Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, April 20, 2015

In Dallas, streetcar service debuts

Tom Fox/AP. Guests get off the new DART Downtown-to-Oak Cliff Streetcar at the Greenbriar stop for the public transit debut ceremony.

I don't understand: why is it that streetcar service in Dallas starts about one month after taking delivery of the vehicles?

Meanwhile, DC's streetcar program staggers along, although the Mayor has committed to the opening and extension of the first and maybe only line ("Bowser's budget for D.C. streetcar project focuses on single line," Post).

Dallas’ new streetcar began service last week ("Downtown-Oak Cliff streetcar debuts with speeches, curious riders," Dallas Morning News), between Downtown and the Oak Cliff neighborhood, which is the home of Methodist Hospital.

Like streetcar service in Tucson, was put forward and inserted into the local transportation agenda as a result of citizen activism rather than as a top-down project initiated by transportation and planning officials  ("Once-skeptical Dallas city manager has a desire for streetcars," DMN).

There's a link between tactical urbanism and the Dallas Streetcar.  Jason Roberts, founder of the citizen-created Oak Cliff Transit Authority, which grew out of an initiative of the Oak Cliff neighborhood's chamber of commerce, is also a co-founder of the Dallas Better Block Project.

From the DMN:
Bravo to local and regional agencies for the launch of long-awaited, downtown-to-Oak Cliff streetcar service this week. Years and about $50 million in the making, the fare-free line runs from Union Station to near Methodist Dallas Medical Center. The idea was the brainchild of neighborhood activists who saw a grant opportunity to revive an old-fashioned link with the center city. The project has blossomed into efforts to extend the line farther, to the Bishop Arts District and to near the Omni Dallas Hotel. It’s exciting to see a good idea catch on and become reality.
Maybe the fact that the support of citizens moved the project from an idea to reality is the key difference in streetcar deployment between DC and Dallas (and Tucson).

In DC, while there has been a strong core of citizens in favor of streetcars all along, there has been an equally strong group of skeptics and pro-automobility shaped opponents that has been equally strong, and there hasn't been a strong pro-position articulated that could successfully vanquish the opposition.
Poster produced by the Utah Transit Authority in advance of the opening of the S-Line Streetcar to the Sugar House neighborhood.

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At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

I don't know that there's any link to activism and the successful implementation of these two projects. I don't think it has anything to do with the project skeptics, either.

I do, however, suspect there is a big link between the capacity of their project owners/operators and the successful implementation of the projects. Both DART and UTA already operate a ton of light rail miles. The UTA "streetcar" is essentially a LRT spur.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, I think you are right that the issue of "support" needs to be distinguished from "successful execution."

But construction is different from funding. The funding for the Dallas project was initiated by that independent group, which applied successfully for funding from USDOT.

And yes, compared to DC proper, DART and UTA have much more experience and success managing rail construction projects.

OTOH, maybe DC just needed to hire "the right people." E.g., Seattle deployed the SoDo project quickly because they hired the same firm that shepherded the Portland Streetcar program from concept to reality.

The SoDo streetcar preceded the opening of the Seattle light rail line by about two years, so it's not like the area had tons of "capacity and experience" in place (although the light rail was under construction).

... anyway, DC and Seattle started "streetcar planning" the same year, but Seattle opened in 2007.

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Alex B brings up a good point.

Looking at the map, the streetcar makes more sense than H st --- a very long viaduct connects the line.

H st, if connected to gallery place and/or downtown would make sense, but as constructed only gets you to Union station.

(Or Columbia Pike, which make some sense when Crytal City was an employment center. BRAC ended that)

Just as you have strong market/weak market, you have places (dallas) that need the streetcar spark to get investment coming. In DC, a very strong market in this regard, the promise of a streetcar and upzoning will create the same efffect.

IF anything, the tactical urbanism of putting the rails down HURT the long term plan of the DC streetcar.

At 10:09 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, the big thing is "intra=-district" mobility, as I have been saying all along. And intra-district economic development opportunity. Some intra-districts have both, others have one or the other.

Minnesota Ave. Station to RFK, RFK to Hechinger Mall, H St to Union Station, Union Station to Gallery Place, K St., Georgetown.

From a development standpoint, the fallow areas are Mass. Ave. & H St. NW to Minnesota Ave. Station NE. That's a lot of capacity.

From a mobility standpoint, Foggy Bottom to Rosslyln via Georgetown facilitates mobility to an activity center that is underserviced or just out of the range of fixed rail.

The thing is to take that idea and extend it to other corridors with similar conditions.

Georgia Avenue is an obvious comparable in terms of build out capacity--from U Street to Petworth, Petworth to Missouri Ave., Missouri Ave. to Walter Reed, Walter Reed to DC-MoCo border, South Silver Spring to Silver Spring Metro.

Same thing east of the river, excepting that build out won't really happen there until most of the better sites west of the river have been developed.

The crosstown line -- Woodley to Brookland-- would enable some large scale development while reducing traffic -- McMillan, Washington Hospital Center, AFRH, CUA proposed Research Park, around Brookland Metro -- but also improve east west transit in an area where it is particularly weak and the need (reaching WHC especially) is strong.

So that's 3-4 lines with a compelling economic and transportation argument.

But that message clearly isn't being communicated very well at all.

2. the thing about the rails as tactical urbanism and being problematic I don't agree with. Well, I do sort of, but only because DDOT has failed so miserably in execution. There was no reason for it to be truncated there at 3rd St. other than massive failures by the Gray Administration.

It turns out the bridge needs to be reconstructed anyway because of the Burnham Place project, so in the intermediate term, this problem will be corrected. But still, I don't understand why there hasn't been massive firings/hiring people-firms who can get the job done.

I mean, why can Dallas pull it off and not DC? It's not just because DART has experience.

At 3:26 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

I mean, why can Dallas pull it off and not DC? It's not just because DART has experience.

Well, that's a big part of it.

If DDOT had more experience with managing streetcar projects, they would've known that installing rails and buying vehicles without the rest of the planning in place was not a recipe for success.

Even if it is a small project compared to others, it's still a large, expensive, capital project. That demands some foresight. You're literally cementing things in place - you have to have a very detailed plan to avoid these kinds of mistakes.

Dallas and Utah have all of this capacity built into their organizations already. If pressed by an ANC to install tracks, they'd find a way to prioritize the project rather than put the cart before the horse.

The other element is leadership. Lots of people working on the streetcar never bought in to the project, never thought it would actually run. That's not going to lead to the best implementation.

At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

well, I don't know how things transpired. I do expect that they thought--hey, we deal with road construction and bridges (via IRMA, the "infrastructure reconstruction and management administration") how hard can this be?

I mentioned the Seattle example for a reason. They didn't have the experience with construction. They did just fine.

Why? They hired a firm to do "project management", the same firm that launched the Portland Streetcar.

... while I haven't read it yet, I do have a copy of _Rescuing Promethus_ on reserve at the LC. It's about large scale engineering and technical projects and failures and success. One of the chapters is on Boston's Central Artery Project.

also cf. , which I never did get around to writing about.

The reason I keep bringing it up is that there wasn't an excuse for what happened, if they would have recognized their capacity gap.

OTOH, the streetcar, MoCo's Silver Spring Transit Center experience, are big failures, and diminish the trust people have in govt. technology and construction projects.

(Note that the TTC, with a lot of experience in this realm, is still having big problems with some subway extension projects. But I think that's because they are understaffed and underbudgeted for their actual needs.)

But this has a big cost. If DC hadn't experienced all the problems with the streetcar, and had it been running early last year, probably Arlington's decision to drop the streetcar wouldn't have occurred.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

I meant experience with streetcar construction wrt Seattle. However, I forgot that they used to have a heritage streetcar service on the waterfront and maybe that made a difference.

Although they did a somewhat boneheaded thing wrt it, comparable to DC. The sculpture park for the art museum was built where the storage sheds were. The museum wasn't required to build a replacement. So the city junked that heritage streetcar system in entirety.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Sorry... yes, you're absolutely right about the leadership issue. It demonstrates the need to have top notch, forward thinking agency directors. They set the stage. Without that kind of leadership, especially in a place like DC that doesn't seem to get the inextricable role transit plays in the city's economic success, people flail.

(Note that when talking about one of the people brought in to run that area of DDOT, I was skeptical, exclaiming to Karina--all he's run are bus systems!)


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