Thursday, August 28, 2008

DART: Keeping Downtown Dallas on the move

Transit has always been a good barometer of Dallas' economic health, from the post-WWII years when gas-powered buses put electric streetcars out of style today's downtown transit mall and the steady transformation of high-rise office towers into swank lofts and condos.

The 45-mile DART Rail System- together with a modern bus, HOV lane, and commuter rail network- now connects the city center to outlying neighborhoods and suburbs in a way the region really hasn't seen since mid-century. And growing ranks of urban dwellers now have a ready alternative to $4-a-gallon gas right at their doorsteps-and they're taking advantage of it in record numbers.

Increasingly, the ease and economy of riding DART isn't just for the work commute anymore; it's for leisure activities, as well. The blossoming Dallas Arts District, Richardson's Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, the world-class shops of NorthPark Center, the Dallas Zoo, the quaint and friendly town squares of Plano and Garland, White Rock Lake, the and artsy South Side, and Victory Park's exciting array of music, dining, sports and entertainment venues are all accessible by train. Even downtown Fort Worth is just about an hour away via a connection to the Trinity Railway Express at DART's Union Station.

As DART expands, so do the possibilities. Rail stations have already attracted nearly $7 billion in existing, planned and projected transit-oriented developments up and down the lines. With many more projects on the horizon, the Urban Land Institute recently hailed the Dallas area as the new national leader in the creation of new live-work-play lifestyle alternatives near public transit.

"DART makes so many things available to us," say Som Kitiyamongkol who, with her husband Jose Alfaro, and their three-year-old daughter, moved from suburbia to downtown's Metropolitan mid-rise about a year ago.

"We definitely wanted the urban lifestyle," Alfaro says. "We love being near the museums and restaurants and it's really exciting to see the urban environment taking shape before our eyes."

Concurrent with the projected doubling of downtown's population to 10,000 residents or more over the next few years, DART will be nearly doubling its light rail system with the openings of its Green and Orange lines.

The green Line will extend from Pleasant Grove in southeast Dallas through Fair Park, Deep Ellum and downtown, stretching northwest to Victory Park, Dallas Market Center, Southwestern Medical District, Love Field vicinity, Farmers Branch and Carrollton. The first four stations will open in September 2009, with the rest to follow in late 2010. In 2011, DART will open its Orange line to North Irving's Las Colinas Urban Center on its way to DFW International Airport in 2013.

To accommodate the new lines, DART is in the midst of a Downtown Transit Study to determine the alignment for second rail line, as well as other transit services designed to keep the city center moving in the right direction.