"Now," he says, twisting my notebook around on the table, "if you turn it this way and put it down on a map of downtown Dallas, it goes from Griffin Street to Harwood."

In other words, 50 years from now Tatum sees Eaton Centre running right up the spine of downtown Dallas, with Neiman Marcus, the Mercantile redevelopment project, the new law school and the new park at the east end of this vibrant new core and the banks and El Centro at the other.

How? Not by taking the new line way over to the south side of downtown and then joining it with existing lines only at the intersection of the X at Pacific and Lamar. That's a bottleneck, a squeeze-point, a narrow passageway through which all of the transfer traffic must pass.

"When I was on the DART board, we went to Atlanta, San Francisco, Toronto, London. They all said to us, 'Don't build bottlenecks.'"

The other thing he sees in the Decherd Route (my term, named for Morning News CEO Robert Decherd) is the heart-breaking loss of development potential. That vision of Eaton Centre running up the spine of the city, he says, is totally dependent on using this new downtown alignment to create an entire new population of people living downtown largely without automobiles.

Sketching again on my notebook, he crosses out the Decherd Route and draws a new one running down Elm Street, beneath the street in a subway a block away but parallel to the lines that run already on Pacific. Then he draws several lateral hash marks from Elm to Pacific forming a ladder: Those are multiple transfer stations.

Aha! Like any stroke of genius, this one solves multiple problems at once and makes the machine run free and smooth. With the line down Elm in a subway, parallel to the existing lines on Pacific but only a block away, now the multiple transfer stations are all only an escalator ride away from Pacific Avenue.

Dallas passengers, Tatum says, will want three things in a transfer. "Don't get tired, don't get hot, don't get mugged."

But much more important: Now you have created an entire corridor the length of downtown where a person could live, work, play or do all three and still be able to get out into the four corners of region by rail. Tatum sees the Morning News as pursuing its own legitimate interests. And he thinks the idea of using the train to help the convention center might work. But he thinks the Elm Street subway would accomplish a much greater good.

His model of parallel downtown lines connected by a ladder of transfer stations would create a zone where much less money would be spent accommodating cars.

"You increase the carrying capacity of the land," he says.

Great. I have no idea what that means.

"You change the zoning so that people developing office and residential towers in this zone don't have to provide parking or they have to provide much less parking."

I still need help. I grew up in a clergy house. There wasn't enough entrepreneurial know-how to run a lemonade stand.

He explains, patiently: If you don't have to provide massive parking for the towers, you save a bunch of money. You can spend that money building more offices and apartments, which you can then rent for less. It's a way to hit the magic number of 50,000 people living downtown, which is what everybody says you have to have in order to attract retail and create a truly livable community.

"The subway stations and the transfer points," he says, "become the people-pumps."

All that residential and office population moving up and down and across that double rail corridor feeds retail, which feeds street life, which makes the place even more fun, and the whole thing just gets better.

Spreading out the lines, splitting the new one off to the far side of downtown, kills Tatum's economic engine. The Decherd line loses the critical mass needed to create a whole new way of life in downtown.

I don't delude myself. I think the Decherd line will win. DART staff will offer the city council the Decherd line and some other line that's a total loser, so the council can act like it's doing the right thing by going with the Decherd line. That's how decisions get made in this town.

But it's also why downtown Dallas is dead, and downtown Fort Worth is alive and lively. Decisions here are made by too few people with too much self-interest and too little imagination who don't really get downtowns.

So that's my two bits' worth. Later on, when it's all said and done, I'm going to campaign for re-naming the Decherd line after César Chávez. Just to be ornery.

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