Dallas Light Rail

An Extensive New Addition to Dallas’ Light Rail Network Makes it America’s Longest

» New Green Line runs 28 miles from Carrollton to Southeast Dallas via downtown, but only every 15 minutes even during rush hours. To ensure its success, the DFW Metroplex must start taking the land use side of the transit equation more seriously.

Want proof that a massive light rail system doesn’t necessarily produce massive ridership? Look no further than Dallas, where 44 miles of DART light rail extending throughout the region and a rapidly growing population weren’t enough to prevent a decline in public transportation boardings between 2000 and 2010. The network carries about 60,000 riders a day — a pittance in the context of the city’s 1.3 million inhabitants. The most recent U.S. Census data show that the city’s transit mode share stands at less than 4%; the metropolitan region’s share is just 1.5%. Both are down from 2000.

Yet the city and the other member municipalities of DART have thus far been relatively steadfast in their commitment to the expansion of the local  rail system. Today, with the commencement of service on the full extent of the $1.8 billion Green Line, the region features the largest light rail system of any in the United States, with 72 miles of train operations. The 15 stations opening today extend the short segment that opened last fall northwest into Carrollton and southeast into South Dallas; they are expected to add roughly 30,000 daily rides to the system. The project was completed on time and on budget.

Still more is coming soon. Though a decline in sales tax revenue has limited opportunities for future construction, the 14-mile Orange Line is planned to open in phases over the next four years, eventually reaching Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A commuter rail shuttle connecting the northwestern extend of the Green Line into Denton County will open for passengers next summer. A streetcar and two Blue Line extensions are still on the books.

But that’s not good enough. Cities shouldn’t spend billions of dollars on a fixed-guideway transit system, only to be rewarded with minimal if any increases in ridership — especially in areas that are growing extremely quickly. What is Dallas doing wrong? Now that it has built itself a massive network, what can it change about its development patterns to ensure better use of its investments?

The clearest answer is that density matters a whole lot more than overall length of rail lines. As demonstrated by Strasbourg’s tramway network, which serves 300,000 daily users on 34.7 miles of track, in terms of attracting ridership it is more important to have a densely packed system in the inner city than it is to have an extensive series of suburban extensions. This, however, requires the existence of a dense urban core.

Dallas’ downtown is filled with jobs — 138,224, more than most cities’ — so it would seem in theory to be a popular place for transit users. But consider parking policies: The city’s downtown district actively encourages visitors to drive there and then park for just a dollar an hour. There’s no need to drive around looking for a space, because virtually every block is consumed at least partially by parking. When it’s this easy to get around by car, the fact is that transit options are unlikely to succeed.

Meanwhile, what Dallas really lacks is residential compactness: The downtown itself has grown from 1,654 residents in 2000 to 10,446 today (that’s pretty impressive!), but neighborhoods immediately adjacent to this area are primarily made up of single-family homes. Moreover, the alignment of the rail corridors, generally following existing highway or rail rights-of-way, often do not reach the densest areas or the biggest destinations. The well-populated (and popular) neighborhoods north of downtown, including Uptown and Oak Lawn, are mostly inaccessible to light rail. An underground station on the Red Line originally planned for Knox Street, which likely would have attracted plenty of riders, was not built because of local opposition. Even Love Field, the city’s second airport, is not directly on the route of the Green Line because a connection would have been too expensive to construct.

Because of the adherence to corridors that are intentionally designed to do as little as possible to challenge the movement of automobiles, trains run in industrial zones north of Love Field and along a forested edge zone along much of the southeast segments of the route. These were wasted opportunities: Those routes could have been designed to run in the boulevard medians in the center of neighborhoods, attracting more users, but instead they’re generally at the periphery of built-up zones.

Each and every decision about station location matters: The best-used light rail networks are those in which people have the ability to walk from their homes to the train and the truth is that that’s mostly impossible to do in Dallas’ system.

Despite all the above, this is not — and I am adamant in writing this — what an anti-transit crusader would argue is an example of Americans simply “not wanting” to living in urban conditions and thus not taking transit. The Dallas metropolitan areas has a total of 570,000 apartment units in multi-family buildings, and over the past four years, an average of about 8,000 of them were added every year, according to a recent real estate market report by the Texas A&M University. This housing is being built by private developers and it is being absorbed by the market. These are, inherently, dense developments.

And yet the Dallas Morning News reports that few major residential or commercial projects are being built in conjunction with the opening of the Green Line. Though several proposals are being considered, they certainly will not represent much of a major percentage of the total investments in new apartments in the area. There are obstacles to new construction in these neighborhoods.

Dallas and all of the cities being served by light rail must make a more serious effort to attract new growth into the transit zones around stations. If people are going to be living in apartments anyway, have them do so in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods within easy distance of light rail stops. If this means using eminent domain to spur private redevelopment, then so be it: Something significant must be done to encourage increased use of the transit network.

In the meantime, Dallas has responded to the fact that it cannot afford to construct a second light rail route downtown by reducing frequencies on its existing routes to accommodate the arrival of the Green Line trains. Headways have declined from every 10 minutes at rush hour to every 15; at other times, trains will operate only every 20 minutes. This decision, made in good faith and reflecting a fundamental lack of resources, nevertheless will ultimately limit the number of people willing to switch to transit. Why do so when the trains run so infrequently? Yet the declining ridership that that thinking will likely produce will only encourage more service cutbacks in the future: It’s the transit death-spiral, and Dallas has to make sure it can avoid it.

Many of these problems are likely to be resolved over time — we cannot expect rail capacity to be absorbed immediately. As the example of the Washington, D.C. Metro shows, new dense and transit-oriented districts are likely to appear as people become used to the idea of living near the rail system. That, in turn, will result in increasing ridership. Yet the prototypical examples of Dallas rail development — at Mockingbird and Victory stations — are packed with parking and located just next to freeways. In other words, they are ideal environments for drivers. Those patterns must be altered if this region ever expects to profit fully from all that it has spent on its light rail network.

116 replies on “An Extensive New Addition to Dallas’ Light Rail Network Makes it America’s Longest”

Great points, Jonah. I rode the Green Line to work today, using the park/ride lot near my house and then, on the other end, walking 15 minutes from the station to my office. A pleasant and healthy choice but made challenging because of poor (or nonexistent) sidewalks and one challenging busy boulevard to cross. It seems to me that Dallas has spent 30 years building what is essentially a commuter rail system, making choices at every turn that ended up minimizing ridership potential. Now, in the next 30 years, the city needs to focus on increasing density in the central city and improving transit connections within that area. The light rail system can play an important role for decades to come, but its effectiveness will be limited without those other changes, as you point out.

Those ridership numbers are pitiful. A comparably sized North American city, Calgary, has a population of about 1 million people. It is located in a very conservative are known as the “Texas of Canada”. Yet, the C-train system has a daily ridership of 278,000 (16% mode share), and the system in only 30 miles long. This is a sad indicator of how backwards we are in the US and how strongly we resist common sense measures, like building densely around transit. When gas prices start to soar again, most of the US is screwed.

Calgary has no freeways leading to downtown. That’s the real reason why Calgary (and other Canadian cities with no freeways downtown) have much higher rail ridership than any US city.

It seems as though the obvious take-away is that frequent LRT transit should prioritize connecting dense regional centers ahead of suburban park-and-rides.

Here in Minneapolis, the Cost-Effectiveness Index was used to push a route for the Southwest Corridor that bypasses the Uptown district, which has some of the highest density of housing and retail in the region. Supposedly it is more important to give a fast ride to choice riders outside the beltway, even though they already have excellent and frequent bus service with new dedicated lanes into the city.

Instead, we should be focusing on connecting dense residential districts, employment centers, entertainment districts, and regional destinations. Minneapolis’ first two LRT lines follow this model, connecting Downtown Mpls with the Airport/Mall Of America and State Capitol/Downtown St. Paul via the University of Minnesota.

In Minneapolis, I really wish they would build the Midtown Greenway line, as all the destinations I ever wanted to go to when I was in the Twin Cities were on Lake Street.

Mmmh. Maybe they should tweak their feeder bus network. And work towards a culture that accepts the feeder bus/light rail transfer.
Calgary should be the more short-term role model; it’s going to be a while before we build a Strasbourg in Texas.

Looking at the network map, it seems clear that a second route through downtown ought to be a higher priority than expansion outward. If the congestion there is avoided, headways could be decreased, lowering the transfer penalty.

It will be a hard sell to the suburbs though. They rightly want to see service to their own areas so they feel like they’re getting something for the taxes they pay.

There are several issues at work with Dallas:

1) Parking policies enforce abundant parking, even downtown. What results is, of course, a terrible downtown. Imagine looking out the window of your office on the 40th floor of a modern skyscraper, only to see three blocks of parking before the next skyscraper starts. But more importantly, it is incredibly cheap to park in downtown.

2) Downtown business is large, but it isn’t growing…at least for the past decade. Class A office space rental rates are some of the lowest in the nation, a sign of low demand. As we speak, some of the largest skyscrapers in downtown (including a ~1.5 million sq.ft. tower that literally has a station serving 4 light rail lines 10 feet away from its entrance) are completely vacant. Nobody wants their business to be located downtown…and while the reasons aren’t completely clear, we can at least understand that this is the major reason for declining ridership on this entirely radial CBD focused system.

3) Downtown Dallas is only part of the metroplex. Several large universities, major sports venues, and another significant downtown CBD (Ft. Worth) are all unconnected by light rail. The Trinity Railway Express is a commuter rail system that doesn’t extend to the suburbs but rather from core to core…and it happens to be shorter than some of the light rail lines, while taking longer to travel (incredibly slow). Simply put, Downtown Dallas is only a tiny fraction of the economic activity in the Dallas Ft.Worth Metroplex, and yet that is the focus of the light rail system.

4) DART is under terrible management. Witness the fiasco when the first green line opened up and they advertised the green line as the best way to get to the Texas-OU game, despite knowing that they didn’t have anywhere near the capacity to service that demand…and not even restructuring service for the event.

Hmm. Well, of those the TRE appears to be improving its track so that it can improve its speed and frequency. None of the other problems seem to be being addressed currently…

IT sounds like they need to spend some money on building up their sidewalk and bike path network to open up more car free uses for the light rail system. As for more denser buildings I wouldn’t go take privet property for it but I would let the gas prices go up another dollar a gallon and then during this time on the zoning department level go out and remove parking lots from new building projects and ask for them to build taller buildings in the suburbs and downtown area.

Dallas does need to encourage development around the light rail stations, but it IS a commuter train system for the most part. Parking and driving is relatively easy and cheap in Dallas so the “stick” is not there to force people taking short trips to consider public transit, but it does provide a better alternative than sitting on a car-clogged Central Expressway from Collin County.

That said, I think there’s another interesting element to the story today with the opening of the first infill light rail station, Lake Highlands Station. It is on the Blue Line and will be incorporated into an ostensibly transit-oriented development. Perhaps a small shift.

Now if Dallas started focusing on connecting and further developing the existing varied and walkable neighborhoods clustered around downtown (the streetcar extension might be a step in the right direction) we might see a center city that isn’t focused on parking lots.

The Metroplex spends millions on transit and billions on highways, streets & parking.

Why are you surprised that the mode most subsidized is the mode most used?

According to TXDOT:
“there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less.”

quoted and commented here:

Original link to newsletter is broken,underlying study is here:

Yep, Lucy.
For example see the $5 Billion planned widening of I-35/Stemmons Freeway and the multi-billion dollar Tollway extension to north Collin County.

Danny, let’s remember that DART doesn’t cover the entire metroplex.

I’ve seen it where they will spend five or ten years widening a highway and then two years after opening up the new lanes and things it will be jammed packed again. The Wasingtion Interstate system is like this they are always building and widening it but it keeps filling up.

Its clear that Dallas did not optimize routes with existing residences, Love Field or Transit Oriented Development. They will be in the same shape as Atlanta and Denver, but in better shape than Houston and Phoenix when Peak Oil stings later this decade. Lets hope their foresight encourages more TOD and inexpensive Streetcars soon.

I think peak Oil is going to be the only thing that will change people’s ways forever and I’ve already started making plans and am looking into what to do about it.

I think this is great! I live less than a mile from one of the stations and getting to downtown to watch the Mavs and Stars play just got way easier I will try it this week.

Its true the system has been built in and around sprawl. What you have to look at is that It has been built. Thats a start. From here on out the TOD needs to kick off. There are some decent plans along the route to do just that so lets see how that pans out.

Another thing, I was reading a blog and stumbled across this comment:

If there were JOBS to go to in Dallas I think these Trains would be and could be used a Lot more than they are: Who’d a Thunk it People in Plano, Frisco and Wyatt Erp parking their cars and jumping onboard a TRAIN – O – Rama in 1999? What They dont think about much is the Fact Trashy People bent on Crime can literally Track you and Follow you Home, find out where you live and Then Break into your homes or worse, inflict collateral damages Physically. There are a lot of Loser Thugs out there just taking a Train to See Who’s their Next VICTIM.

Yonah made this comment “Dallas’ downtown is filled with jobs — 138,224, more than most cities’ — so it would seem in theory to be a popular place for transit users.” SO there are jobs in Downtown go figure. Could that possibly be why there is gridlock heading into Dallas on EVERY freeway every morning and the same gridlock heading out EVERY night?

Dallas does need to change its parking policies and get with the program to increase share for all modes. I hope it happens because I for one would love to train/bus/bike my way around the metroplex!

As for the rest of the comment, thats exactly what we hear about everyday, Rampant crime on transit by people waiting to pounce. Are people really this ignorant, really?!?!?

Props to DART for going ahead with the expansion. Lets hope their service improves.

“Despite all the above, this is not — and I am adamant in writing this — what an anti-transit crusader would argue is an example of Americans simply “not wanting” to living in urban conditions and thus not taking transit. The Dallas metropolitan areas has a total of 570,000 apartment units in multi-family buildings, and over the past four years, an average of about 8,000 of them were added every year”

On the contrary, it is absolutely an example of Americans not wanting a dense, urban, transit-based lifstyle. The mere fact that a city has lots of multi-family apartment buildings is not evidence of any desire for density or transit. It is evidence only that a lot of people cannot afford to, or do not want to, live in single-family houses. Sprawling sun-belt cities like Dallas and Houston and Phoenix and Atlanta have large numbers of multi-family apartment buildings, but the buildings are mostly low-rise (two or three stories), widely dispersed throughout the city, and have lots of parking. These buildings are not in any sense conducive to, or suggestive of a preference for, dense urban lifstyles.

Modest 3-story buildings distributed throughout a city do a lot to increase density. If you’ve got a city of single-family homes, you only need to replace 1/10th of the homes with apartments larger than 10 units in size to double the city’s population. With townhomes and other creative arrangements of buildings, you can build density while keeping most structures fairly small.

Parking is definitely an issue. If the city is setting minimum requirements, they should get out of that business. There are probably a lot of landlords who’d like to reduce the sizes of their parking and either make green space for their residents or expand their buildings.

There must be places in Dallas where property values are high and people would accept a higher level of density in exchange for having a lot more stuff nearby. It’s important to stremaline zoning codes and permitting requirements in order to make it easier to upgrade or replace buildings in areas that are desirable.

“As the example of the Washington, D.C. Metro shows, new dense and transit-oriented districts are likely to appear as people become used to the idea of living near the rail system.”

Sorry, but the evidence indicates that this just isn’t true. This issue has been discussed here before. Baum-Snow and Kahn’s study of the sixteen cities that added significant new rail transit between 1970 and 2000 found that in only one of those cities, Los Angeles, was there a significant increase in density in the newly rail-accessible areas. And even in that one case, the rail transit does not seem to have been the cause of the density increase. In all other cities, either density near the new rail lines increased only slightly, or density actually declined. In two of the cities, density declined dramatically. There is no simply no basis from 30 years of real-world experience to expect that adding rail transit will stimulate any significant shift towards transit-oriented development or lifestyles.

I’m sorry, but I find it hard to believe this study. It only takes one look at the development of Bethesda or Rosslyn to see that transit has an immense impact on increasing density. And even if transit doesn’t increase density, it has an effect on the urban form an area takes. Having transit nearby often leads to an environment more condusive to pedestrians and other non-auto forms of transport.

My working theory is that he’s an intern for Demographia, or maybe the Antiplanner. The style of argumentation is similar to Wendell Cox’s, and the use of a different name on each blog is in my view (but not in that of many other transit bloggers) dishonest, like a lobbyist. Unlike other commenters who support roads, like Eric F. or Morris Brown, he doesn’t seem to have specific road projects he likes or specific transit projects that piss him off, and does not care for how to do roads or transit. All he wants is more highways, less anything else.

So, I’m not sure what Gordy is talking about.

I was talking about the effect of transit on density. I thought I stated that clearly enough. I’m not sure why you had trouble understanding it. As you can see from the study, adding rail transit did not increase density in Washington D.C. at all. In fact, density in Washington declined after rail transit was added, both in areas close to the new rail and in other areas.

Not sure if you read Belmont’s _Cities in Full_, his discussion about polycentric vs. monocentric transit systems? This is a classic example of a polycentric transit system not having sprawl-reducing effects, and not generating a lot of positive transit use. The DC example is a bit different, given the intensity of the DC cbd as a primary employment destination. Even so, the TOD that has occurred in DC and Arlington County, and to some extent a few of the other more urban stations (even if located in the suburbs) has taken decades to come to fruition.

(Since it takes decades to have impact, maybe Dallas will change somewhat over time. DK, the closest I’ve gotten to Dallas has been Houston…)

And this is related to what we might call the monocentric aspects of the WMATA system at the core of the region, the density in the center city, and the difference between “sender” stations in the suburbs vs. “receiver” stations in the core and other places, as well as certain stations that we might call more balanced between receiving and sending (such as Bethesda).

There does seem to be a “cultural” attitude against using public transit in Dallas. The 2010 figures that Jonah links to in the article are shocking, especially as it relates to bus usage: Dallas bus usage is far lower than that in many comparable (and even much smaller) cities, despite the fact that our bus network does indeed criss-cross the entire city. Why is that so? It’s clear that DART leaders, city officials, and business leaders need to focus on changing this dynamic (along with the other issues highlighted in the article and comments). Improving bus usage would directly impact light-rail usage.

I was going to ask about this; a friend got stuck overnight in Dallas and was put up near the airport and took the bus in to town and light rail back to the airport if I remember right. The hotel staff were freaked out that he would do it – it wasn’t safe, especially for a white guy from out of town, is the impression he got. Is this an accurate impression of how the system is seen?

Your friend must have been needing to take a bus, not light rail, as even today with the new line opening, there is no station all that close to Love Field (and none anywhere near DFW). I do think there is indeed a widespread perception that the bus is only used by poor and minority folks and thus is not safe for the average “white guy.” Lots of cities battle this perception, even if it’s not really accurate. But it certainly is important for the community and city to take steps to lessen this perception, along with other steps needed to boost bus (and eventually rail) ridership.

I rode my first Richmond City bus only a month ago and there where several myths that where debunked when I rode it. It was fairly clean the people on it where a mix of collage students and older people. It also had that funny compuerized voice that welcomes you and on and off of the bus.

Heh. And the fact is that the areas right next to the rail line are practically the only parts of the Buffalo metro area which *aren’t* completely depopulating. So it’s been quite a boon.

Also not pointed out is the fact that every line up until now has been built on pre-existing right-of-way. I believe doing so was the only way to get some approval to even build the line. DART did a very smart thing by buying up just about all the old railroads many years ago. And the unfortunate thing is that many of those lines run through pretty industrial areas. The other issue is that, unlike Houston, DART serves some very spread out suburbs, and DART has to do their part by making their residents happy, by giving them service. That’s perhaps why the lines are very long into places such as Plano. If DART neglected them, Plano could have pulled out a long time ago.

Hopefully in the coming years and decades we can look back and look at the development around the stations. One thing is for sure. The car will always prevail as long as it’s getting the most subsidy.

The Metroplex spends millions on transit and billions on highways, streets & parking. Why are you surprised that the mode most subsidized is the mode most used?

Most of the cost of roads is paid by user fees – gas taxes, vehicle and registration taxes, tolls, etc. Subsidies to road users are on the order of 1 cent per passenger-mile. Vastly lower than the subsidies provided to mass transit users.

If you ignore depreciation

What depreciation?

and that local roads don’t get funded from user fees.

Yes they do. They’re funded from user fees collected by state and local governments.

Depends on what you call “local roads” ~ township highways can be “local roads” to a far greater extent than a non-highway-designated Urban thoroughfare, and be eligible for far more funding from user fees.

And of course you need to do a state by state survey to determine the extent to which local roads are eligible for state and local gas taxes and motor vehicle license taxes. It is certain that in Ohio, central urban municipalities are net subsidizers of roads serving suburban and rural areas.

I mean “local roads” as classified by the government. They are mainly funded from state and local gas taxes and other user fees. Multiple, independent studies of road subsidies have consistently concluded that subsidies are on the order of 1 cent per passenger-mile. This is just a small fraction of the subsidies provided to mass transit users. Government subsidies provide a huge incentive to use mass transit instead of driving. Yet despite these huge subsidies, transit has only a very small share of the urban transportation market. The Dallas light rail is a prime example.

They are mainly funded from state and local gas taxes and other user fees.

I dunno about where you live but there aren’t around here. Federal Highways, roughly the funding is 50% Federal and 50% local mostly picked up by the State. There are State highways mostly paid for by the state. In some years the gas tax and other motorist fees cover the budget for that, In many years it doesn’t and the shortfall comes out of general revenues. There are county highways. Some but very little of the gas taxes and other motorist fees filter down to the county. The county’s road budget comes out of general revenues, property taxes and sales taxes. The vast majority of roadway mileage, anywhere, is road maintained by the municipality. Most municipalities get their funding from property taxes with some also levying sales taxes. 25% of my property taxes go to maintaining roads. I have to pay that whether or not I own a car, drive, or even leave the house. If I was a renter that tax is embedded in my rent.


How do you know all this? Show us your data.

Here is “Revenues Used by States for Local Roads and Streets for 2006”, from the FHWA. As you can see, highway-user revenues covered about 80% of total receipts. Subsidies from general taxes were only about 13% of total receipts.

You’re just quibbling. As I said, academic and government studies have concluded that road subsidies, from all levels of government combined, are around 1 cent per passenger mile. This sum is vastly smaller than the subsidies provided to transit users. Fares cover less than a third of transit costs, so a bus or train ride for which the rider pays $2 costs more like $6 to provide, and the taxpayer pays two-thirds of that cost. Transit users are making out like bandits.

I don’t typically like to respond in the comments, but as I have noted repeatedly on this website, an important point to add to this conversation is that over the past two years federal spending on highways has been massively funded by means that are not user fee-based because of lowered gas tax receipts caused by less driving and more efficient cars.

The Government Accountability Office has shown that since FY 2008, more than $30 billion has been transferred from the general fund (from income taxes) to the Highway Trust Fund to make up for deficits in the transportation funding system.

How do you know all this?

I glance at the town’s budget and the county’s budget now and then. A big chunk of my property taxes go go to road maintenance. About half the budget for police and the courts goes to traffic enforcement. No, the fines collected don’t begin to cover the costs. A bad winter can cause a budget crisis as we run out of salt and the budget for overtime – for spreading salt and plowing – get blown. Then there’s the big line item, repaving. Local streets get repaved with property tax money. My property taxes do not vary when the amount of miles I drive varies.

The chart you linked to shows us how much the Feds contributed to local roads. How much did local jurisdictions spend?

Sorry, Yonah, but that’s a specious argument too. I’m surprised you don’t know this, but each year a huge share of highway-user revenues are “diverted” to mass transit and other non-highway purposes. In 2008 alone, over $15 billion was diverted to mass transit. So that $30 billion transfer from the general fund isn’t a subsidy to road users at all. It’s simply a refund of money paid by road users that was diverted to purposes other than providing roads. In fact, it’s only a partial refund, because the diversion of funds to mass transit and other non-highway purposes continues year after year, and the cumulative amount of those diverted funds greatly exceeds the $30 billion transfer from the general fund you cite.

But even if that weren’t the case, your point would still be a quibble. Roads provide almost 5 trillion passenger-miles of transportation per year. $30 billion over two years is about 3 cents per passenger-mile. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous subsidies provided to transit users. It is simply absurd for transit proponents to complain about road subsidies when transit usage is subsidized at a vastly higher rate.

In 2008, total gas taxes collected in the entire US, minus spending on highways, was around $65-75 billion (link). That’s after subtracting your $15 billion. Whether it’s $65 or $75 billion depends on whether you look at actual construction or also money placed in reserves for later.

But this is not all. In the state under discussion in this thread, it’s illegal to spend state gas tax money on roads without route numbers, i.e. most urban roads. I don’t know the precise breakdown in terms of vehicle-miles, but about 50% of car-miles in the US are on non-Interstate urban roads (which may include some numbered arterials; I do not know what percentage of travel uses them), and another 13% are on non-arterial rural roads. In Texas specifically, those roads are funded entirely out of local taxes.

Of course, the eligible roads receive a disproportionate amount of funding – they require more maintenance. In addition, they have heavier truck traffic; for road wear purposes, passenger cars are pretty much irrelevant anyway. But this whole edifice isn’t free – Texas plans to spend $15 billion a year on maintaining roads.

Gordy, regarding “Here is “Revenues Used by States for Local Roads and Streets for 2006″, from the FHWA. As you can see, highway-user revenues covered about 80% of total receipts. Subsidies from general taxes were only about 13% of total receipts“.

Consider the OH line ($1,000’s):

685,556 Motor Fuel Taxes
581,314 Motor Vehicle and Motor Carrier Taxes
64,371 Payments from Local Governments

… giving the impression that 95% of state and local spending on roads in the state of Ohio is funded by user fees …

… the Brookings Institute study “Slanted Pavement” (pdf) looked at the rural / urban bias, with greater spending in rural counties by vehicle miles traveled, vehicle registrations, and per total sales at county service stations (the ODOT does not released per county gasoline sales, so this is from the economic census).

The paper authors note that one source of that bias is the fact that Ohio state highway funds are only spent on Interstate, US, State, County and Township Highways.

So unless you wish people to believe that all the non-highway municipal streets and roads are built, maintained and rehabilitated with fairy dust and unicorn farts, it is impossible for the spending by the Ohio Department of Transport to be anything close to 100% of the total spending on roads in the state of Ohio.

While according to the PIRG report “Road Work Ahead” (ttpolitic), the US would have to spend $100b annually to maintain our roads at current state of good repair, according to the FHWA 2008 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges and Transit report, in 2006, of the $160b spent by all levels of government on Highways, ~$80b was spent on capital works and ~$40b was spent on maintenance, with

In 2006, user charges including motor fuel taxes, motor-vehicle fees, and tolls were the source of 56.3 percent of all highway funding. The remaining 43.7 percent of revenues came from other sources, such as general fund appropriations, property taxes, assessments, and bond sales.

So $90b in user fee contribution, $70b in tax subsidy, either current or postponed (since user fee contributions are only a portion of current spending, there is no surplus to devote to repaying capital borrowing), and $60b in unfunded consumption of the road system (real depreciation).

That is $90b from user fees and $130b in tax subsidy and direct consumption of the existing road system.

While according to the PIRG report “Road Work Ahead” (ttpolitic), the US would have to spend $100b annually to maintain our roads at current state of good repair

We already spend $70 billion, so the balance is about $30 billion. Since roads provide about 5 trillion passenger-miles of transportation, that’s about 6 cents per passenger-mile per year.

Now let’s look at the “degradation” numbers for transit. According to the Federal Transit Administration, it would take $78 billion to bring the nation’s transit infrastructure up to a state of good repair, and $14.4 billion per year to maintain that state of good repair. Since transit only provides about 54 billion passenger-miles of transportation, that would be about $1.40 per passenger-mile in the first year, and about 26 cents per passenger-mile every year after that.

So, in fact, if “degradation” is to be counted as a subsidy, transit users are even more heavily subsidized compared to road users. There is simply no way you can seriously argue that public subsidies favor road users over transit users.

I just got linked to a study looking at the total subsidy and externality costs of cars and public transportation in Sydney – excluding local government spending on roads, which the author says is too hard to compute. Even then, both give the same number per passenger-km, $0.38.

Now, as anyone who’s read any constitution will tell you, passenger-km do not vote; people do. A calculation of subsidy per person is more favorable to transit, which induces people to make shorter trips – by a factor of about 2, if my reading of ABS data on trip and passenger-km mode shares is correct (cars beat transit about 6:1 on passenger-km in Sydney and 3:1 on passenger trips).

As for degradation, a.k.a. depreciation, it affects all modes of transportation. The US needs huge amounts of money to bring everything up to an industry-approved state of good repair. Just one bridge replacement in suburban New York is coming in at $16 billion.

Even then, both give the same number per passenger-km, $0.38.

You cannot generalize the transportation cost structure in a large, dense city to transportation costs in general. Large, dense cities are where road congestion tends to be at its worst, land costs (and therefore parking costs) at their highest, and mass transit at its most efficient. So the situation in Sydney doesn’t tell us anything useful about transportation subsidies in general.

Mark Delucchi of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis has studied costs in the United States. He found that subsidies plus external costs are enormously higher for buses, light rail and heavy rail than for autos. See the table on page 12. After discussing various issues about how to count costs, he concludes:

It turns out, though, that it really doesn’t matter how one does the accounting. In virtually every case, the total subsidy to transit greatly exceeds the total subsidy to auto use, per passenger mile, in both absolute terms and relative to the prices users currently pay.

Delucchi is not sympathetic to automobiles. He would in fact prefer to have a more transit-oriented transportation system. But he is honest enough to admit that transit is subsidized at a vastly higher rate than car travel.

If you actually look at the imputed costs for Sydney’s transit, you’ll see it’s actually higher than in the US. Cityrail’s operating cost is about $8 per rider.

Delucchi isn’t sympathetic to your interpretation of his study, or at least didn’t seem impressed when you were trolling Streetsblog with his study, in a thread he was posting in.

And you should not quote him here. His study excludes externalities. The Glazebrook study I’m linking to doesn’t.

No, troll, you’re wrong yet again. Delucchi’s study most definitely includes externalities. Did you even look at the table I cited?

The table says exactly what I said. Subsidies plus externals costs are as follows:

Auto: 5-28 cents per passenger-mile
Bus: 33-57 cents per passenger-mile
Light rail: 27-109 cents per passenger-mile
Heavy rail: 17-53 cents per passenger-mile

Delucchi also provides a “best estimate” for autos and bus. The best estimate for auto is 7 cents per passenger-mile. The best estimate for bus is 40 cents per passenger-mile. Thus, buses are subsidized at a rate six times higher than autos.

In fact, the difference is even greater than Delucchi shows in this table. To calculate the values per passenger-mile from the values per vehicle-mile, he has used average occupancy for buses and trains but only minimum occupancy for autos. Using average occupancy, Delucchi’s estimate for autos falls to 4.3 cents per passenger-mile. Meaning that buses are subsidized at a rate over nine times higher than autos.

Once again, this shows that the claim that subsidies favor road users over transit users is just utterly false.

The table lists “0” for subsidies; subsidy figures, excluding local government subsidies, he provides elsewhere. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fraudulent “1 cent per passenger-mile” figure you’ve repeated a few dozen times under 3 or 4 different handles. Would you care to retract?

If we’re starting to pick apart Delucchi’s numbers (and you’d probably want to, as they’re not in favor of electric vehicles), then we can do it for everything. For one, the air pollution numbers exclude carbon emissions, which by consensus climate researcher estimates are equivalent to $1/gallon, i.e. $0.05 per vehicle-mile.

Delucchi has a specific agenda: he argues for regulation as a way of improving the environment, instead of externality pricing. His view is serious and needs to be considered, but it’s not the only or even dominant one either among urban studies experts or among environmental scientists.

The table lists “0″ for subsidies; subsidy figures, excluding local government subsidies, he provides elsewhere.

No, the table includes subsidies. They are “0” for autos because of the huge diversion of highway user fees to mass transit and other non-highway purposes.

I’m talking about the fraudulent “1 cent per passenger-mile” figure you’ve repeated

There’s nothing “fraudulent” about it. All your endless quibbling about supposed subsidies to road users that aren’t included in the 1 cent figure boil down to trivial amounts that make no difference to the conclusion that transit user subsidies vastly exceed road user subsidies. As Delucchi himself points out in the text I quoted.

His view is serious and needs to be considered, but it’s not the only or even dominant one either among urban studies experts or among environmental scientists.

Do please cite your evidence that the dominant view among “urban studies experts” or “environmental scientists” is contrary to Delucchi’s. I’m not sure why you would expect “environmental scientists” to have any particular expertise on the economics of transportation, anyway.

… which by consensus climate researcher estimates are equivalent to $1/gallon

There you go again. What consensus? Show us this alleged consensus. And why are you completely ignoring the climate change costs of mass transit? You are aware, I assume, that transit buses mostly run on diesel. Burning diesel produces greenhouse gases. Rail transit runs on diesel or electricity. Electricity in the U.S. is mostly produced by burning coal. Burning coal produces greenhouse gases.

Mankiw, Glaeser, everyone Krugman argues with about cap and trade…

Not including externalities, is your position that driving isn’t subsidized or that it’s subsidized 1 cent per passenger-mile?

Mankiw, Glaeser, everyone Krugman argues with about cap and trade…

What ABOUT them? Where is this alleged consensus you referred to? Show it to us. Show us evidence that there is, in fact, a consensus among “climate researchers” that the carbon emission costs of gasoline are equivalent to $1/gallon.

And why are you completely ignoring the carbon emission costs of mass transit?

Not including externalities, is your position that driving isn’t subsidized or that it’s subsidized 1 cent per passenger-mile?

Subsidies to road users are about 1 cent per passenger-mile. This is vastly smaller than subsidies to transit users. Adding the cost of externalities to subsidies doesn’t change that fact. As Delucchi shows, externality costs are trivial in comparison to the enormous direct subsidies provided to mass transit for capital and operating costs.

I seem to remember you smacked down pretty hard about fraudulent claims like “Driving a Prius causes less emissions than taking New York City Transit,” under multiple names. The first time was so bad you changed handles on the same blog.

Federal and state subsidies to roads are about $65-75 billion, at least according to the FHWA. It’s in the middle of the range provided by Delucchi, not at the bottom.

Are you going to ignore local subsidies to roads?

Federal and state subsidies to roads are about $65-75 billion, at least according to the FHWA.

We’ve been over this again and again. Even $75 billion is only about 1.5 cents per passenger-mile. It is utterly trivial in comparison to the enormous direct subsidies provided to mass transit.

Still waiting for your evidence of a consensus among “climate researchers” that the carbon emission costs of gasoline are equivalent to $1/gallon. Still waiting for you to explain why you are completely ignoring the carbon costs of mass transit.

Go to the FTA’s website, check the emission numbers offered for rail and buses, and then ask yourself why I’m ignoring them. I’ve shown you the same links about 3 times, including on this blog.

As for the climate consensus – again, look it up. Your boss can afford his own damn research assistants.

What depreciation?” The wear and tear on the nation’s road and road-bridge infrastructure that is not covered by funded roadworks but rather by allowing the road to degrade.

There is also the subsidy of mandated parking provision, which takes private property in support of motorists. As well as the subsidy of on-road public parking.

There is the subsidy of local policing of traffic and motor vehicle property crime.

The wear and tear on the nation’s road and road-bridge infrastructure that is not covered by funded roadworks but rather by allowing the road to degrade.

Road maintenance and repairs are funded from gas taxes and other road user fees. Roads cannot be allowed to degrade beyond a certain point because they would become dangerous and eventually undrivable. So where is this alleged “depreciation” from degraded roads?

There is also the subsidy of mandated parking provision, which takes private property in support of motorists. As well as the subsidy of on-road public parking.

Minimum parking mandates do not “take private property.” They mandate minimum requirements to limit congestion and other negative externalities arising from inadequate parking.

There is the subsidy of local policing of traffic and motor vehicle property crime.

Then there is also the subsidy of local policing of mass transit and mass transit crime. This is an additional subsidy to transit, over and above the enormous direct subsidies for capital and operating costs.

You’re in denial … gas taxes don’t cover all the true cost for highways. I’ll just watch Alon and BruceMcF bury your counterpoints.

Here are some scary facts to consider. America imports 90% of the oil it consumes, sometimes from nations that don’t like us). Mexico hit Peak Oil in 2004 and the world as a whole hit Peak Oil in 2010. Canada threatens to sell its shale oil to China and India, if we give them gruff. All the shale oil found in in Alaska won’t push our domestic oil percentage above 10%. Its a mathematical certainty that gasoline will going up to $5, $7, $10, $13-15/gallon, faster than wage increases over the next two decades.

And by 2030-35, there may be lines around the block a la 1973. By then, you and every city not named NYC or DC will want more Rapid Transit, but rail lines will take 10-15 years to build/upgrade and cost a lot more, partly because the cheap oil to run construction machinery will be gone.

Gordy, when you say that parking minimums “They mandate minimum requirements to limit congestion and other negative externalities arising from inadequate parking.“, you are not in fact contradicting the fact that they are a subsidy, you are just introducing what you think of as a justification for providing that subsidy.

You’re in denial … gas taxes don’t cover all the true cost for highways.

I’m not in denial. You’re not reading. I didn’t say that gas taxes cover all the true cost for highways. I didn’t even say that highway user revenues in total cover the full cost. They cover MOST of the cost. The remaining, uncovered cost amounts to around 1 cent per passenger-mile, which is just a small fraction of the subsidy provided to transit users.

Lies, Gordy, more lies which you’ve been misled by. “Less than half” of costs covered by user fees is typical for Texas, just look at the link earlier. Farebox recovery on transit systems is generally over half….

Nathanael: I’m going to cut you off here, because farebox operating on transit is what’s often more than half. Farebox recovery, which includes depreciation (i.e. exactly the same methodology used by TXDOT for roads), is not, not on any overall agency. NYCT and Metro-North achieve 40%, and I think so does NJT. However, some agency modes, e.g. the NYC Subway and NJT Rail, could be a little above 50%. The published numbers aren’t broken down further, but if they were, conceivably some very crowded or very short lines could be breaking even.

Basically, looking at US data and pretending there’s no such thing as externalities, transit and cars tie on farebox recovery and subsidy per person. Cars do much better per passenger-mile. Given that externalities do exist, see the above Sydney numbers.

Gordy, a minority of the cost is not “most” in any reckoning. The cost imposed by the driving is the cost of maintaining the public right of way that is driven on in a state of good repair, plus the cost of all resources required and acquired without charge, plus the cost of all public services required and acquired without charge, plus the net costs imposed on all third parties.

ALL car user fees fall to cover “most” of the cost imposed on the public right of way, which leaves zero left over for all the rest, no matter how much it may be.

And that is without taking up the rural/suburban bias in your reliance on subsidy per mile without adjusting for the massive differences in transport benefit available per mile in different locales: compare the total square foot of retail, professional, and residential floor space connected by moving a mile in downtown Manhattan, downtown Columbus OH, “downtown” Athens OH, and downtown Woodsfield OH.

actually the source you provided yesterday in the infrastructurist ( placed the 1 cent subsidy at the low end of the range (the upper range of the estimate was 70 cents per gallon as subsidy to drivers of $280 million per day) (you can see your duplicate post (using a different name here if your memory is fuzzy: )

Additional review of the paper indicates that it does not take local expenditures on local roads into account making the $280 million per day subsidy to drivers a gross underestimate.

You need to read that study more carefully. The “high end of the range” includes all sorts of spending other than road subsidies. Road subsidies comprise only the low end of the range, around 20 cents per gallon of gas, which is about 1 cent per vehicle mile, and less than 1 cent per passenger-mile. But even using the 70 cent figure yields a subsidy of only about 2.2 cents per passenger-mile. That number is also vastly smaller than the subsidy provided to transit users. You are quibbling over trivial amounts and ignoring the fact that transit subsidies vastly exceed road subsidies.

“and ignoring the fact that transit subsidies vastly exceed road subsidies.”

That is clearly not true on an absolute basis. Why should taxpayers be subsidizing a privileged class (drivers) somewhere between $30 billion (low end of range) and $1 trillion (high end of range) per year?

Why should taxpayers be subsidizing a privileged class (drivers) somewhere between $30 billion (low end of range) and $1 trillion (high end of range) per year?

The subsidy you’re complaining about isn’t a subsidy to drivers. It’s a subsidy to all usage of private motor vehicles, whether as a driver or a passenger. That’s not a “privileged class,” it’s essentially the entire population.

Why should taxpayers subsidize transit users $4 for every $6 they consume in transit services when road users are subsidized only a penny a mile?

Gordy asked “Why should taxpayers subsidize transit users $4 for every $6 they consume in transit services when road users are subsidized only a penny a mile?”

Because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Center for Transportation Excellence, a pro-transit think tank, maintains a tabulation of transportation-related ballot measures put before voters. You can see the list at:

This year’s elections, which saw a hard-right shift nationally, had a 77% rate of success for transportation-related ballot measures.
Last year, 73% were approved. In 2008, the year Obama was elected and Democrats did well nationwide, 74% were approved.

Rates of success in other years are also see two-thirds or greater margins of success.

Even in Charlotte and Cincinnati, voters beat back anti-transit referenda relating to a sales tax repeal and a ban on a future rail transit system.

You have a geographically broad sample of areas that are diverse in demographic make-up, political orientation, and economic climate.

With so many differences, but a general trend to support transit through their tax money, a common thread seems to be that citizens see transit as a community function that’s worth their money.

Because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Another bizarre statement. Why on earth do you think taxpayers wouldn’t have it any other way? If you really think that, why are you trying to persuade taxpayers to provide even more subsidies to transit than they do already?

I suspect most taxpayers have no real idea just how much they are subsidizing transit users — around 70 cents in subsidies for every dollar of spending — and that if they were aware of it, support for transit subsidies would fall dramatically.

Elsewhere (here, Human Transit, Psystenance before you got banned), you’ve argued that all subsidies and regulations promoting car use are the result of democratic action. The people support it, you’ve said, so it works.

Gordy wrote:

Another bizarre statement. Why on earth do you think taxpayers wouldn’t have it any other way?

Read the CFTE link and weep. Those results are corroborated by local and state election officials if you have any doubts.

Taxpayers are given a take-it-or-leave-it option whether to raise taxes on transit capital or operating programs. If they don’t like any facet of the ballot measure, or they think they can get something better later by holding out, they can vote no and get the status quo.

Taxpayers have voted in favor in about 3 out of 4 elections in favor of transit. They put their money where their mouths are.

If you really think that, why are you trying to persuade taxpayers to provide even more subsidies to transit than they do already?

If they don’t want to raise any more taxes, they won’t. It happened in Portland in November.

I suspect most taxpayers have no real idea just how much they are subsidizing transit users — around 70 cents in subsidies for every dollar of spending — and that if they were aware of it, support for transit subsidies would fall dramatically.

Suspect all you want, Gordy.

The electorate says otherwise, and generally, taxpayers are deserting your side.

Big cities are subsidizing transit. Medium cities are subsidizing transit. Small cities are subsidizing transit. Urban cities are subsidizing transit. Suburban cities are subsidizing transit. Wealthy cities are subsidizing transit. Poor cities are subsidizing transit. “Blue” areas are subsidizing transit. “Red” areas are subsidizing transit. Tax referenda are generally trending in favor of transit subsidies.

This is not going to materially change. Gordy, you can pour water all you want — you’ll just end up with a drought.

The “high end of the range” includes all sorts of spending other than road subsidies.” as only including road subsidies necessarily understates subsidies to private motor vehicle use.

As far as the argument that local community police budgets contain an amount of policing of city bus and train theft proportional to budgets for policing private motor vehicle thefts … uh, no, they don’t.

Wad, you seem to have completely lost the point. Yes, subsidies to mass transit are the result of democratically-enacted laws. In some cases, they are the product of ballot propositions passed by popular vote. I don’t deny any of that. Taxpayers willingly subsidize transit and will most likely continue to do so for the forseeable future.

What I was responding to was your bizarre claim that taxpayers “wouldn’t have it any other way.” As if voters never change their minds, as if government spending never goes up or down, as if political priorities never change.

I was under the impression that you are not at all happy with the current level of transit subsidies. That, in fact, you want an enormous increase in transit subsidies, to fund a much larger transit system. If that is the case, you’re the one who should be weeping, because the chances of such an increase are negligible. Even if the political will existed for a huge increase in public spending on transit (it doesn’t), governments simply cannot afford it.

Just last comment you said taxpayer subsidies to transit were the result of taxpayers not realizing how bad transit is (as opposed to, um, $16 billion bridge replacements?). You really need to decide whether you really agree with the idea that government decisions in a democracy are always to be respected.

^that is just $30 billion per year in taxpayer dollars at your grossly underestimated rate

Here is a non-trolling question:

How is Dallas able to generate what appears to be strong financial support for its network when it captures so little ridership compared even to other sunbelt cities (Charlotte generates about 40% more riders per mile on its much smaller “not-yet network”)

My guess would be that the bus network is the problem.

Dallas running 20 minute services for an urban rail line is bad enough. If you look at connecting bus services, many run 40, 60 or even 80 minutes.

There does seem to be a pulse to schedules, but once you get below 30 minute service for any kind of service, it’s not even worth trying.

DART ought to try to match the bus service to the rail service, and it will help both. Otherwise, the rail lines create the “flight to quality” problem where most of the riders switched from buses, leaving emptier and thus higher-cost buses to operate.

Based on what I’ve read about DART, it seems to be in a sort of spiral of poverty-through-extension, with different members threatening leaving the tax district if they don’t get light rail (click the airport extension story from a few months back to read about some such drama with Irvine). So, in order to ensure they get revenue, they need to expand, but in expanding, they overstretch operating money, leading to lower frequency and ridership… I’ve never been to Dallas, so I can’t say why there’s a desire for rail in the first place—were the initial DART segments successful, drawing the envy of other parts of the region and providing the political impetus for expansion? Or is DART really good at selling itself (I couldn’t find it in the space of five minutes, but I remember seeing a pretty slick video detailing how the DFW expansion would tie in with the TRE and Orange)?

What really baffles me, though, is that we’re still seeing this proliferation of silly little commuter lines. Portland WES, Austin MetroRail, Music City Star, and soon the Denton County A-Train—why?

Another question: building on Wad’s suggestion to improve the bus network, has anybody every proposed a Metro Rapid-type operation in Dallas?

I think TRE was very popular and so was the initial segment of DART. All the suburbs “wanted theirs” after that. :-P

Why would anyone expect development of any kind along a rail line or anywhere else for that matter in this economy? People can’t afford to move or buy new homes, so why would an investor take the risk right now? It takes time and political will to build a successful system and in most of the US rails have to lead development.

Sorry for the blatant flag waving, but I have to fly the flag for Los Angeles.

Dallas may have the longest light rail system right now, but LA will be passing it within five years, once we open the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The Gold Line will also likely be the longest single light rail line in the country at that point, over 30 miles, and scheduled to grow even more by 2020.

The Regional Connector will also probably be done by that time, creating potentially massive light rail routes of almost 50 miles.

I belive that it might happen one day that LA’s light rail streetcar systems might one day link up in the form of a sold rail line to San Jose one day. It’s not going to link up in a stright line instead smaller streetcar and light rail systems will form in the more popuated citeis to the east of I5 and the streetcars will go north along this towards both systems.

The ridership is low for international standards, but it’s not that low by US standards. Comparing Dallas to Portland and Denver, it’s not that far behind. Besides, the system is still young and there are numerous opportunities for the city to grow into its new transit system.

I would like to respond to a previous post that listed point by point items:

1) Downtown Dallas is far from terrible. In fact, the opposite is true. Yes there are surface parking lots in Downtown Dallas, located primarily on the periphery of Downtown, although they are dwindling in number.

But to imply that Downtown Dallas’ buildings are each separated by blocks and blocks of parking lots before you encounter another skyscraper is simply false. The traditional Downtown Dallas CBD financial district actually has one of the densest cores in Texas … literally one highrise after another, very New York City like in large sections.

Further, Downtown Dallas is spending billions on significant upgrades to its infrastructure that is attracting major Fortune 500 corporate relocations into the Downtown core. The pace of corporate relocation activity into Downtown Dallas is at an all time high.

Look at AT&T’s 2008 relocation to Downtown Dallas – AT&T is the 7th largest corporation in AMERICA and they specifically chose Downtown Dallas for their new global headquarters and now fully occupy four or five skyscrapers Downtown.

Comerica Bank in 2007 specifically chose Downtown Dallas to relocate their national banking headquarters to from Detroit.

7-11 Corporation in 2007 specifically selected Downtown Dallas as their new global headquarters located in the Arts Disrict of Downtown Dallas.

I can go on and on as there are numerous companies who have relocated into Downtown Dallas in recent years specifically because that is where they want to be located.

Further, Dallas is spending billions on the largest urban Arts District in the nation. The 19 contiguous block Dallas Arts District has become a magnet for growth and is now viewed to exceed Kennedy and Lincoln Centers in NYC.

A very recent sign of that magnet for growth is the $200 million dollar, almost 600 foot tall, 42 story Museum Tower that is now under construction within the boundaries of the Dallas Arts District.

Multiple additional significant highrise and skyscraper proposals are ready to go forward in the immediate area with the continuing upswing in population and business growth in Downtown Dallas.

Hall Arts Center will contain twin 50 story, stunningly beautiful towers in the Arts District. Two Arts Plaza and Three Arts Plaza, both about 25 stories tall, are in the works in the Arts District. 2121 Flora, a mixed use highrise development planned immediately across from Museum Tower in the Arts District, will be 75-80 stories in height.

“The Spire” project will be constructed immediately south of the Arts District – a significant 6 building, 1.7 million square foot mixed use development with bountiful parks and green space included.

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, a 17 story museum costing $185 million, is under construction as this is being written, located two blocks from Museum Tower.

Harwood International, a major real estate developer in Dallas, just announced a significant skyscraper for Downtown’s Uptown District across from its highly successful 31 story Azure highrise condo tower. Harwood International’s master plan calls for another seven or eight significant highrise and skyscraper developments to occur in its master planned Uptown Dallas district in addition to the seven or eight highrise skyscraper buildings already completed.

The staggering and explosive growth of Downtown’s Uptown District over the last five years has added around 10,000,000 square feet of Class A office space to the Downtown core. Uptown has the highest occupancy levels and highest rents in the City.

Downtown Dallas, with its Uptown District, now has 50,319,621 square feet of office space – the largest of any urban core in Texas (including Houston at 43,129,432).

Dallas has actually removed parking lots to build beautiful green spaces and parks Downtown. Three new parks are under construction as this is being written – one in the form of covering the submerged part of Woodall Rodgers Freeway to create a significant 5.2 acre urban park setting amidst the skyscrapers of Downtown Dallas and along with Museum Tower’s construction and placement will seamlessly meld the traditional Dallas CBD financial district with Uptown.

The multiple new parks Downtown are part of the success story occurring in Downtown Dallas.

Overall more than $14 billion dollars are being spent, as this is being written, on Dallas’ Downtown and near Downtown core for major enhancements per Downtown Dallas, Inc.’s current website. The DART system will be instrumental in bringing people from outlying areas into its vibrant core.
2) Yes, Downtown Dallas is bustling as the largest business and employment district in the Dallas metro.

The poster stated “nobody wants their business to be Downtown”. Please see Number 1 above to understand that this is CLEARLY not the case.

The building described as being completely vacant at 1.5 million square feet near a DART station is a vintage early 1960’s skyscraper, which for Dallas is old. However it is already being seriously considered for renovation into a modern 52 story residential highrise.

Downtown Dallas has already demonstrated its prowess at re-purposing older commercial highrises into residential buildings; a dozen or more significant older commercial buildings have been converted into successful residential towers.

That is why Downtown Dallas now has a fairly large and rapidly growing population who actually live in the traditional Downtown Dallas financial district.

Add the explosive growth of residential in Downtown’s Uptown District, that number swells to 35,000+ all living in a dense Downtown urban core setting. An exploding residential population has been a tremendous success story for Downtown Dallas.

So while being quick to point out the building that was eventually closed by its owner in January of this year for lower occupancy levels (it was 20% occupied in January 2010), the poster completely ignores the re-purposing plans that are already being discussed for the building.

As an FYI – Downtown Houston’s brand spanking new 1,000,000 square foot BG Group Place has been under construction for three plus years with heavy pre-leasing the entire time.

Guess what??? It is 80% empty, having only secured two leases for 20% of its total space after 3+ years of heavy pre-leasing effort.

So the Dallas owner makes a business decision to close a building that only had 20% occupancy and Houston has a brand new state-of-the-art LEED certified tower that has struggled for over three years to even reach 20% occupancy!

The building in Dallas, Elm Place, is almost 50 years old and is highly inefficient to operate in its current state which helps explain its 20% occupancy level prior to the building being closed for financial operational reasons. The DART station that is located right next to the building, however, is a major attraction for the re-purposing efforts now under consideration.
3) The poster states that Downtown Dallas is only a tiny fraction of the economic activity in the Dallas Ft. Worth Metroplex – which is incorrect and will be discussed in more detail below.

The poster states that another significant downtown CBD (Ft. Worth) is not connected to DART. It is true that Downtown Ft. Worth is not connected to DART.

There is a reason why DART does not reach into Tarrant County and Ft. Worth – DART was planned by the City of Dallas and funded by the CITY OF DALLAS AND SOME OF ITS DALLAS COUNTY SUBURBS, not Ft. Worth or Tarrant County which to this day do not contribute one red cent to DART.

The facts are that Downtown Dallas with its Uptown District contains 50,319,621 square feet of office space, the largest urban center in all of Texas, even surpassing the Houston CBD by over 7,000,000 square feet!

In comparison Downtown Ft. Worth has 11,200,000 square feet.

The Ft. Worth CBD is not even as large as several of Dallas’ other major business districts that are within or largely within the Dallas City limits including the Stemmons Freeway corridor (16,400,000), North Central Freeway corridor (15,600,000), LBJ Freeway corridor (23,400,000), East Dallas (12,500,000), and the Dallas Galleria/Far North Dallas corridor (49,000,000). All are larger to significantly larger than Ft. Worth’s CBD.

The facts prove that the vast majority of economic activity in Dallas and the Dallas area is concentrated within the Downtown Dallas core along with Dallas’ other business districts that are within or largely within the City limits of Dallas. DART’s rail lines and stations are fanning out to those other business districts and key urban centers to help tie them into a more cohesive network of business activity.

There are two large Dallas suburban business districts in Dallas County that are also noteworthy – Las Colinas in Dallas County (36,000,000) and Richardson/Plano district in Dallas and Collin Counties (32,600,000).

The reality is that Downtown Ft. Worth is actually a smallish suburban CBD in a direct comparison to Downtown Dallas as well as Dallas’ other business districts. Plus Ft. Worth and Tarrant County do not contribute financially in any capacity to DART so why would they be afforded the benefit of DART stations????

(Note: all square footage information referenced above is from Co-Star’s 3Q10 commercial office space report for Dallas and Ft. Worth.)

Additionally, the poster seemingly glosses over the fact that the article itself points out that there are almost 140,000 jobs in Downtown Dallas.

The article is not clear about this but the jobs number referenced almost assuredly represents only the traditional Dallas CBD financial district and does not include Uptown. Uptown is a booming extension of Downtown Dallas and easily adds another 40,000 jobs for a total of 180,000 jobs in the Downtown Dallas core!

No one who is actually looking at the facts could imply or say that 180,000 jobs do not amount to a significant level of economic activity when one considers most of those jobs are extremely well paying professional jobs with major corporate headquarters of telecommunications giants, banking giants, major law firms, public relations firms, architectural firms, oil and gas and energy firms, accounting firms, insurance firms, etc.
4) The one point the poster uses to opine that “DART is under terrible management” is the 2009 Texas-OU game which occurred IMMEDIATELY after when the much shorter initial Green Line first opened.

And yes, DART did not plan for the staggering tens of thousands of people who decided to use the Fair Park DART trains to attend the 2009 game at Fair Park, and there were some additional technical snafus of the system that contributed further to that problem.

All have been resolved. The poster completely fails to mention that this year’s DART performance with the 2010 Texas-OU game performed like clockwork and as smoothly and efficiently as one could hope or imagine.
In summation:

Dallas is doing so extremely well on so many fronts. Dallas, and DART, are not perfect by a long shot, but the negative comments are so ridiculous and so obvious. Jealousy is a Green headed monster, pardon the pun!

DART’s massive Green Line expansion in Dallas is truly historic on so many levels. While being massive it is only a beginning … not the end.

Transit Oriented Development will fill in the gaps and make this into one of the most successful transit efforts ever undertaken in modern history.

The resounding success of Mockingbird Station in mid-town Dallas is the model for the future.

The Baylor Hospital station on the east side of Downtown Dallas spawned a very large mixed use, highly dense residential and retail development located literally at the station’s footsteps. If not for the economic downturn other developments would have sprung up already.

The DART Victory Station on the west side of Downtown Dallas has even more robust and significant dense development surrounding it.

The DART station that will be located at the new $2.1 billion dollar Parkland Hospital (under construction) is going to be one of the most wildly successful urban transit centers in the nation, as will ultimately DART stations at Dallas’ close in Love Field Airport as well as DFW Airport.

With Dallas’ relative economic vibrancy, even in the face of the worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression, things are going very well and will move into a much higher growth mode as the recovery continues to pick up steam in Dallas, and ultimately the nation. All of this bodes extremely well for DART’s future.

The Dallas metro area has been ranked as having the fourth-highest rank of all major U.S. cities in its economic recovery and ranks the 39th best economic recovery worldwide according to a December 1, 2010 report released by the Washington, D.C.-based Brooking Institution.

The analysis ranked 150 cities according to three main indicators between 1993 and 2010: employment growth, per-capita gross value added and income per person. The group said Dallas employment has grown 1.7 percent between 2009 and this year, while income has escalated about 2.7 percent.

Additionally, metro Dallas’ population growth is the greatest in the nation. A recent Census Bureau release of population data verifies that the Dallas metro has been the fastest growing area in the nation over the last decade, having added 1.3 million people!

Even as incredible as that growth was over the last decade, it is speeding up. Specifically, Dallas metro is now adding 1,000,000 new people every six years! Dallas metro is projected to overtake the Chicago metro as the THIRD LARGEST METRO in the nation by 2030 or sooner. Pretty significant growth!

Additionally, Dallas’ job growth is among the highest in the nation as mentioned in the 12-01-10 Brooking Institution report.

With that level of population and employment growth the Green Line, and subsequent additional rail development by Dallas Area Rapid Transit, will succeed.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit is not perfect today, but it is so significantly ahead of any other city in Texas, including Houston which is lagging behind in its rail development, that Dallas’ significant head start in mass transit rail development will only grow in magnitude as its population and employment growth continue to outstrip every other city and metro in the nation.

The historic Green Line expansion is truly just the beginning … not the end.


It seems the criticism of Dallas has touched a nerve with you. I could be wrong, but it would seem from your post that you’re perhaps an employee of DART or the city of Dallas. At minimum you’re a huge booster of the city.

I do take exception however to your characterization of downtown Dallas that, at least in parts, is akin to New York City. I give as proof a series of photos my wife took while in Dallas on a Sunday afternoon for a wedding, staying in a hotel across the street from the tallest skyscraper (the site of reception). You’ll see the amused and dismayed photos we took of the downtown, the light rail corridor in fact, in the middle of the afternoon on a beautiful day. You’ll see that there’s not a soul in sight and acres of surface parking. We were the only car in our parking lot, but there was a lonely and empty DART train that came down the street.

I should add that we walked to the arts center for lunch, but the restaurant recommended to us by the hotel was closed on Sundays. We did find one open restaurant which managed to get a few other patrons while we were there.

Parts of Manhattan used to be like that, almost vacant outside of business hours. Not anymore though….

That’s true, I remember wandering into an office part of lower Manhattan at about 8:00pm and being overwhelmed by the solitude. Post 9/11 of course with the collapse of the downtown office market many of those buildings were converted to condos.

I am neither an employee of DART or the City of Dallas. It is just that there is so much misinformation out there about Dallas and what is really going on that I felt compelled to set it straight.

And the broadbrush, totally inaccurate statements made by the poster were beyond ridiculous to be directed against the central core of the 4th largest metropolitan area in the nation.

And believe me, I did not even scratch the surface as far as other significant capital investments that Dallas is making in its urban infrastructure that will power it into the top tier of world cities in the next 10 years beyond the significant role it already occupies (named by Forbes as being one of the World’s Capitals of the Future in a fairly recent article from a year ago).

I love New York City. I travel to the City several times a year and I’m very familiar with it.

But you misunderstand my comparison to NYC. It was specifically to rebut the misstatement that Downtown Dallas’ skyscrapers are separated by blocks and blocks of surface parking lots, which is simply not true.

There are large sections of Downtown Dallas where skyscrapers and highrises abut to each other and are very dense, just walk down Commerce Street, Elm Street, Main Street, Akard Street, Pacific Street, etc., and the “feel” of the urban cityscape of buildings is very NYC like.

I did not state that Downtown Dallas would have, especially on a Sunday afternoon, the bustling street life of NYC.

Even though there has been a substantial increase in Downtown Dallas’ resident population, at this point in time it cannot begin to hold a candle to NYC’s urban population. That is not what I was trying to communicate.

And it very well could also be that on that Sunday afternoon there were multiple other big events occurring simultaneously in Dallas, which happens quite often, i.e. Dallas Cowboys game going on, Dallas Mavericks or Dallas Stars game, Texas Rangers game, performances at the Music Hall at Fair Park, the Majestic Theater on the east side of Downtown, or multiple performances occurring simultaneously within the Downtown Arts Districts facilities which include the Winspear Opera House, the Wyly Theater, the Meyerson Symphony Center, and so forth, the State Fair of Texas in process, or whatever.

I know precisely from the pictures that your wife took where she was staying in Downtown Dallas. Your wife was staying in a hotal on the far west periphery of Downtown Dallas, not in the central core. And as I stated in my post the surface parking lots are located on the periphery.

The tallest skyscraper in Downtown Dallas, the Bank of America Tower at 72 stories and 921 feet tall, is on the far western periphery of Downtown.

Both pictures you have are taken on the western periphery of Downtown Dallas, and thus you see some parking lots.

But I am very proud to tell you that the parking lot in your wife’s second picture has already been removed and is now being turned into a beautiful urban park.

Again as I stated in my post, Downtown Dallas is removing surface parking lots and turning them into beautiful urban park and green spaces. The parking lot in your second picture will be called “Belo Park” and is under construction as I write this.

Also, if you would have ventured onto the streets of Downtown Dallas on a Friday or Saturday night you would have been utterly amazed at the throngs of people out and about. The significant number of restaurants and night spots bring thousands of people Downtown on weekend NIGHTS, not a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Thank you for your comments!

Point taken, you weren’t trying to say that Dallas is Manhattan. You’re also perfectly correct that Dallas is a major economic mover and shaker that is very much on the rise to the top rank of world cities from the perspective of economic growth, influence and opportunity. With that wealth comes the ability to build new civic institutions and the largest light rail network in the nation.

An obstacle for advocates for a more urban lifestyle, along the lines of old cities such as New York, is the reality that creating such neighborhoods is quite challenging in the automobile age. As Yonah pointed out in this article it is not simply a matter of building a light rail line and then seeing vibrant neighborhoods pop up to satisfy the hoped-for demand for urban living. You say that we were on the far west side of downtown, which is true, but we were between two light rail stations on the small central corridor through which all trains run, yet that corridor has open surface parking and not a soul in sight on a weekend. If being at the center of a massive light rail network doesn’t spur dense (or any) development then what will? I say that from genuine consternation that vibrant urban neighborhoods don’t spring up and flourish naturally.

In total contrast to your Sunday afternoon experience, I was in Downtown Dallas on a Sunday afternoon just three or so weekends ago and it was very vibrant and active.

But the difference was I was at the Joule Hotel. They have a great restaurant called “Charlie Palmer’s” with outdoor seating, which is where I and my guests were seated.

It makes you feel like you are in New York City. Throngs of people on the streets, throngs walking their dogs (because they live in the surrounding highrises), cars and activity everywhere. This was not a special Sunday at all, just a regular weekend Sunday afternoon.

So I once again tell you that if you want to experience a more urban “NYC like” feel of Dallas you need to be in the City’s true central core, not on the periphery, and in one of the hotels and/or restaurants or entertainment venues where the street life is vibrant.

The periphery won’t do that unless it is during more normal bustling business hours. The part of Downtown where you were staying, if you had been there during a week day, would have been absolutely swarming with thousands of people. That part of the western periphery of Downtown on a Sunday afternoon is quiet.

When you have a Downtown like Dallas, where it is really just beginning to blossom in its urban 24/7 feel, a few blocks can make a big difference.

Next time you are in town, please let me know. I would love to take you into the parts of Downtown Dallas that on any normal, regular Sunday afternoon you will see people out and about everywhere with bustling activity.

Just let me know!

I meant to mention that next time if you want to enjoy a truly urban experience in Downtown Dallas stay at either the Adolphus Hotel, the Joule Hotel, the Magnolia Hotel, the Fairmount Hotel, or the Plaza of Americas Hotel immediately come to mind.

There are others as well but those immediately come to mind where when you walk out the front door of the hotel you will be immediately thrust into the midst of an urban, very NYC like experience.

There are several smaller boutique type hotels Downtown that offer the same experience.

But the ones I’ve mentioned would be a good starting point. They are more expensive but compared to New York City they’re an absolute bargain still!

Jason, it’s clear that you are passionate and positive about the city’s future, which is great. It’s true there are many positive forces working to make the city denser, more interesting, and more walkable. But I think we have to be realistic about how long this will take. DART has spent 30 years building what is essentially a commuter rail system, which is great–but it’s only one component of a more comprehensive transit system, and right now those other components either don’t exist (e.g. streetcars) or are poorly run and underutilized (buses). It will take decades more to truly transform the city. I think it can happen, and the city is right to be focusing on the CBD and 3-mile ring around it–those areas can be transformed more quickly. But most of the city is still a nightmare for pedestrians, and until we change that, we will have lackluster street life. The Complete Streets Initiative and Bike Plan, both coming soon, can be a great help in this regard. But this will all take time.

Reading a lot of these comments, I think some simply have never been to Dallas or know much about the system. Danny’s might be the closest to understanding the issues at hand.

First of all, the system is NOT 30 years old. Planning for the current system is less than 20 years old, and the actual system is less than 15 years old. The system was/is being built to encourage density and TOD. That’s likely a bit of the problem. Those areas are not developing at the rate Dallas would like. Look at the Lake Highlands Town Center or Cityville Southwest or The West Village or Farmers Branch Town Center or even the development around Walnut Hill Station. These were all huge developments that were promised and have simply not delivered. Some with TIF monies. At Walnut Hill, Lake Highlands and Spring Valley, huge, dense apartment communities have been torn down by developers promised equal or greater densities at these stations. Instead, they all sit as empty lots or slowly built communities. Lake Highlands as a whole continues to tear down its huge apartment communities for low density suburban neighborhoods. I would venture to say the Lake Highlands area stations are easily the most used. Yet I see no mention of this. The blue and red lines had to have had huge losses because of this.

Another point to the age of the system is that there is not a streetcar line “on the boards”. The streetcar system is funded and already planned to begin construction in the spring to being connecting some of the nodes.

The other problem that might be really difficult to understand from the outside is how new urbanist Dallas has developed the last 15 years. The rail line was planned and began construction, with TOD TIFs in place. Instead of new urbanist Dallas developing in those areas that actually had incentives, it developed where the Crowe’s had holdings and near other master planned areas like Harwood or State-Thomas. This is Texas. You can’t zone developers into anything when there are millions of acres for each developer to do their own thing. Notice the West Village for example. TIF money in hand. Subway station conveniently placed. The development built in a new urbanist manner with large sidewalks. One problem…….They started the development at least 300 yards away from the subway station and left a large golf driving range between itself and the station. Victory Park did the same thing. Cityville Southwest……Same thing.

Lastly, to densify and even create crosstown lines, something critical must be understood about the makeup of Dallas. What lies between each line? Wealthy, older streetcar suburbs that don’t even want tunnels built under them. These are simply huge obstacles that will likely never allow DART’s rail to be what some of you want. How do you chase developers building away from the stations or tearing down dense, ridership generous neighborhoods? OR how do you convince Highland Park or Preston Hollow or Prestonwood that one could tunnel under them? This is NOT New York. People live in segregation. Even if you go to CityData, the same people coming from the NorthEast to move to Dallas and ask for diverse neighborhoods often refuse to live south of PGBT.

The Truth

And the bike and path plan are already well underway. As much as I applaud the effort, nothing will change.

As rantanamo says, the system is not 30 years old. That’s when the planning started. There is a plan called Forward Dallas to increase density in the central city. Things are moving along nicely but it will take time. Just this week there have been large demolitions on several acres near the Mockingbird Station where there will be new dorms for SMU (and the Bush Library is under construction) and near the Lover’s Lane Station, where two garden-style apartment complexes will be redeveloped. Another is set to go soon.

If these, Museum Tower and the $550 million convention center hotel can be underway in this economy, the future looks bright. The planned streetcar system downtown (and MATA trolley expansion) and in surrounding neighborhoods will also augment DART light rail.

How is Dallas’s the ‘longest’ when LA has over 79 miles of light rail open – not counting their lines that run over RR lines? My math says they’ve got 7 miles + over Dallas.

I live in nearby Arlington, Texas, so I use this system occasionally when I can. The main problems I see, are as follows:
1. The light rail stations are too far apart, often 2 to 5 miles apart, with little or no parallel bus service either, so that you must use your car to access the rail network. Many originally planned (or overlooked) stations have not been built, causing the system to be of little use to most people. Five stations were planned from Garland to Rowlett, now only the Downtown Rowlett station will be built. Also the once-parallel bus service has been withdrawn. This is a continuously populated area, well established for many years.
2. Way too many stations have been omitted, missing many important transit traffic-generators; the article mentions Knox-Henderson, but I must also mention Southwestern Blvd, Caruth Haven, NorthPark Shopping Mall, Manderville at Royal Lane, Downtown Richardson, Campbell Road, all on the Red line; Skillman Street, Abrams Road, Plano Road, Shiloh Road, and four more stations between the downtowns of Garland and Rowlett, all on the Blue Line; At least three stations within Dallas in the next three miles beyond Westmoreland Station all on the Red line on existing track not being exploited; Mockingbird West (near Cedar Springs Road), currently a small underpass, which should have been a station, Love Field Airport terminal, and Valwood Parkway, all on the Green Line; and at least two other lines and extensions that were planned but never acted upon.
3. There is no line serving central North Dallas, including Oak Lawn, Highland Park, University Park, and Preston Hollow and beyond, including many shopping centers; this is a lost opportunity which causes a traffic mess of personal vehicles in all that area. Worse, the once heavily used 8-Oak Lawn bus line and several other bus lines in that area have been deleted.
4. The service frequency on the entire system, both bus and rail, is about half what is needed to be of use to most people and encourage ridership, and many of the lines stop running too early at night and have little or no service on Sundays and Holidays, even though most shops and activites here remain open on these days.
5. A change in Texas state law needs to be eagerly sought to allow funding and implementation of transit systems in Texas by County and not only by individual Cities; this would facilitate implementing the multi-county regional transit systems that are so badly needed in all the major metropolitan areas and other populations centers in Texas. Note that over 60 per cent of this North Texas metropolitan area has no public transportation of any kind. This severely limits the usefulness of the systems that do exist, and as a result, their overall ridership.

I lived in Dallas during the ’80s and ’90s when DART and LRT was first discussed. The lack of a dense CBD was a concern – back then business was distributed around the metro area, and you can’t ‘force’ increased density on an area. Second, race. Activists demanded the first lines be built to serve the poor/black southern part of the city, rather than to the airports and northern parts where congestion was the heaviest. NIMBYs – to reduce cost, they wanted to use existing/abandoned rail right-of-way – MIMBYs fought even this – if they had tried to use anything else, nothing would ever have been built. Involving sister cities – the projected plans were so bogged down, that sister cities fled. The end result – yes a dsyfunctional/poorly utilized system, but that is what was anticipated in the beginning, yet it was built anyway.

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