New Rail Corridor for Dallas Would Double Downtown Transit Capacity

Downtown Dallas Transit Plans Map

» Streetcar project is also under consideration.

If the September opening of the first phase of Dallas’ Green Line was good news for what is becoming an increasingly impressive city from the standpoint of livability, Texas’ second-largest metropolis still has a while to go before it will be urban. The local transit authority, DART, has been proactive in planning for the city’s inner-city future, with new light rail and streetcar lines proposed downtown. Whether those projects will provide the kind of density of transit provision necessary to significantly alter attitudes about public transportation in D-Town, however, remains to be seen.

Dallas was one of the first cities to offer modern light rail in the country, but its system is expanding quickly in response to the region’s quick growth. The Green Line’s second phase, which will extend almost 30 miles from Carrollton to Buckner by 2010, is the longest such project in the nation. The planned Orange Line will connect downtown directly to Dallas-Fort Worth airport. And an extension of the Blue Line is currently being built.

All of this growth in the city’s rail transit system will require the creation of a new downtown trunk line, since the current system relies on a single corridor running through the central business district; otherwise, it would be overloaded by trains running at 30 second frequencies at rush hour. DART has allocated $500 million to the creation of such a corridor by 2016, called D2, in time to match the expected increases in ridership resulting from the opening of the Green and Orange Lines. In addition, the city is planning to invest in a downtown streetcar project that would supplement the existing M-Line trolley.

D2 would run from the environs of Victory Station northwest of downtown to Deep Ellum east of it, paving a new path through a less-developed part of the core than that currently served along Pacific Avenue and Bryan Street by the existing light rail. This summer, the Dallas City Council debated the issue, eventually stating a preference for an alignment along Lamar and Young Streets, with the primary goal of serving a new convention center hotel. Council members claimed during deliberations that the corridor was necessary because convention center users had to be able to get directly from the airport to the hotel.

This decision, however, comes despite the fact that the existing light rail service already has a convention center stop that could be improved relatively easily to allow for direct connections to the hotel. In addition, the hotel route would cost around $839 million to build because of the fact that it would have to be partially underground, compared to $500 million for a surface level route slightly further away from the hotel but which would attract more walk-up riders according to DART projections. In this case, the cheaper route seems like a better choice, and it may be one the city is forced to make, because Dallas doesn’t have any reserved fund to make up the remaining costs necessary to pay for the hotel route.

As in Oakland, where an airport shuttle train is being built instead of a bus rapid transit line that would serve far more people, Dallas’ politicians seem more interested in serving the city’s elite — people using the airport and convention center — than in building a rail project that would attract the largest number of riders. This emphasis on “choice” riders is the result of putting people who rarely use public transit in charge of deciding how future lines are routed, a problem common to almost every city.

No matter the route chosen, downtown Dallas is likely to become a construction mess over the next few years if the D2 project is built along with a planned streetcar. The city currently has a trolley service along McKinney Avenue north of downtown, and that M-Line is planned to be extended into downtown along Pearl Street, via the Woodall Rogers Park, which is being built on a deck over a freeway. The trolley would connect to the Dallas Arts Center just completed in northeast downtown.

DART has proposed a modern streetcar for other corridors downtown, not necessarily as extensions of the M-Line, as shown in the dotted green lines on the map above. The primary east-west route being suggested would triple the east-west travel corridors through downtown, making its construction seem superfluous; as a result, a north-south extension of the trolley to an area south of downtown seems like a good bet for a first investment.

A group from Oak Cliff, a neighborhood located on the opposite side of the Trinity River from downtown, has proposed the Trinity Lakes Streetcar Loop, which would operate along 4.75 miles of one-way trackage mostly along Beckley Avenue. The project would require the construction or improvement of bridges across the river, but it has the strong support of the Oak Cliff community, which sees it as an opportunity to improve connections into downtown and revive a declining retail district.

Though the one-way nature of the streetcar loop would doom it to low ridership, a two-way version might be useful enough to justify its construction here, as it would expand downtown’s reach across the river and make possible future connections into West Dallas. The city should be sure to coordinate construction between the D2 light rail line and the streetcar, though, because it makes little sense to have two rail services providing the same access to adjacent areas. If you’re paying for both, the investment should be maximized so that they provide complementary transportation, rather than competitive offerings.

Unlike many of the dozens of American cities planning streetcars, Dallas actually appears likely to complete its project. The city has developed a business plan that would rely on the creation of a local government corporation called Dallas Streetcar, Inc. That company would be given initial “advances” to build the project that would be repaid in new tax revenue from development spurred by the project. It’s creative accounting; an easier way to put it would be to say that the government believes that its investment in infrastructure will pay off through more development downtown. A fine assumption.

10 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I disagree completely with this statement:

    “This emphasis on “choice” riders is the result of putting people who rarely use public transit in charge of deciding how future lines are routed, a problem common to almost every city.”

    Actually, in a city like Dallas where most of the voting population does not use public transit, building a system which appears attractive to ‘choice’ riders is the only logical way the system can expand and thrive in the future.

  • Allen

    Denver has the same problem.

  • Lou

    I just recently visited Dallas and saw all their entire rail system, not too bad for just starting up in 1996. Even though DART is going through an impressive expassion, they are still going to need to expand farther to fill in the remaining possible corridors. I suggest the Orange line head east along Military Parkway.A line through west Dallas (possibly along Davis St. ala Portland Interstate Ave.) and a line along the Dallas North Tollway (huge retail, office, and mixed use centers right on the road), as well as expanding the short southern segments of the Blue and Red lines. Only then will commuters and residents completely ditch the car for Light Rail.

    There was alot TOD going up downtown, mockingbird, plano, garland, lake highlands (openning next year), and victory stations too. I bet soon there will be even more than dc area, after all the expansion.

    One question though, why did DART buy step up LRV’s and not low level? Werent they avalible in the 90’s?

  • NikolasM

    The D2 line really should take the alignment one or two blocks north of City Hall/Convention Center, as it is much more central and useful to the high rise offices of downtown. Is it so hard for them choice folk to walk just an itty bitty bit, especially for such large savings?

  • Alton in Big D

    The convention center hotel has been a point of contention since it’s been proposed. It does not surprise me they want to have the shiny train in front to make it look better.

    DART is currently retrofitting all of the platforms and cars for level boarding, so that each LRV will have a middle section that is low-floor. When I met one of the engineers there, she said that low floor cars were not available to them at the time, but did not elaborate.

    The TOD is pretty cool, but seriously overpriced (Single bedroom places start at $900/month, which is insane for Tx). Mockingbird Station/West Village ect are always crowded with shoppers, but I think the prices have to come down before more people will seriously consider living there. The transit share for residents is also pretty bad as far as TOD goes.

  • Nitpicker

    Dallas-Fort Worth is actually the largest ‘metropolis’ in Texas. Houston is the largest city, but not metro area. CMSA is probably the best way to compare. Any measurement that separates Dallas and Ft. Worth is not credible, the seamless development where they merge now stretches more than 40 miles north to south from Little Elm to Cedar Hill/Mansfield. While the downtown to downtown distance is roughly the same, the overlap is much tighter and continuous than the larger DC-Baltimore CMSA.

    Good luck with that LRT extension west across the Trinity River, since the mapmaker has decided they’ll just kick the freight rail line out to who knows where and use their bridge. Impossible without a massive $13 billion bypass plan around the metro, which is barely into the planning stages, none of the freight railroads have agreed to, and is 2 decades away at the earliest. An alternative LRT alignment or the streetcar line are under consideration.

  • Can anyone think of a streetcar that duplicates adjacent light rail to the extent that the proposed Deep Elum line does in your drawing?

    • Christof Spieler

      F-Market in SF duplicates MUNI Metro exactly over a long stretch of Market… and both are crowded. But of course there’s a little more activity there than on the outskirts of Downtown Dallas.

  • I concur a bit with M1EK on the “choice” thing. I absolutely never use the term, even in quotation marks, because it implies a binary class division that oversimplifies the diversity of options and choice-points that really motivate mode choice decisions. Great public transit lines are always useful to a huge diverse range of people, and invoking polarizing terms like “choice” shut down the kind of inclusive discussion that can lead to inclusive infrastructure. Everyone in society gets to make choices, and we must respect their right, and power, to do so.

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