Almost two months ago, the Dallas City Council's Transportation and Environmental Committee got a peek at the proposed alignments for the downtown streetcars; but, again, the question of who'll pay for 'em went unanswered. Then came Friday's Star-Telegram story in which it was revealed that Dallas and Fort Worth, under the auspices of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, will jointly apply for $95 million in federal grants by September 19, in the hopes of using that money to plant new tracks in the cities' respective downtowns.
The story, of course, deals predominantly with Fort Worth, and there are still more questions than answers, among them: "It's not yet clear how the cities would divide the money, or what parts of their streetcar systems they would tackle first." Nonetheless, Dallas city council member Angela Hunt -- who, last April, rode Seattle and Portland's streetcars with Linda Koop -- tells Unfair Park that news of the joint fund-raising effort is "very exciting stuff."
"I didn't know it would be a joint venture like this," she tells Unfair Park. "But I think it's great. I think it means both cities are serious about mass transit and streetcars in particular, not just in building roads, and I think that's a great shift. ... Linda Koop's done a great job of working on the funding of this, which is really the most critical aspect of it. But we're continuing to work with the folks downtown, because streetcars can generate development -- that's one of their most important functions -- and we're working on alignments that can leverage upcoming development, particularly in the southwest part of downtown -- south of the Merc. That's what want to do: connect the islands of development."
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Truth is, Hunt says she never expected even the concept of putting streetcars back in downtown to make it this far; after all, when they first surfaced at City Hall in May 2008, during a "streetcar workshop," it was merely a concept without commitment -- something Schutze called, at the time, "the best idea since Mad Max Goldblatt's scheme for a downtown monorail."
But Hunt says the idea took root in January, when the council was briefed by four urban-planning experts on the need to reshape the city -- to make it, you know, walkable.
"I wasn't sure this would ever happen," Hunt says. "I think I began to realize it would be taken seriously once we heard from some of the national experts about the importance of streetcars. When they talked about how streetcars are so much more than a transportation tool and how they do more than buses could ever do to spur development, from mixed-use housing to retail development, that's when I began to think this was something that could gain real support in Dallas."