Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ride DART to Fair Park. Still.

Fair Park Station ... on a good day
From 200910 State Fair

A lot has been made of DART's failure to deliver thousands of fans to the Cotton Bowl in time for kickoff of the Texas-OU game last Saturday. Some of the criticism is valid. Some, not so much.

DART estimates that a fully utilized Green Line can deliver 4,000 riders an hour to Fair Park. Obviously, if 10,000 or 20,000 or more football fans show up at a Green Line station an hour before kickoff, they're going to miss the action. That's not light rail's fault.

The problem was not public mass transit, but DART's poor event planning. DART's board chairman, Bill Velasco, is quoted in The Dallas Morning News as saying,

"We were told there was a plan in place, and all systems were up and ready to go and we could handle X amount of people. I don't remember what the figure was, but I remember thinking, 'There is no way we'll have that many people wanting to ride.' So I was satisfied. I thought we ought to be able to handle it."
Someone ought to press Velasco a little harder to remember what number "X" was. There's no way DART can promise to deliver "X" riders to Fair Park in the hour before game time for any reasonable estimate of "X". 10,000 or even 20,000 is not that big a number for a game that attracted over 90,000 fans in addition to thousands of regular fairgoers.

Did DART promote the Green Line to football fans when it should have been warning most of them to prepare alternate travel plans? Did DART run regular routes instead of express trains from fewer downtown stations direct to Fair Park Station? Did DART count on light rail handling the load instead of supplementing it with express bus service? DART has much to answer for.

But some critics risk implying lessons that are not justified. Typical of the wrong-headed complaints is this tweet by budkennedy: "The DART/Texas-OU mess proves the obvious: Trains are great, but 16,000 fans can't fit onto the last train". The problem with this criticism is that he implies that problem is "trains", not DART's event handling. Bud Kennedy does a better job in his long form story in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where he narrows his criticism to "light-rail trolleys", not trains or mass transit in general. He gives space to a defender of rail, a spokesman for Tarrant County's transit agency, who says, "Rail is an excellent way to transport crowds, and we do it all the time. We found out that a lot of people needed to start earlier." Bud Kennedy, half-jokingly, replies, "We needed to start earlier building more trains." At least, I hope he was only half-joking because he hits the bulls-eye, which is the need for more trains. But I fear readers are going to draw the opposite and wrong conclusion, that public mass transit failed Saturday and only cars can handle large crowds. DART was overwhelmed this year because so many people know from past experience that cars are not the answer to the problem.

In contrast, consider that the New York Yankees are on the verge of playing in their 40th World Series. New York has a lot of experience delivering a lot of sellout crowds to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for all those World Series games. How do they do it? Listen to Gridlock Sam explain how to get to the game.

"Below I have outlined four ways to get to the game, by subway, by ferry, by bicycle, and by car.

[Guess which way Gridlock Sam recommends even less than bicycle?]

"... If you can, leave the car at home and opt for mass transit.

[Lesson #1. Other cities do mass transit right.]

"... The B train to 161st St runs from Manhattan's West Side, Park Slope, Flatbush, and Coney Island. East Siders, Wall Streeters, fans from Park Slope, and Crown Heights can opt for the no. 4 train to Yankee Stadium.

[Lesson #2. DART needs more train lines.]

"... Extra trains will be provided to handle the after-game rush.

[Lesson #3. DART needs more trains.]

"... One of my favorite ways to go is to float to the stadium on NY Waterway's Yankee Clipper.

[Lesson #4. DART needs additional alternatives, not just light-rail. Maybe ferries down the Trinity River aren't going to get you there, but how about more express buses on game day?]

"... If you're driving, leave early, very early. If you arrive in the area 45 minutes before game time, you'll probably miss the first inning. Allow at least 90 minutes to park and get to your seats without having to worry. It may be nice to park in the garage across the street from the stadium but post-game you'll be sitting in the garage inhaling carbon monoxide for 45 minutes. My advice is to park in the far lots nearest your home."

[Lesson #5. That "far lot nearest your home" is the park-and-ride lot in your own neighborhood.]

I know that asking Texans to learn something from yankees is asking too much. But maybe, just maybe, we can lay off the DART bashing just a little. There's nothing that went wrong with public mass transit on Saturday that can't be fixed with more public mass transit, not less.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I penned my own love letter to DART after I rode DART's new Green Line to Fair Park for the State Fair. I look forward to the year when people riding DART to the big game at the Cotton Bowl can be as satisfied as I was.