Transportation News is Bad, But the Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Categories: Get Off My Lawn

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Straws in the wind: 1) Rick Perry, toll czar of Texas, still pushing private highways; 2) DART a dismal failure; 3) North Texas Tollway Authority still run by the good old boys.

This could all be good. You know where we need to wind up with all this? A toll road from Dallas up to Lake Texoma would be a good thing, if the toll were about $75 one-way.

The complete failure of DART to provide a meaningful change in regional transit habits could be a good thing if it encourages Dallas to bail on DART, bail on regionalism and build an urban, heavy rail system downtown.

The all-cousin good-old-boy depleted-gene-pool regime at the NTTA could be good, if it hastens that agency's inevitable conversion into a small private fraternal secret handshake organization.

We need fewer roads, more congestion, taller buildings and more bicycles. It's probably already starting to happen.

NTTA3.jpg
A story by Michael A. Lindenberger in today's Dallas Morning News
reports that the North Texas Tollway Authority bailed on building a toll road along the route of Interstate 35E from Dallas to Denton after Deirdre Delisi, Rick Perry's transportation consigliere, asked it to get out of the way so private toll road companies could take over the project.

You know what? Private toll roads could be a good idea, if they were taxed in a way that reflected the true cost of the road. In the end, the costs of land acquisition, construction and operation probably will pale before the environmental costs to the rest of us of having the road there in the first place. You suck all those cars out onto the road at one time, you create huge emissions issues that the rest of us wind up having to pay for in one fashion or another.

So stick the pollution costs onto the toll companies with a tax. You want to build a toll road? You want to encourage sprawl and give everybody asthma? Great. Pay for it. A $75 toll trip from Dallas to Denton could be a good thing.

Lindenberger had another good story in the paper last June showing that our regional transit agency, DART, is doing half the business it promised in a 2007 projection, in spite of nobody knows how many billion dollars we've sunk into it. Nobody wants to say why. But why is not a mystery.

Mass transit is based on the concept of mass -- tons of people pouring down out of urban towers and flooding into subway stations to get on fast-moving heavy rail that gets them where they're going in a hurry. Instead we allowed the suburbs to bully us into building a goofy, surface-running, red-light-stopping, slow-as-hell light rail system that connects a bunch of suburban Nowherevilles. As a result the system has the true transit-drawing heft of an amusement ride at the State Fair.

So we ditch DART. Get out. And start tunneling. We build a subway system. We put the lines tight together to create true no-car living districts with bike lanes. We give developers zoning to create dense vertical housing towers (but we give the zoning only to people who are actually building the towers, not to land-flippers, fly-by-nights and speculating flibbertigibbets).

And we say to the region: We're a city here. You want to live in the boondocks? Do it. But pay the freight.

A lot of people will move into the city when those costs begin to show up on the shelves. Some people will stay out there. Maybe super-expensive toll roads will incentivize the boonyites to garage their cars and turn their light rail system into something vaguely functional.

The NTTA? Yesterday they threw out the board chairman who wanted to wean them from their good-old-boy consultancy contracts and thereby bring them into some kind of 21st century public political legitimacy. In the short-run, sure, it's reprehensible for them to behave this way.

But let me ask you something. Why would we want an arrogant politically unresponsive quasi-public agency that behaves like a Mafia debt collector to get smarter and stronger? Let them sip their own soup. They won't be around forever.

What we really need anyway is much more congestion on the roads to make owning and using automobiles a worse and worse proposition. We need to get people out of cars and onto true mass transit, bicycles, their feet or battery wheelchairs as the case may be.

The future is bright. A bristling thicket of towers downtown. A few far-flung outposts for the horsey set, separated from the city by a $75 toll road trip or a $25 journey by light rail. Far cleaner skies. Huge economies of scale for the public sector. And the NTTA reduced to something more on the order of the Daughters of the Confederacy -- an organization very important to its own members but the rest of us don't even have to hear about.

I'm tellin' you, man, I'm a big optimist.


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42 comments
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RTGolden
RTGolden

http://blogs.dallasobserver.co... Perhaps you should re-read one of your recent columns and discover how you spent the day early this week.  And which conveyance you chose to waste the day traveling upon. (Some hints, it wasn't an acronym and it had more than two wheels).  Start using your bike for everything you do, if bike lanes are what you want.  Otherwise, you're simply sitting in a glass house with a bucket of rocks.

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Love me a good Shutze "It's the suburbs fault that Dallas sucks" column.  It's been too long.

I have lived in Dallas, or one of the burbs, since 1981 and it seems to me that Dallas is just fundamentally flawed and will never be one of the "cool" places to live.  Don't get me wrong, there are certainly pockets of coolness, but those move and if you purchase in the wrong one, you could find yourself living in a nasty place in 7-10 years.

You should visit the burbs occasionally, Jim.  They have a lot to offer.  Grapevine, McKinney and Plano all offer smaller versions of what you are looking for.  Housing, jobs, markets and entertainment all in a small community.  They just lack the disfunctional gov't organizations and the homeless population.

James
James

You do understand that DART is more than just the rail lines, right?  And that 'ditching DART' means ditching all the mass transit in Dallas that people depend on daily to get to work?  Also, that if you kill one existing infrastructure to start another one, that you've in now way solved your concern about the huge amounts of money that are 'sunk into it' because you'll only be sinking more money into it? 

But let's say that maybe, just maybe, we pulled this off and everything went to a Euro-type subway system, what if the very car-centric people of Dallas (and Texas by extension) still didn't ride it because it still wasn't convenient enough?  What would you say then?  That we'd wasted money building a light rail, wasted money tearing it down, and wasted more than all of that combined to build a subway system?

Yes, I would like to see more rail stops, and yes, as pointed out, there are cities that are paying into DART that don't have even one stop yet.  But those cities have plenty of bus stops. Building rail takes time.  If everyone could get off their high horse and take a bus, they'd find that DART does a pretty darn good job of getting you just about anywhere you want to go at an incredibly reasonable price (try operating a car for 65$ a month).

High density living is great.  Getting people out of their cars is an awesome goal.  Complaining that we aren't like Tokyo, London, or Frankfurt (all of whom make use of so-called 'surface-running, red-light-stopping, slow-as-hell light rail system") is throwing the baby out with the bath water. 

Mountain Creek
Mountain Creek

Jim,

When was the last time you left Dallas (and not to visit a 'burb)?  When was the last time you visited a small town in Texas or a neighboring state?  I posit that it's been too long.

Richard Wharton
Richard Wharton

So... there is no suburb or exurb tax, the city of Dallas really isn't growing, and you want more urban density. Cool - but then you take up a lane of this new dense world with parking, which everyone demands, then you take up five more feet for a bike lane, then you add a trolley car rail line somewhere.... eventually, you run out of space. And money. I think the biggest disappointment I have with places like Knox/Henderson is that the freakin' 7-11 shut down, and the HP Pharmacy hasn't really been able to pick up the slack with snacks, goods, and... parking. But then you ask the question about the quality of stuff at the city-subsidized downtown grocery store, and, well, people get back in to their cars and head to Target or Wal-Mart over by State-Thomas.

I love urban density, but I don't think the planners or politicians have come up with the best, most cost-effective answers just yet. Jim, how do you get to work? Serious question, and I say this as a professional cycling coach and bike educator, who commutes by bike when I can, and has come to realize the different world we're in, even from the 70's...

Ed D.
Ed D.

Addison will have been pouring money into DART for nearly 50 years before it sees a single light rail stop in 2030, if then. Dallas pays for about 50% of DART but has 80% of the rail stations. I'm not sure why you think it is that Dallas is the one getting the short end of that particular stick.

sizzler
sizzler

jim would you please unearth the old 1980s promises that DART, once it reached a certain ridership, WOULD build subway? Please? Or at least a story about the original rejection of proposals for subways. er something.

SteveT
SteveT

Let me try that again, with no errors:If we would understand and pay the full costs of transportation by auto (especially the true, unsubsidized, price of fuel), we would be looking for mass-transit alternatives in a hurry.

Anonymous
Anonymous

I'd argue the bigger subsidy is eminent domain that makes the land acquisition possible. Even Bill Gates doesn't have enough money to build a truly private toll road unless the government forces the landowners to let him use it. Once we abandon the fiction that roads ever pay for themselves we can begin to talk rationally about transportation alternatives. Maybe we stick with roads (I personally hate driving but I'd still prefer it to the subway for convenience) - but we need to remember that the government is doing the choosing, not the market.

SteveT
SteveT

If we would understand ane pay the full costs of transportation by auto (especially the true, unsubsidized, price of fuel), we would be looking mass-transit alternatives in a hurry

BTS
BTS

Why the hell do you think heavy rail is going to be faster than light rail. It would be a lot more expensive. The light rail doesn't have that many red light to deal with. Our downtown is not that big and most of the lights are timed for the trains. The only way heavy rail would be faster if there were less stations to stop at. Light rail has stops about every four miles. Heavy rail is not designed for frequent stops and starts like light rail is. Why would people here ride heavy rail anymore than light rail, not much difference in them for comfort or speed. It would be totally idiotic to abandon what we just built for something more expensive and not faster. I have lived in Dallas on and off for 58 years. I remember LBJ being used as a drag strip when I was teenager because lack of traffic. Now look at it. Dart is just bad with predictions with ridership and sales tax income. I don't know who is advising them, but I would fire them pronto. I think of one of the main reasons that Dart ridership is low is they followed existing railroad right of ways and those didn't alway go where people needed it to go, it went where freight needed to go. It will just take time, a long time for ridership to build. More business will be built near the tracks over time. Just as LBJ wasn't near businesses when it was first built, businesses did decide it was to their advantage to move close to the highway. This stuff just doesn't happen over night. How about riding it yourself doing rush hour and you may change your tune.

Dallas May
Dallas May

Jim, 

The unfortunate thing here is that the same exact thing that makes DFW suck is the same thing that makes it affordable to live here. 

Look at it this way: my wife and I bought a home on a quarter acre lot in the M-Streets -one of the most desired neighborhoods in the entire metroplex- a few years ago for under $250,000. We love it. We have multiple great parks near by, a quick bike ride to White Rock and Katy Trail. A short Walk to Mockingbird Station. Great grocery stores near by. Great local restaurants and shops. Not to mention best mall in the metroplex barely a 5 minute drive away. We love walking to church on Sunday. We are with in walking distance to one of the DISDs best elementary schools, and I still agree with US Word Report that Woodrow is one of the nations Best High Schools, despite what the jerks in Austin say. My home ranks a 77 "Very Walkable" walkscore and a 68 transit score. And because we live within such close proximity to so many businesses, we never have power outages here. It's a great place to be, we really lucked out. 

But here is the deal, there is no way we would ever be able to afford a similar home in a "cooler" city. It's the fact that all of the "good families" kicked it on out to McKinney that allowed me and my wife to purchase this place in this location. It's the fact that developers keep going further and further out, and keep building more and more homes, that keeps the supply higher than the demand. That keeps the prices down. 

I can't say that I haven't benefited from stupidity of the "good families" and the region's very liberal land use laws. 

Jon Daniel
Jon Daniel

Dallas is cheaper than the more desirable places, and better than the shit holes

That does not make it a great city

Rangers100
Rangers100

No, but you could live in a smaller space and a far better city. Trade-offs.

And I appreciate your use of quotation marks there b/c "good" is the last word that should be used for anyone who would reject the city in favor of McKinney.

jfpo
jfpo

You're right when you say you lucked out. There are very few neighborhoods like yours in this city that is mostly laid out like the suburbs. And 250K? That will barely get you a falling down house for "lot value" these days.

You have to give it to Jim for dreaming big. The mentality of this region will keep most of it from ever happening (see comments above).

The Real Mark
The Real Mark

Jim, am I gonna have to pull out that word again?

You know the one.  Eight letters.  Starts with F.  Ends with D.

The city of Dallas appoints more members to DART's board than all other cities put together.  That's true now, and it was true in the early 80's when DART was formed.

You may know this and be ignoring it for the purpose of making your argument, or you may need to take a refresher course in reporting.  Either way, these are the kinds of things that continue to erode what little credibility you have left.

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

Dallas will always be Dallas. Unfortunately this city has no human dimensions. However, we can do a bit better. Always I have been an advocate for elevated trains from 35 to 75 (via LBJ and even NWHighway). Two dense areas, with a mix of businesses and housing. Both with available space for an elevated train system. However, the LBJ project has no mass transit component. Sadly Dallas will always be Dallas. :(

sizzler
sizzler

this assumes a historical precedent that is untrue, which is that dallas has never been a mass-transit city, which is simply untrue. car culture is unsustainable and if we really do want to continue to thrive we will do our best to remediate its effects. 

Gabe
Gabe

Luckily, DART did manage to maintain ROW along the new 635 to add light rail at a later date. It would be extremely pricey but is still theoretically doable. 

Gabe
Gabe

Don't even need towers. 5-8 stories can provide the density of, I don't know, Paris? 

As far as suburb cities go, they've paid for 50% of the system and have 11/54 light rail stations and nowhere near the same level of bus service per mile^2. So...

Larry L Johnson Jr
Larry L Johnson Jr

Jim,

I’ve been reading your stuff a long time. I mean I have adog eared copy of “The Accommodations.” I’ll admit I wasn’t one of the 10people who bought it new but I got it secondhand and read it back in college. Irarely agree with you, you being a liberal Yankee carpet bagger and me being aconservative local boy (ok a suburbanite, true, but still from around here) butI get you. I mean I read your stuff and I think, yeah I see what he’s sayingand understand your point and I think you’re doing good being a local muckrakerand all that. But this whole, throw out regionalism, piss on DART, screw the ‘burbsstuff is just another symptom of what I see as being the big problem withDallas (and really the DFW Metropolitan area in general.  You’re looking at what’s going on in othercities and saying, “that’s what we should be doing it.” “These other cities aregetting it right and Dallas is continuing to screw things up.”

The biggest problem with Dallas and the region is we lookaround and say “Yeah, me too” way too much. We look at NY and see Central Park and say, “Yeah me too,” and try tobuild the Trinity project. “Ok look, these other great cities have mass transitsystems and arts districts. Yeah, us too” and so we go build them. To a degreethat’s good but as a result we don’t focus on our unique situation and culture.NY, Chicago, even Houston have geographic limitations to how far out they cangrow so they HAVE to grow up.  How manyof the 400k that live in Arlington work in Dallas and Fort Worth? How do we getthem to participate in mass transit? The reality is because land here isrelatively cheap and flat and bound by oceans, or swamps, people are going tocontinue to move farther out. If you increase the cost for the ‘burbs, thenonly the rich with live there and you’ll have nothing but slums in Dallas. Thereality is we’re already paying to live out there. We pay in increased gasbills, increased property taxes some of which goes to poor school districts. Wepay to drive on the tollroad when we go to work, or to the symphony etc.

I’m not saying what we have in this region doesn’t need tobe fixed but this “Yeah, me too’ philosophy is what got us here and won’t getus where we need to go.

Rangers100
Rangers100

The large majority of DFW residents don't do that at all. They're just happy to rot away in thoughtless, anti-intellectual, isolationist suburbs.

DoubleOJoe
DoubleOJoe

As opposed to the morally superior, pseudo-intellectual, incredibly snobbish urban lofts?

Look, we get it.  To you, everyone who lives downtown or in East Dallas is cool, and hip, and better than everyone else.  Since I live in the suburbs, I'm a soccer mom with an overly large SUV and a Starbucks glued to my hand.  You're better than I am.  I should just accept it.  You know everything about me, from what kind of car I drive, to what I wear, to how I live, to what I like.

Oh wait.  Everything I just said was wrong.  You don't know a damn thing about me, or why I live where I do.  You don't know my family, or my neighbors, or the work I do during the day.  I guess I'll just rot away, playing in the backyard with the kids after school, helping with homework, cooking dinner, and enjoying being a part of something that I love, living somewhere that makes me happy, instead of fostering a blue-nosed superiority complex that does nothing but show how intolerant you really are.

But you know what?  I don't know you either.  I don't know how you live, or what you really think.  You might be the nicest person I've ever met in real life.  But I'm betting I'll never find that out, since you refuse to acknowledge anything beyond the little enclave of priggishness that you've carved out for yourself.  Isolationist indeed.

Bob
Bob

"I'm a big optimist"?

No, you're a big misanthrope who likes all the parts of urban living except for the parts that he doesn't like, which these days seems to be about everything. (See picture at top of this post and every post that you post.)

Instead of taking potshots at everyone and everything, why don't you put down your gun, roll up your sleeves, and focus on fixing what's wrong.  That way you might contribute something to the process.

Jay
Jay

You clearly have no idea how expensive it would be to build even a modest system of subway tunnels beneath Dallas. A much better solution would be to move the jobs out of the CBD, and into office building clusters all over the metroplex.

Besides, do you really want to be sitting in a subway tunnel when the Trinity River levees fail?

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

Not sure about tunnels (they are cost prohibitive) but an elevated train system is totally viable.

Dallas May
Dallas May

That's primarily what the DART light rail is. 

Or were you only talking about down town?

portorro
portorro

Tunnels (anywhere) are too expensive. Elevated systems are the only cost effective alternative. Even downtown Dallas. Have you guys visited Chicago? They are all over their downtown. The funny thing is that Dallasites always think there is not enough space.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Roads cause pollution? 

Tell you what, JS, I will bet you all the crow either of us can choke down that your transit system is no more workable than DART.  There's a density threshold below which the street and the car really are the best solution.  Dallas is below it.

sizzler
sizzler

the city was not always this way and was consciously led in this direction by white city elites in the early decades of the 20th century. it may be expensive to change, but it can be changed. it was expensive and difficult to build the autocentric road system that we have, and it took decades. that doesn't mean we can't refit our city to reflect the realization that autocentric cities do not work. the lack of density makes public services impossibly expensive, they drain areas of culture and connections, etc. etc. 

unfortunately it takes a level of commitment (and $$) that our elected officials, and many of their constituents, just don't have. on top of which, the trend of suburbanization has helped wreck our public schools which is clearly a huge factor for families. while we refuse to admit that perhaps spending millions and millions on highway expansions (and later, more millions on maintenance) is only hurting the city and enabling destructive cheap suburban housing further and further out in the boonies (as its been doing, albeit behind the 'american dream' veil for decades). ugggghhhh

Dallas May
Dallas May

No, no. D-FW is below it. Dallas, on the other hand, has a LOT of great neighborhoods that are well above that threshold. (My home ranks a 77 Walkscore and a 68 transit score. And no, I don't live in a condo.)

http://www.walkscore.com/TX/Da...

Downtown_worker
Downtown_worker

I'll take a goofy $25 train ride to DFW airport any day over a $50 cab ride or $20/day parking. And yes, I want the rest too: bike lanes all over downtown and that trail from Oak Cliff to the Katy Trail.

rke
rke

"Instead we allowed the suburbs to bully us...."  Well, more fool you then, but the unceasing siren song of the downtown real estate boys combined with your feudal lords on Marrilla might have a hand in it also.  I'm with you on an end of regionalism.  You think Plano Or Irving got their money's worth? And other than a big payday, what non DART burb in their right mind wants to get in bed with the Big Dysfunction?

"A lot of people will move into the city when those costs begin to show up on the shelves." What shelves? 

Well our southern Dallas country burb has and continues to taking in your middle class minority refugees, and they ain't coming the dubious charms of the cool kids ant heap.

JimS
JimS

Damn. I forgot the dysfunction. And I forgot to mention the most important part -- the massive deportations to "Camp Suhm" for political re-education.

iamronburgundy
iamronburgundy

I'm not sure that the suburbs are to blame here. They pay in taxes to be a part of DART, no? I'm not sure who audits DART so I most certainly can't say for sure that some of the Dallas tax money doesn't go to improvements in those outlying member cities. But I guess my point is that if a subterranean rail line really made sense in urban Dallas, then why didn't they do it? How did Plano or Garland have any control over that? They can have their track at surface level (because digging a tunnel to Galatyn Pkwy would be ludicrous) and Dallas could have just kept their tunnel underground where it already goes underground at CityPlace or Mockingbird Station (can't remember which or both).

As for the toll roads... Right on JS!

Downtown Resident
Downtown Resident

Personally I blame Frisco. And Perry. Fuck 'em both.

Rangers100
Rangers100

Frisco and Rick Perry... {{{shudder}}}

JimS
JimS

Don't say that. Imagine the progeny.

Augie
Augie

I'll have what Jim is smoking. 

These are big thoughts and someone should be having them. However, you are really talking about changing the only culture that generations of folks in this area have ever know....wherever we go, we drive.  Nothing is set up to be any other way.  That's why we have cloned strip centers every few miles in the burbs.  Downtown, uptown, etc are not set up to have much, much larger dense urban populations of which you envision.  What are there two grocery stores and one legit green space (katy trail).  To get masses to change the driving culture, you do need a stick and $75 is a mighty powerful stick, but you need a carrot too.  We don't have a viable, attractive humanely accessible living space in or near Dallas for millions of folks.  

Dallas May
Dallas May

I don't think I want what Jim is smoking. That looks like some nasty stuff.

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