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

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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.

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