By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
How'd you like to have that in your car? Well, DART does have it, as of this year.
DART's deal with the city calls for trains to come by on Pacific every two and a half minutes and take maybe 30 seconds to unload and load passengers.
Not bad, eh? That leaves two minutes for car traffic to sort itself out, some of it passing north and south across Pacific, some it passing east and west on Main and Commerce and Elm.
DART says it will be able to stick to those "two-and-a-half-minute headways" when the Orange Line brings the train traffic on Pacific up to 48 trains an hour.
But wait. Forty-eight trains an hour would be a train every one and a quarter minutes, wouldn't it? Check me on that, because I am admittedly a history and political science major. But I think if you divide 60 minutes by 48 trains you get one train per minute and a quarter.
Ah, wait! Wait! I'm down here in the DART station beneath Cityplace saying, "Wait! Wait!" loudly to myself, and people walking by me are shaking their heads no, but I do think I get it.
DART intends for the trains to be sync'd so that two trains—one running east and another running west through downtown—will pass each other at precisely timed moments causing fewer traffic interruptions.
Morgan Lyons, the spokesperson for DART, explains that to me: "While the traffic signals cycle every 75 seconds (or 1.25 minutes)," he says, "it's often the case that trains in each direction will move through the intersection so you wouldn't always have that many interruptions."
If everything runs like a Swiss watch.
But what I've been finding out here the last couple days is that everything is running like musical chairs. In fact, back at the office when I put all of my times in an Excel spreadsheet, this is what I find:
Trains that are supposed to be running at 10-minute intervals are running at five minutes, seven minutes, nine minutes apart. Trains that are supposed to be running at five minute intervals are running at six, four and three minutes. And almost none of them is hitting the precisely scheduled moment when it is supposed to arrive at a given station.
If I place myself right by the point where the trains come out of the Central Expressway tunnel and rise to ground level at the east end of downtown, I can see why the timing is so jagged: two-thirds of the trains I am watching slow down and even halt for a few minutes before entering downtown.
Swiss watch, hell. They're winging it!
DART trains are entirely driver-operated. The drivers are stopping, starting and speeding up to accommodate each other through the bottleneck, but that means they're out of sync when they pass through downtown. And remember each one of them is jamming on that little button to get nothing but green lights through downtown. That means nothing but red lights for the cars.
In fact, when I go downtown and watch, that's what I see at rush hour. Already, even without the added pressure of the Orange Line, the car traffic must wait and then leap through momentary gaps in a staggered wall of trains.
Think what it will be when the Orange Line comes on line and the number of trains reaches its max.
That's another whole kettle of fish, by the way. DART claims it is running only 42 trains per hour through downtown at rush hour now. When I count using DART's own timetables, I get more like 46 to 47 trains even now, without the additional six per hour that the Orange Line will add.
It's not supposed to be this way. According to the original agreement with DART, that second alignment through downtown should already have been in place before the Green Line ever opened, definitely before the Orange Line opens.
The timing now on completing the second alignment is somewhere in the range of six to seven years and DART has only half the money in hand for it.
If Dallas were sticking up for itself, it would hire an independent agency to audit the trains running on Pacific Avenue and to audit the traffic interruptions, then demand that DART take trains out of operation until the agreements can be met on downtown traffic interruptions.
That's not going to happen now, given the current climate. Half the elected officials at City Hall are still more sympathetic with the 'burbs—only they call it "regionalism" now—than with their own city. The other half are asleep at the wheel.
The city will only be moved to defend itself when the Orange Line opens and downtown traffic goes to hell in a handbasket in December 2011. It takes a disaster to make anything happen in this town.
But we'll get there.