By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The trigger point for choosing the second rail alignment is right now. Haven't read much about this in The Dallas Morning News recently? Yeah, that's odd, isn't it? But the time for a decision is now. I discussed this in some detail last week with Douglas A. Allen, DART's executive vice president for program development, who told me that DART's new southeast and northwest lines will put the downtown train traffic over the top.
Speaking of the second downtown line, Allen said: "We will actually start the detailed planning this fall."
In order to do detailed planning in the fall, they have to know where the train's going to go. Now.
For six years that I know of, forward-looking downtown players such as developer John Tatum have been telling anybody who would listen that the second train line must go down Elm Street, either in a subway or on an elevated bridge system. DART was required by its interlocal agreement with Dallas to keep $350 million in its budget for this project, and Tatum, one of the early members of the DART board, not on it now, believes that's close to enough money for a subway.
And even if it's not, look at what Tatum and others believe a subway would do: A subway down Elm Street would be an air-conditioned escalator ride from the Pacific Avenue Mall or an escalator ride in the opposite direction to Main Street. All of a sudden, huge things start happening.
You can live downtown, and you can fly all over the city within the portals of the train system. No sweaty, four-block trudge paying two bucks in homeless tax every block and a half. Or you can come downtown from any of the four corners of the map, pop off the train for lunch, zip on somewhere else to see a store and zip back home.
No impedance. Lots and lots of people.
The city begins to be able to do powerful things for downtown real estate--things that don't involve tax subsidies. For example, the city could waive the parking requirements for residential towers along DART's double corridor through downtown. Why require parking if developers can rent space at a profit to carless loft-dwellers? All of a sudden, downtown residential real estate has a significant cost advantage over equivalent space elsewhere.
Who wants to be auto-free? Are you kidding? Me! No gas. No insurance. No bump shop. No car! Oh, man, you're talking about heaven. If I need a car, I rent the sucker. I love rental cars. I especially love taking them back.
If that new rail line comes down Elm in a tube, you're talking about a people magnet that would change downtown almost overnight--bright lights, big city instead of Urinetown.
The Decherdville plan, a train down Jackson Street, is Urinetown. Why am I so convinced that's what he wants? Did he tell me that? No, he won't take my calls. I tried. And you are perfectly free, by the way, to call me paranoid. I don't mind. I have even considered forming one of those self-help groups around the proposition that, if you think you may be paranoid, one of the healthiest things you can do is try to find a way to make a living off of it.
I'm convinced. For the last several years, Decherd has been pushing and shoving, nudging and budging to get Jackson Street all lined up for the train. Several years ago he tried to get the city council to close most of it for no apparent reason, and the council, to its credit, refused. Then he went off on his "open space" crusade to create strange parks up and down Jackson Street, one of them dedicated to former employees of his TV station. Do you ever see yourself loading up the family for a picnic in Former TV Station Employee Park?
He even built a kind of faux transit station across from the Belo Building. I call it his Potemkin DART village. I couldn't figure out what it was for when I first wrote about it ("Belo the Belt," December 5, 2002).
I get it now. He wants to suck that train line down Jackson Street so it will go right through Decherdville. It's a terrible idea. The DART second rail alignment is the one real window that's ever going to open for a vibrant downtown. The Decherdville line would kill it.
That's the act you want to keep your eye on. Forget Benavides in a harem suit. Seductive as that concept may be.