Wednesday, June 20, 2012

DART Asks, "What's the Matter with Plano?"

The Dallas Morning News has a story (that I haven't read because of the online pay wall, but I read about the story on FrontBurner) about the future of DART as its completes its build-out of lines. Low ridership in Plano is the hook of the story. Supposedly DART says its future focus will be on increasing ridership at the stations it already has, rather than opening new stations, which was its focus for the last two decades.

After the jump, the solutions of the kibitzers.

We'll start with Unfair Park's Jim Schutze, whose usually sharp eye for the root of problems has a blind spot when it comes to the suburbs. Schutze's solution for Dallas is to build a time machine back to the 1980s, have the city turn its back on the "fat juicy revenue stream" from the suburbs, and build a heavy rail, tunneled subway system in the center of downtown instead of "spindly little rail lines into a low-density land of sprawl." That would lead to "a life without cars, a life of walking and train-hopping -- developed in the disused office towers of downtown."

Schutze seems to recognize that the people and the money are in the suburbs. He doesn't want to accommodate them; he wants to get them to all move downtown and thinks what's keeping them from doing so is the lack of a heavy rail tunneled subway system in the center of downtown. Like I said, Schutze has a blind spot. If you listed the issues that led residents to flee Dallas for the suburbs over the last half century (housing, jobs, schools, crime, racism, etc.), lack of a heavy rail tunneled subway system would be low on the list. It's also low on the list of things that will attract the next generation of north Texans back to downtown. Public transit of some kind might, but heavy rail limited to the central business district? Probably not.

Unfair Park readers have their own advice. One says DART's problem is that there isn't a line that runs up the Dallas North Tollway. Another says the problem is that there aren't lines that run along Loop 12 or IH 635. Another suggested what's needed is the east-west Cotton Belt Line even farther north. These readers don't want DART to offer an alternative to suburban sprawl. They want DART to chase it. Wanting DART lines to reach everywhere, these readers are even blinder than Schutze. Expecting DART to develop anything approaching, say, New York City's subway system all across north Texas sprawl is folly. The City of Richardson alone is almost as big as the island of Manhattan.

There is a less fanciful middle way, achievable in the long term with patience and perseverance. Schutze wisely recognizes that density is a basic necessity for the success of public transit. He sees that density in downtown Dallas. DART and the suburbs envision that density developed along those light rail lines. Everyone is onto the right idea. Urban planners should be exploiting higher density downtown and simultaneously encouraging higher density along the existing DART lines. It's not an either-or situation. If the city fights the suburbs and DART is caught in the middle, it'll be neither. We'll all be worse off.

1 comment:

Andy Gross (You are welcome name nazis) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.