm.

    • kduble

      Zephyrs, that’s a problem with DART’s culture. It’s anti-people. Had DART put retail down there, like news stands, coffee shops and watchful eyes, people would feel safer. The problem isn’t that there are too many bad people present so much that it’s the lack of good people.

  • mrEmannE

    While I understand the need to operate in the here and now, I also feel it is imperative to do so with a keen eye on the future. Emerging technologies related to transportation wil change the way people move around within the next ten years in a big way. Unfortunately, I don’t see much forward-looking vision in the plans that DART has laid out. I understand their need to do what they think they can pay for, but I would have more confidence in their decisions if they showed even the slightest movement toward innovative design and selection. It is very likely that in the next ten to fifteen years Hyperloop transportation technology will be brought to public acceptance, and DART will still be building the lines discussed here. I call that bad planning. While Mr. Kennedy is absolutely correct in saying that it is imperative to expand the downtown linkages, I can’t help but feel that we’re caught in a diminishing returns situation, where we throw tons of money and effort into something that, because of fast-changing circumstances, will be of little or no value to us in the future. How many of us still have VCRs? Do we ever USE them? Naaa.

  • Lucy

    A little off the subject, but it would be nice if there was a line that followed the DNT (Victory Park/I35 – Addison – Plano – Frisco FC Stadium). I think it would have to be underground for that to happen, at least for part of it where you cannot build above ground (Park cities/Preston Hollow/etc may not have space above ground to build this). Part of Dart is already underground though (Mockingbird Station to Downtown). Just throwing this out into the world! Thoughts?

    • Brett Stewart

      The NTTA would never allow that to happen – as much as I’d love it!

    • dallasmay

      Everyone would like that, and honestly I don’t really think that NTTA would fight against it too hard. The problem is that there just isn’t room. DART was able to build itself out so quickly (30 years is VERY fast considering the scope) largely because it was able to Eminent Domain and utilize existing rail ROW. There isn’t any existing rail ROW to take advantage of. That means that you would have to either ED new ROW through one of the most expensive corridors in the nation or build above or below the North Tollway. That would be very, very difficult and very expensive.

      In the end, don’t expect such a project in your life time.