Wednesday, May 22, 2024 May 22, 2024
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Your Executive Summary of Yesterday’s DART Briefing

Gary Thomas really got grilled.
That's Mayor Rawlings at yesterday's meeting.
That’s Mayor Rawlings at yesterday’s meeting.

Brandon Formby at the News has a more sober account of what went down yesterday at City Hall (again, if you run up against the paper’s paywall, just open an incognito window). Here are the four things that I took away from the meeting held to discuss DART’s budget and priorities, especially concerning D2, which is the shorthand name for the second rail route through downtown:

1. The guy in the hot seat was Gary Thomas, DART’s executive director. After he filibustered on his agency’s budget for what felt like a day and a half, they opened it up to questions from the Council. At which point, Councilman Scott Griggs said: “Thanks for coming to brief us. You and your agency are great. Respect everything you do. Now why the hell would you be so dumb as to think that running another surface line through downtown would be a good idea?” I’m paraphrasing, of course. That’s not what Griggs actually said. But he might as well have said it. Then he tagged Councilman Philip Kingston, who came flying off the turnbuckle and, after saying how much he really enjoyed seeing Thomas, proceeded to slap him repeatedly. Kingston was especially interested in how much DART says it will cost to acquire all the right-of-way through downtown. He said he drove around and looked at all the properties with smart friends of his, adding up all the values, and the total cost would be way more than the agency claims it will be. After that, Sandy Greyson got in some good licks, too. It was hard to keep up with the action. If you’re a masochist, you can watch the whole thing here. It’s Item D. Anyway, at one point, Kingston said: “There’s a really good — I want to call it an article, but it’s really just a list of questions to you from Mike Veale, who is one of my constituents, that’s on D Magazine’s FrontBurner blog right now. When I read this list of questions, I actually realized I want answers to these questions also. So if you don’t mind taking a look at that, I sure would appreciate it.” That’s not paraphrasing. He did, in fact, say that. Thomas said he would read the post, but he said it in a way that made me decide I wouldn’t hold my breath.

2. Lee Kleinman referred to this news organization as “a local fashion magazine.” That was a good dig.

3. DART has a 10-year plan to fix its bus routes and better align them with people’s needs. As Kingston pointed out, a decade seems like a long time. It’s such a long time that it makes one wonder whether DART really wants to do it. To put that timeline in perspective, Houston spent just three years planning to redo its bus system. Not just tinker with it; completely re-imagine the way the routes are drawn, using a different organizational philosophy. A year after they made that huge change, ridership has skyrocketed.

4. The Council seems to be coming around to the notion that a second surface line would only be another hindrance to downtown redevelopment. Maybe they’ve all read Peter’s story from our July issue. Consensus is building for a subway under downtown. Thomas’ response to that goes like this: “That’s not the plan we’ve been working on. Changing our plans would be hard, and it would require doing a bunch of work. Now, I’m happy to do it, if that’s what you want. But just know this: it’s super risky. I mean, like, dangerously risky. We’ve already applied for federal funds. If you want a subway, we’ll have reapply for those funds. I’m not saying we’ll definitely lose all that money, but I’m telling you that the world will probably end. Plus, remember, it would be a lot of work.” That’s definitely me putting words into Thomas’ mouth. He didn’t say that. Well, not the part about the world coming to an end. But that was pretty much the gist. I had to leave before the meeting came to an end, so I can’t tell you whether Thomas was able to walk out under his own power. I bet today he’s pretty sore.