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DART Is Asking Itself the Wrong Questions About Expanding Funding

There’s a good article in today’s Dallas Morning News which digs into how rival transit organizations are grafting business from DART in suburban cities that never elected to become DART members. The DART board now fears that without continued expansion of the DART system, the region will become a patchwork of independent and competing transit systems, rather than a single — and presumably more efficient — system.

However, the problem, as the article clearly spells out, is that suburban cities don’t see the value in dedicating a one percent sales tax to be part of a transit system that only marginally serves their community.

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Should There Be a Moratorium on Tearing Down Old Buildings in Dallas?

The sudden demolition of a 129-year-old Romanesque Revival building on Main St. over the weekend came as a shock and a surprise. It was a reminder that while this city likes to think it has turned over a new leaf in terms of its appreciation of its history and sensitivity towards preserving its past, we haven’t changed all that much. Dallas is a place that tears down the past to make way for the future. The destruction of Dallas’ history is as much a part of Dallas’ history as any vanished landmarks.

Still, this particular demolition raises a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, Dallas has lost so many of its old structures that the demolition of any one of them feels like a terrible loss. On the other hand, the demolisher in this instance is the Headington Company, the driving force behind downtown’s suddenly booming revival. We love old buildings, but at what cost? Does the value of a new downtown outweigh our nostalgic affection for historic structures?

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Is the Dallas Opera the Best Run Opera Company in the United States?

Okay, that headline is going to take a little more to answer than what I have here to back it up. But let’s just put it this way. Last year the New York City Opera went bankrupt. Earlier this year, the head of the Metropolitan Opera in New York said the seminal institution could be facing a “bankruptcy situation in two to three years.” Here in Dallas, after the Dallas Opera flirted with young dynamo George Steele, the kind of up-and-coming hot shot you’d expect Dallas to hire (and the man who eventually marched the New York City Opera out of existence), they opted for a more conservative approach, bringing in the San Francisco Opera’s COO/CFO Keith Cerny. Cerny cuts the profile of corporate accountant. As Willard Spiegelman has written:

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Trinity Toll Road Named to Consumer Advocacy Nonprofit’s ‘Highway Boondoggle’ List

The Texas Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy nonprofit, released a report today that names the Trinity toll road one of 11 road projects in America it considers a “highway boondoggle.” What does that mean? Well, in short, it’s a big, expensive project with little potential positive impact, as the lead in the DMN piece covering the report drives home:

By 2035, the $1.5 billion Trinity Parkway is expected to allow motorists on roads and highways in a 34-square-mile area to drive faster than they do today — by about 2 miles per hour. And 47 percent of lane miles in that area will be congested in 21 years regardless of whether the toll road is built or not.

Still, the road has its supporters, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, who seems to believe the project is critical. Not sure how adding 90,000 drivers to the downtown road network while only reducing vehicles on the Mixmaster sections of I-35 and I-30 by 8,000 to 29,000 is critical or worth the $1.5 billion price tag.

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Another Free Idea for DART: Commission a Designer Bus and Make Bus Riding Sexier

Yesterday Unfair Park told us that DART has some competition from another transit organization that may be cannibalizing its main source of income, namely, the self-defeating strategy that forces DART to continually gobble up further flung municipalities into its system so it can increase the sales tax dollars coming into its coffers — all the while promising service that is increasingly spread thin.

As I have argued before (here and here), DART’s problem is that it lacks a centralized network that can get people in and around the city efficiently and practically, connecting people to jobs, entertainment, shops, etc. And I think the best way create such a system quickly and cheaply (relatively) is to rethink DARTs miserable bus system. Step one should be to force all DART board members to ride the bus everyday for a month so they realize how miserable the bus service they provide actually is.

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Simplest Plan Ever For Dallas’ Future: Make It More Like Dallas’ Past

A streetcar system blanketing the city. Crowded downtown streets. A Trinity River Project without a toll road. Frog town. The cafes of Deep Ellum in the era of Blind Lemon Jefferson. Mayors who were Swiss abolitionists and former socialist utopians. Dallas was WAY hipper a hundred years or so ago. So that’s my suggestion for any and all conversation about where this city should head: let’s just try to make it more like it was.

What sparked this random, useless thought? Well, there’s more depressing news today about failed plans here, here, and here. But then I saw this post about Lake Cliff Park in Oak Cliff, which, in the brochure that dates to 1906, looks a lot cooler than anything that’s in Dallas today (seriously, it had the world’s largest roller skating rink). So let’s start there: bring back Lake Cliff Park as Dallas’ Coney Island. Anyway. Blah. Of course there was also the rampant racism, oligarchical governance, and all that other fun stuff. But, from an urban planning and land use perspective, this city had it figured out (oh, except for, you know, not paving the streets of or extending sanitation to West Dallas or Little Mexico — but come on, I’m trying to be nostalgic here). So what’s the biggest difference between yesterday’s Dallas and today? You know it: highways. Had to get that in there. Gratuitous. I know. Okay, I’m going back to trying to write about this.

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The Sad, Sorry Story of the Texas Horse Park

There are few stories involving the Trinity River Project that don’t seem sad and sorry these days. Some bright spots include the Continental Bridge pedestrian plaza, which is, honestly, a lot more successful than I thought it would be, thanks to the way adjacent La Bajada neighborhood has embraced the space. Then there are the paths that were finally built in the flood plain. Those are pretty great, and they drive home the point that all the Trinity River Project ever needed to be was a way to better access and utilize the river. Lakes? River bends? Water taxies? Yeah, sure, I guess that could be cool. But walking around the paths on a recent weekend, I couldn’t help but think that all the Trinity really needs is a place to rent a kayak, or maybe a horse, and a place to grab a beer in the shade of a bridge. How about we figure out a way to provide those things, and then let’s call the Trinity River Project complete.

But that’s not what the Trinity River Project is.

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Billionaire Bites Back: Judge All But Tosses Dallas Art Collector’s Lawsuit

The tawdry tale of a multimillion dollar work of art, a widowed patroness, a powerful Mexican billionaire, and the little, red faced museum stuck in the middle of all of it took yet another turn in its four-year-long court battle. Dallas mega-collector Marguerite Hoffman’s lawyers convinced a jury late last year that debt baron David Martinez broke a confidential agreement when he sold at public auction a painting by Marc Rothko, which was sold to him by Hoffman in a hush-hush deal. Now, a judge ruled Friday that Martinez did not violate any agreement.

To recap:

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Can Indie Music Drive Economic Growth, Transform Neighborhoods?

The Washington Post has a story today that looks at how independent music scenes can transform local economies, focusing on Omaha, NE, where the city invested in an indie rock club with the hope that it would kick-start the economy.

It’s an experiment in arts investment for other mid-sized cities to watch, a government-backed indie rock weapon against urban decay.

At the center of the research behind the story is Michael Seman, a “music geographer” who is a senior research associate at the University of North Texas’s Center for Economic Development and Research. Seman is also a singer and guitarist in the Denton band Shiny Around the Edges. In a accompanying interview on the Washington Post‘s website, Seman talks about his field (music geography) and how music can help struggling towns and economies. A taste:

Music scenes can act as branding agents, spur urban redevelopment and emerge as industries in their own right. I’ve also found that music scene participants are civic-minded and often become involved in philanthropic pursuits, run for political office, and seek employment in city departments.


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Transportation Expert: The Next Two Years Are Critical For Dallas

Last night, Jeff Tumlin, a transportation planner who has worked in cities from Seattle and Vancouver to Moscow and Abu Dhabi, spoke to a half-packed auditorium at the Magnolia Theater in the West Village about the state of Dallas transit. The talk was the opening event in a transportation summit which continues today at the Latino Cultural Center and is hosted by the AIA Dallas and the Greater Dallas Planning Council.

The summit offers an opportunity to pause the ongoing conversation about transportation and take stock of where we are and where we are headed. Thus far, this conversation has latched onto a few key issues – killing the Trinity Toll Road, advocating for the boulevard-ing of I-345. But in his talk, Tumlin urged the city to take a step back from debating specific infrastructure projects and instead take a system-wide look at how transportation policy is developed in the region and how it can best address the challenges that face DFW as it strives to remain competitive in the next century.

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Fair Park Proposals Not Dramatic, But Headed in the Right Direction

As Zac mentioned in Leading Off, the Mayor’s task force on Fair Park unveiled some of its recommendations for transforming the city’s most valuable, neglected resource. Sure, there are no art schools, Mexican soccer teams, or any of the other ideas I laid out in my suggestions for the task force back in February. But the ideas are poking, if somewhat hesitantly, in the right direction. Sort of.

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Riveting, Live Streaming Entertainment: The Texas Transportation Commission’s Monthly Meeting

The Texas Transportation Commission, the governmental body which overseas TxDOT, is holding its monthly meeting in Dallas today at Union Station (I wonder if anyone took DART in to it). Plans for I-345 and the Trinity Toll Road are among the topics under discussion. And here’s the good news: the meeting is live streaming over on the Dallas Morning News‘ website. So all you transit wonks out there can blow your afternoon by watching the most excruciatingly boring meeting east of the RTC. Turn it into a drinking game: take a drink every time you hear the words “leveraging,” “delivery, “project,” or “facility.”

UPDATE: Sen. Royce West just got up in the meeting and very emphatically announced his opposition to the at-grade boulevard-ing of I-345

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It’s Great DART is Considering Bus Rapid Transit. But, Per Usual, It’s Not Enough.

Last week DART finally connected its light rail system to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Hurray. Raise a glass. Pat yourself on the back. Finished? Okay, moving on.

Today the public transit system said it is considering another should-have-happened-years-ago option for the future: the introduction of bus rapid transit lines to connect suburbs. What’s bus rapid transit (or BRT to transit nerds), you ask? Well, it’s simply a long range bus line that pretends to function like a train, only it’s much cheaper than building rail. The buses are longer, they run in dedicated lanes or roads, and they stop at actual stations. The most famous success story for BRT is Bogotá, Columbia. You can find out more about that here.

DART’s proposed BRT line would run along the route that has been set aside for the Cotton Belt rail extension, connecting Plano and Fort Worth. DART has wanted to build that rail line for years, but it’s really expensive and it doesn’t look like funding will come through any time soon. So, why not BRT? Good idea. Do it. After all, the hub-and-spoke DART system does make regional transport impractical. Who wants to go through downtown to get from Plano to Carrolton? (See, I don’t hate suburbs. I’m thinking about you guys out there.)

But here’s my question: why stop there?

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