Where's My Toronto?

Ding-ding forever: I read with much amusement Jim Schutze's account of his DART light rail encounter ("Slow Ride," December 9). I agree with most of his observations about the "buses on railroad tracks." I'm a single mother of a teenager in West Plano, and we live without a car. My daughter and I ride DART light rail every day to get to school and work. Plus, there's a nifty little service in our area that will pick you up at home and take you to the train station. And although I certainly don't see Toronto, I do see the great potential for developing those stations for urban commuters. Unfortunately, on my salary, any high-rise apartments or urban lofts would fall far out of my price range. I guess I have to settle with being a suburban commuter. The one thing I disagreed with: I like that little "ding-ding."

Jennifer Hoff

A doughnut around that hole: Jim Schutze is looking at the hole instead of the doughnut in his critique of DART. DART has done quite well, having been a latecomer to light rail transit with Toronto having a head start of several decades. As a matter of fact, DART doesn't have to apologize to anyone in regard to speed. Out on the main lines, they cruise at 65 mph, which can be observed by standing behind the operator's compartment and watching the speedometer.

As a result of this impressive speed and a high rate of acceleration, the Red Line trains cover the almost 30 miles between Westmoreland and Parker roads in one hour and eight minutes while providing 25 convenient station stops. Operators are instructed to arrive and leave each stop within one minute of scheduled time, the only exceptions being a slight delay for a wheelchair loading.

Movement is slow on the downtown transit mall but would be only a little faster in a Toronto-style subway, since four stops are included. Stops at red lights are required by the city of Dallas. DART would prefer a pre-emption system giving trains right of way.

Forward-looking planners may have planned the large parking lots to accommodate future train-side high-rises. When the downtown grocery supermarket materializes, watch for dramatic increases in CBD residency.

Many local real estate people were asleep at the switch in connection with rail-related development until Northern interests moved in and got their attention.

Marvin D. Monaghan
Former DART board member

Full speed ahead: As a transit-oriented development advocate, I understand Jim Schutze's frustration. TOD is still too complicated, and because it takes so long, the returns aren't high enough to entice investors into tying up their money. There's further disincentive in that TOD doesn't have a track record, so it requires risk-takers.

The development industry is like an oil tanker that takes 15 miles to turn around in. It's hard-wired to produce a few standard real estate products--the single-family home, the strip mall, the garden apartment. This kind of development in a greenfield is simple. TOD is joint development requiring coordination and consensus between city, transit agency, neighborhood, developer and investor. Everybody has to agree on the end product, which has to function as public (transit station) and private (for residents) space--and it has to agree with the neighbors.

But the world will be a better place when we figure out this new paradigm for building neighborhoods around transit. Suburban sprawl is easy, but because of traffic it's no longer feasible. Plus, demographics are changing. American families are getting older and smaller, and with two wage earners, life has to be convenient. TOD is the answer, but let's open the throttle.

Gloria Ohland
Center for Transit Oriented Development
Los Angeles

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