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Dallas Demonstrates How Not to Build a Modern Streetcar

For urbanists who believe in the potential to turn car-dependent cities into more walkable, transit-oriented places, there is no joy like seeing new rail infrastructure born. To mar such a happy occasion takes a lot of bungling, but as we’ll see, it is possible.

The city of Dallas is preparing to build a $23 million, 1.6-mile streetcar line in its downtown. It’s good to see modern streetcars — the first in Texas — come to America’s ninth largest city. But the good news ends there, says Yonah Freemark at the Transport Politic. In fact, the project has been designed in such a way that Freemark wonders whether it is worth the investment at all:

The project violates almost all the basics of transit project delivery. Worst is its proposed single-track construction — there will not even be any bypass tracks included as far as I can tell — which will limit service to 20-minute maximum frequencies. From day one, the service will be limited to what in a standard transit system would be considered poor operations quality. And this is basically an impossible-to-resolve structural problem, since once construction has been completed, there will be little appetite for more of it in the same locale.

To put it another way, 20-minute frequencies mean ten minute average waiting times; combined with the seven minutes it will take trains to journey the 1.6 miles from origin to destination, this means that on average, walking will be just as fast as taking the train. If this project serves such an important travel market as to deserve the significant investment that is required to put tracks in the street, why are such pitiful operations planned?

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