Five years ago, I was starting a job in Downtown Dallas. I had all the go-get-em-kid energy that days like that bring, but I had an extra added reason to be excited: it was the first time in seven years of professional employment, in all corners of the DFW Metroplex, that it was feasible for me to travel from my home to my office via public transportation. Every previous job had been miles from any rail station. That first morning, while watching out the window of the second floor of the TRE train as we were stopped at Victory Station, I saw two strangers to me, obviously old friends to each other, greet each other with big smiles and a hug as they met on the platform. At that moment I thought, “This is a thing I’d never have experienced sitting in traffic.” It’s a small thing, but to me it was significant - public transportation is about community.
Yesterday afternoon, I was riding on the DART after a long day at work, feeling tired and a little blue, when a man complimented me on my shoes. We had a conversation and he told me he was riding the train because he couldn’t drive any more - he’d had a recent epileptic seizure that caused him to wreck his car, so driving was out. I said I was sorry he’d had to go through that, and he replied, “Oh, don’t be sorry! Everything happens for a reason. I appreciate things more now that I’m not in a hurry all the time.” He asked God to bless me and he got off at the next stop. And just like that, I didn’t feel as tired or as blue anymore. Again: this is not an experience I’d have had in a car.
According to the US Census, the DFW Metroplex - mainly Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Collin Counties, with pieces of several others - is the fourth most populous metro area in the nation, after New York-Newark-Jersey City, LA-Long Beach-Anaheim, and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, and we’re number one in terms of biggest population growth between 2010 and 2018. Tarrant County and Dallas County are number six and number eight, respectively, for fastest growing counties in the US. (1) If you’ve driven on any of our local highways during rush hour, you’ve felt the impact of that growth. According to INRIX, we’re the 21st most traffic-congested urban area in the US. (2) Since growth is predicted to continue in this region, it’s not going to get better. Toll roads aren’t the answer.
At 93 miles, the DFW Metroplex has the most light rail track of any city in the US, but our people per mile ridership numbers are among the worst in the nation. Transportation analyst Christof Spieler says there’s a good reason for that: the entire rail system was designed to move people into and out of Downtown Dallas during peak hours, but if your destination is anywhere outside of that area, the system isn’t very efficient. (3) My own experience bears this out - I’d have been taking the train all along if it went where I worked.
This situation is being improved, albeit slowly. The new TEXRail line opened in January and connects Downtown Fort Worth the the DFW Airport, serving the Northside, North Richland Hills and Grapevine along the way. They’ve had 300,000 rides since the opening and anticipate an increase in riders later this month, when frequency is increased during peak hours. Trinity Metro is partnering with organizations downtown and along the route to offer fare discounts to their employees. (4) They developed the line with federal and local funds, and since they were able to bring the project in $90MM under budget, they hope to further extend the line south from Downtown Fort Worth to serve the Hospital District. (5)
It’s interesting to compare the municipal reactions of two towns along the route, Colleyville and Grapevine. A station had been planned for Colleyville, but Colleyville opted out. “[The trains] just didn’t fit in with what Colleyville was about,” said the mayor. (6) Grapevine saw an opportunity instead, and built Grapevine Main, a $105 million public/private development that includes a 5-story rail station, 552-space parking garage, 38,000 square foot outdoor plaza and Hotel Vin, a 121-room boutique hotel by Marriott. (4) Grapevine’s City Manager said, ““It will provide the general public another exciting mode of transit from a destination standpoint as well as, of course, just a normal day-to-day ability to get to work.” (6) What Grapevine knew: trains bring economic growth to the communities that are willing to take advantage of the opportunity. On average, every dollar invested in public transportation generates four dollars in economic returns to the community. (7)
But the benefits are more than just economic! It reduces our carbon footprint, it promotes the health of the people using it, and it provides options for people that can’t drive, like the man that liked my shoes. How otherwise could he get where he was going? It reduces traffic accidents, congestion, and wear and tear on our roadways. I can tell you personally that the free time is nice, too: I taught myself Portuguese on my phone during my commute. É muito mais produtivo do dirigir, não?
Given all the benefits, and given our future challenges in this region with moving our people around, I’d like to propose expanding and unifying our local rail systems. There isn’t a connection between the TEXRail line and the TRE line outside of Downtown Fort Worth, and there’s no rail service from anywhere to the Rangers Ballpark, Cowboys Stadium or Six Flags - which makes zero sense to me. Plus, Arlington has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the US that doesn’t have any public transportation. A north-south line from the Grapevine station to the Centreport Station with continuing service to the entertainment district of Arlington would meet all of those needs and provide economic benefits to our communities.
Spieler, Christof. Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of US Transit, Island Press, 2018.
Hanna, Laura, Trinity Metro. “Re: Questions About TEXRail Benefits.” Message to Steve Riddell. July 9, 2019