First in an occasional series where I wildly generalize about a transit system based on limited experience.Segments ridden: Commuter rail to Union Station, Red Line Union Station to Galatyn Park.
Time ridden: 6 pm to 9 pm on a Monday (with a stop in between)

Scope: C, could become an A
As a traveler, it was an extremely painful experience to take two shuttle buses to reach the commuter rail line, which only runs on the hour. On the other hand, the system opened only in 1996 with extensions to the airport (and elsewhere) planned. Wikipedia lists the system as 48.6 miles, not bad after 12 years of operation. So a C for now, but when built out it’ll be a really extensive system.

Service: C
The commuter rail runs throughout the day, which is nice. A quick glance at the DART schedule shows long operating hours and good peak service, but 20-minute headways in the middle of a weekday just doesn’t cut it.

Routing: B
The commuter rail shoots straight to Fort Worth by passing through some pretty undeveloped country. However, the Red line more or less follows the freeway without being right along it. This is the best of both worlds — highways in Texas tend to already have a lot of density around them, but the distance from the road allows walkable areas to develop.

Grade/ROW: C
Downtown, the rail ran in a converted city street, as in Portland. Most of the Red line is underground or elevated, although there are a few at-grade crossings.

TOD: D
Because of the proximity to the highway, there was some high density stuff, but there were plenty of stations with not much around them, and I saw little evidence of pedestrian-oriented development. The line is still young, so it might have a chance to improve.

Culture: F
Based on my admittedly small sample size, rail transit in Dallas is viewed as something that only poor people use.

On a visit to Texas, where gasoline comes out of the tap, I sure expected a lot worse than the DART system. I thought I might see a mild gesture towards giving people true mobility without cars, hamstrung by the same kind of half-assed measures Sound Transit opponents want to trot out. That wasn’t the case at all.

Although the at-grade downtown segment condemns the system to short trains and low capacity, the system seems to go where people want to go, and does it quickly. Aside from the downtown business, I would say the mix of grades is similar to LINK’s initial segment, and that’s pretty good as light rail systems go.

If you do fly into Dallas, I would strongly recommend taking an airport shuttle or taxi to your destination for the time being. The transit service for the airport is confusing, inconvenient, and very poorly marked.

If your itinerary happens to be oriented around where the lines happen to go, DART is a reasonable alternative to renting a car, although their highways make Seattle’s look downright rickety.

Image courtesy of www.winwaed.com

6 Replies to “Transit Report Card: Dallas”

  1. I’ve always thought that the Texan systems were pretty good at moving people around – excepting the weirdness of the connections from the airport in Dallas and Houston’s horrific design flaw considering the over-aggressive drivers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV2rdGX4JYc but they are hamstrung by a bunch of other factors. Impressionistically:

    1) There are NO geographic limits to sprawl in Dallas and few in Houston. Flat topography with few major water obstacles surrounded by rather marginal agricultural land. Therefore, you can build out, out, out!

    2) There are few legal limits to sprawl and if there are zoning laws, they seem to be actively hostile to mixed-use developments.

    3) The trains are pretty well-funded, if built, but they are a total afterthought compared to the highways which are funded at levels that are absolutely crazy and often have self-perpetuating mechanisms (like tolls) that are only allocated to fund more and more roads.

  2. cjh, great video! I especially love the people who make lefts when they are in a forward only lane.

    Perhaps we can show this at the next sound transit board meeting? :-p

  3. Drivers in Houston are horrible – for everyone who complains about the driving style around here, I’d recommend they spend some time in Houston.

    Still, look at that – not even a curb separating the track from street traffic running in the 30s (!) plus shared lanes with turning traffic. A rumble strip will save us from collisions!! :(

  4. I think we’ll come to see, of the major projects being built, we’re paying the most, but we’re getting the highest-level service.

    We can’t make half-measures here, because the presures for transit are huge.

  5. Those collisions occurred mostly when the line first opened – and treatments have been done since then which have effectively stopped them (gates, signal changes, etc.). Houston went from a laughingstock to the top LRT line in the country after that.

    Treatments which are impossible for the SLUT, by the way.

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