When It Comes to Downtown Rail, Tomorrow Looks Like Yesterday
Pacific Avenue, circa 1920
In last week's paper version of Unfair Park, I wrote about the mess we’re going to have next year when Dallas Area Rapid Transit spills a whole new rail line of traffic down Pacific Avenue in downtown Dallas.
According to a contract signed with the city 18 years ago, DART should have begun building a second reliever route five years ago, preferably in a subway, for trains going through downtown. But because the city got slicked by the suburbs, the way it does in all so-called regional governance, DART spent its money instead building trains out to the boondocks, where nobody needs mass transit anyway.
So next year train traffic on the DART tracks down Pacific will go through the roof, significantly exceeding safe peak levels. And car and bus traffic downtown will be screwed for however many years it takes to build a subway (unless we adopt the Schutze Solution, described after the jump). In the meantime, after my article ran I received an intriguing phone call from preservation expert, author and activist Virginia McAlester, who told me about the great “Spike-Pulling Ceremony” that took place at the corner of Pacific, Live Oak and St. Paul in 1921.
You know that image of the golden spike ceremony on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in the Utah Territory? Think: the opposite of that.
Virginia’s grandfather, William R. Harris -- a lawyer, co-founder of Thompson & Knight and the man who successfully prosecuted Pa Ferguson at his impeachment trial -- helped negotiate the deal that got the Texas and Pacific Railway tracks removed from Pacific Avenue.
Getting rail traffic removed from Pacific was one of the few concrete products of the Kessler Plan, Dallas’s first comprehensive city-wide plan devised by George E. Kessler. Long freight trains rumbling down Pacific were a threat to the lives and health of citizens, Kessler told civic leaders in 1911. Rail lines “at grade” -- where cars must wait in order to cross the tracks -- were also cutting off growth of the downtown, he said.
Most of the Kessler plan was ditched by a civic leadership in Dallas that wasn’t interested in parks and broad boulevards. But getting the trains off Pacific was one battle they were willing to take on.
It took 10 years. Virginia’s grandfather was a lead negotiator with the railroads. When an agreement was finally struck, civic leaders held a grand spike-pulling ceremony and parade. One account said, “The gala included a parade featuring a mockup railroad locomotive, bands, fireworks, speeches and motion pictures.”
Can you imagine what any of those folks would think if we brought them back today? We would show them how the current Dallas leadership has allowed downtown to be cut in half again by a new railroad, exactly where they pulled that spike nearly 90 years ago. What would they think?
O.K., the Schutze Solution -- you saw it here first, Friends. Step One: Ditch entire city council except Angela Hunt and maybe Carolyn Davis and Vonciel Hill, in order to rid council of useless patsies, fools and vagabonds. Step Two: New city council hires some big law firm, maybe Thompson & Knight, to sue DART to keep all rail traffic off Pacific that would tend to exceed the cap stipulated in the 1990 interlocal agreement.
You want to put more traffic through downtown? Great. Build that subway. Otherwise, put your new traffic in some other dark place, which we would also be willing to advise you on.
Just a thought. --Jim Schutze
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