The local public-transit authority, DART, has been busy building light-rail lines in Dallas and suburbs for the past 15 years. The early efforts were met with skepticism, as they often are in newer American cities that grew because of the automobile. But DART and Dallas citizens have confounded the naysayers, and ridership on every line has exceeded expectations — not just the routes that serve poorer neighborhoods, where people have fewer cars, but in middle-class and affluent places, too. It’s a bit like the line from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.
Needless to say, this longtime public-transit rider and advocate (three decades ago, I did a stint on the Transportation Advisory Board of the metro government entity in Minneapolis-St. Paul) was pumped about the news that on July 30 DART was opening a new line, the Orange, west from downtown Dallas toward the large suburb of Irving, with a free preview on Saturday the 28th. After lunch that day I drove ten minutes to the end of the Red Line, and parked (which now costs me $2 , because my unenlightened suburb of Allen is not part of DART’s service area; I’m happy to pay, but would be happier if the conservative burgers who run the town would understand that public transport makes life better for all).
Seven stops south, I changed onto an Orange Line train, riding through downtown, past Love Field (Dallas’ close-in airport), and out to Irving. The line will open two more stops further west in December, but the prize will be service right to DFW Airport in December 2014. I got off at the Las Colinas Urban Center station. Las Colinas is an interesting place, a planned office/residential/commercial development just east of the big airport, conceived in the heyday of the “new town” planning movement of the 1960s, but slow to develop, for a number of reasons.
Earlier in the day, I texted one of my long colleagues at American Airlines, William Mitchell, and we agreed to grab a Coke at three. While waiting for him to pick me up, I had a nice Talking to Strangers moment with a young woman who used a walker. As she ambled onto the platform, she smiled and said hello, which launched a nice conversation. She lived a block away, could not drive, and was delighted that the train had finally arrived in Irving. “Now I can get to the supermarket without two buses,” she said happily, “and downtown.” It was one of those moments of truth that you wish more people could see: in this election year, with people on the right still debating, often in infantile and uninformed fashion, the role of government, here was a wonderful expression of a collective decision made a long time ago, to expand the common wealth of Dallas. She made me smile. Here was something good that belonged to all of us.
William arrived, we had a nice yak, he drove me back to the station, and I zipped home.