Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Clockwork Orange Line

Something to accompany your steaky-wakes and eggy-weggs this morning:

http://entertainment.ie/images_content/ClockworkPic.jpg
Eye-opening ideas.

With funding problems a plenty for not just the orange line, but virtually all planned transit lines the DMN Transpo blog has an excellent idea up from the awesomely Texan-named Garl Boyd Latham.

What we are learning is that we actually can't have our steaky-wakes AND eggy-weggs AND eath them too all at the same time despite knowing full well that transit capacity and hierarchy of service is necessary for the city's and region's long-term viability. The world is no longer made of funny money...and this is a good thing. Funny money makes for incredibly (and sometimes indelibly) stupid and short-sighted city planning. It gives us time to pause...and prioritize. What is most important?

Latham's idea is to finish the Orange Line to the airport and I agree with him that connecting downtown to the airport(s) should be a priority, representing a carfree link to the global economy. If your city doesn't have that, good luck in the competition of cities of the 21st century.

One issue with the Orange Line as currently planned is that once complete, it will create a logjam of trains on the existing downtown line along with the Red, Blue, and Green all converging along the same corridor of limited capacity and inherent (in)efficiency to move them all through the City. Hence the reason for D2. The thought was that D2 would run through the southern portion of downtown, alleviate pressure on the current line and leverage private investment in the neglected areas of town.

Sounds pretty good right. Of course, there are also financial realities. One D2 alignment costs approximately $300 million. That's the cheapest. The City's preferred alignment, to the new "bricks and mortar" project, the convention center hotel, costs approximately $600 million (jaw ->floor).

Oooooooh-Kay. Time to rethink. Rather than run a second line through downtown, Latham suggests running the Orange line directly to Union Station, eschewing the train traffic snarl on the current line.

A direct link from airport to Union Station immediately increases Union Station's significance within the city. Currently, it is an afterthought. If that becomes the single place for businessmen (and women) to catch their ride to the airport, it once again becomes a hub of activity. Furthermore, it is only two blocks from the Convention Center Hotel and provides the opportunity to leverage the value of land around Belo into functional urban fabric.

His other idea is to effectively replace D2 with streetcar. I like this idea for several reasons:
  • Streetcar is cheaper than DART lines which are much closer to heavy rail than they are light rail. Streetcar can cost around $20mil/mile where DART lines could be anywhere from $80mil/mile or in downtown or subway type conditions upwards of $200mill/mile.
  • Streetcars run on the street and help to calm traffic making downtown roads more walkable, which is necessary for urban investment and development.
  • DART hasn't shown the ability to leverage much in the way of retail activity. My guess is the reasons are two-fold: it serves a much larger area meaning that, like highways, it serves macro-destination to macro-destination: 'burb to job center (downtown) whereas streetcar is much more fine-grained. Second, it hasn't shown the ability to "mingle" with cars and pedestrians alike the way streetcar can.
  • The geometries of a heavier rail like DART make it difficult to turn and corner within the confines of downtown urban fabric. We end up with more spaghetti under in and around the freeway spaghetti which act as barriers, further disconnecting downtown from its foundations, the neighborhoods adjacent.
  • Streetcar is best at leveraging investment in areas immediately adjacent to downtowns, which I'm slowly but surely leaning to the opinion that Downtown is so constrained that if you don't remove the freeways, you have to build up the value around downtown in order to make downtown viable.
  • Because streetcar is more pedestrian friendly AND cheaper, it generates more bang for the buck by way of private investment, which means...
...take whatever money is alotted for D2 and:

1) Run streetcar from Union Station to Oak Cliff as is currently planned.

2) Run streetcar from Union Station down Canton/Young into Deep Ellum.

3) Do NOT move MATA off of St. Paul and extend it past Main Street Gardens to intersect with the new Canton/Young line with plans to eventually run it to the Cedars.



Everything is linked into Union Station, and if we ever plan on having High Speed Rail, Union becomes a true multi-modal facility serving the various necessary hierarchies of transportation in order to properly link downtown with the local, metropolitan, regional, state, national, and international economies and returning "pride of place" back to Union Station as downtown Dallas's front door to the world.

Thumbs up.