Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Little Engine That Could

Slowly but surely, planning for the Cotton Belt rail line from Wylie to D/FW Airport to Ft Worth continues to move forward. There's still no funding for the $2 billion project but that hasn't stopped the planning process. ("A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." -- attributed to Everett Dirksen)

After the jump, a tale of two cities' attitudes to the Cotton Belt line.

In an article in Unfair Park, Eric Nicholson summarizes the latest plans for the 60 mile rail project. One paragraph stands out:
DART and the city of Richardson plan to go all out with the UTD station "transit plaza," with a hotel, event center, mixed-use development and something resembling a cross between a geodesic dome and an alien spaceship. The Renner Village Station will be surrounded by an "urban living laboratory," which looks like mixed-use development centered around ponds. And the proposed Preston Road station (at the intersection with Keller Springs Road just north of Arapaho) will be difficult to sandwich, have low ridership (544 passengers per day), and, the presentation notes mildly, has encountered "strong public opposition."
Source: Unfair Park.
Kudos to Richardson for its foresight. Public transit is not just about building park-and-ride stations. It's about planning for a future that won't be able to support ever-widening sprawl in north Texas. Richardson is open to new solutions by embracing the increasingly urban environment the cities of north Texas will inevitably find themselves in. The residents near the proposed Preston Rd station are clinging to a past that has been very good to them but may no longer be sustainable.

One anonymous comment to the Unfair Park article also stands out:
$2 Billion will build quite an extensive streetcar network throughout out Downtown, Uptown,Oak Lawn, Knox-Henderson, and East Dallas with a MUCH higher ridership and better generate a much larger tax base. But once again DART is far more interested in serving D/FW Airport and suburbanite commuters.
Source: Unfair Park.
Agreed, to a point. A streetcar network through central Dallas would be a huge plus for urban living in the core of the metropolitan area. But there's no funding for that project, either. The planning for the Cotton Belt line assumes a public-private partnership with much of the funding coming from private sources. Finding private money may be wishful thinking, at least for now, but so is getting private funding for a downtown streetcar network. DART doesn't have funding for either project. If private investors are willing to fund either project or both, DART should go for it. This is not an either-or proposition. North Texas would benefit from both.


mccalpin said...

"But once again DART is far more interested in serving D/FW Airport..."

Real cities have rail/Metro connections from their airports to their population centers or downtowns or both. Atlanta has MARTA going to downtown, Newark has both local rail and Amtrak going to Penn Station, Chicago has the CTA out to O'Hare Airport, and I am sure that there are others.

The prevalence of rail connections to airports is even more noticeable in Europe, where even a brief search would show Rome has two different trains out to Fiumicino Airport, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport has the RER train to downtown, Munich's airport has the S-Bahn to the city center, and London has two trains and the subway from Heathrow as well as a separate train for Gatwick.

While it is theoretically possible to take the train from Richardson/Plano to the airport, you would have to (1) take a bus (or get a ride) to one of the light rail stations, (2) take the Red Line down to Union Station, (3) get off and switch to the TRE headed towards Ft. Worth, (4) get off at the CentrePort / DFW Airport Station, and (5) switch to a (free) shuttle bus to take you up to the terminals at DFW Airport.

Even with traffic, it is always faster to just drive...but with the Cottonbelt line completed and the huge number of travelers in the greater Richardson/Plano/Collin County area who use DFW Airport, a direct train from our part of town to the airport itself would be a boon...and would actually take cars off the highways...which is a purpose of mass transit, yes?


Nathan Morgan said...

I remember years ago when DART huddled up all the proponents at the Addison Civic Center for a dog and pony show on this illusion of grandeur. There's probably good reason the private sector has not engaged in the fantasy. It does not make economic sense.

Of course, the more promotion and public money spent on development of transit station areas like UTD, the more good money will be spent on bad.

There is a curious small cadre of fellows pushing rail projects in Texas. Call them visionaries. Call them robber barons. In either case, the sheer gravitation of personal interest in this project raises suspicion that there must be some substantial personal benefit to be had. Why else would Slagel and Murphy still have their finger in the pie?