Dallas…a transit light onto the nation??

Get this: As of the end of this year, Dallas will have the largest light rail project of its kind in North America.

Dallas.

I emphasize it because in a city known to many as an endless stream of concrete and a very car-friendly land use plan, to say the least.  I don’t have statistical data to support this, but I would imagine Dallas would rival Houston and Los Angeles for total highway miles within the city limits.  Put simply, Dallas would have been the last place I would’ve expected to earn such a designation.

In a way, I take Dallas’s achievement as inspiration for other cities around the world–if a city as sprawling as Dallas could create an expansive light rail system that has high ridership, other more compact cities surely could.  Without knowing more about Dallas politics, I suspect it took a lot of hard work to convince both the public and decision makers that this investment was sound.  But given Dallas’s frequent challenges with air quality and traffic, and given how difficult it is to find funding for road projects in Texas these days (and how poor air quality impacts transportation funding), there’s certainly a case to make for Dallas to make this kind of investment.

Of course, the key will be to evaluate whether or not ridership and fare recovery rates justify the level of investment Dallas is making.  What should those metrics be?  Reductions in congestion?  Improvements in air quality?  Overall balance sheet of the transit agency?  I’d argue some combination would be valuable, plus some assessment of how the train stations lead to increased property values as denser, transit-oriented development arrives.  I would caution that this return on investment could take years to measure, but I fully believe it will be highly significant.

Congratulations, Dallas.

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One response to “Dallas…a transit light onto the nation??

  1. And the opposite holds true for Austin. (This city has destroyed the future of rail transit with Capital MetroRail.) Unfortunately, this is why I’ll eventually leave this city that I love.

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