It’s hard to believe that this day has officially arrived! At 8:40AM, a handful of dignitaries, engineers, city staff, and DART officials met at Union Station in Downtown Dallas to ride the streetcar back to Oak Cliff. I sat beside my close friends and mentors, Luis and Sylvia Salcedo, who were my teammates in helping bring the streetcar to life starting all the way back in 2005. Crossing the bridge was surreal, and at one point I stopped to look over at Sylvia who started crying…
We did it!
It was a “pipe dream” that didn’t stand a chance, but for some reason, the stars aligned and 59 years after its last run, our community (originally built as a streetcar suburb) is now seeing the trolley again.
There are countless numbers of people to thank for helping bring this back, and there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this a strong, and viable form of transportation for our neighborhood, but this is the beginning and the hardest part. Our advisor on the project was a man named Rick Gustafson, the father of Portland’s streetcar line. He was the one that told us from the beginning “you have to get a stake in the ground…the first few miles won’t make any sense, but the momentum will build and slowly the network will take shape.”
And he was right. Though the operational schedule is not ideal, and the existing connection covers a portion of what’s needed, the thing that most don’t see is that this phase 1 was the hard and most expensive part. But it gets us the key ingredients: two streetcars, a trolley barn, initial connections into Union Station, the vital one mile link across the Houston Viaduct, and now with phase 2 (funded by money allocated from Congresswoman Edie Bernice Johnson), that stake in the ground is getting us deeper into the neighborhood with with stops to Bishop Arts set for January. Was it expensive? Yes…but no more than the cost of a single highway on-ramp. And what do we get in comparison to other similarly expensive transportation projects like highway ramps, ornate bridges, or multiple bus lines? We get a mode that developers actually build differently for (read: McKinney Avenue Trolley), that justifies smarter densities, and creates a strong option that gets us around the “parking problem” that our historic buildings have suffered from since the streetcars removal.
As we speak, properties along the length of the streetcar line (existing and proposed), have been in high demand with Dallas County selling off its properties to allow for redevelopment, Oak Farms Dairy selling for denser urban development, and numerous other properties now in transition from brownfields to mixed-use development. I’m confident there hasn’t been a bus line or arterial road created in the last 50 years in Dallas thats triggered nearly as much walkable development as we’re now seeing in Oak Cliff in response to the streetcar’s arrival. Had we continued with our car-only infrastructure projects we would have maintained our path of sprawling suburban oriented development. The streetcar has been the single most powerful tool for extending the success we see in places like the Bishop Arts District, and Jefferson Boulevard.
The next step is to truly re-stitch our neighborhoods so that our two-car families can become one-car families, saving income while helping alleviate the issues we currently have of trying to cram too many cars into a neighborhood that was built for trolleys. The example I like to give is the Texas Theatre…a building with 660 seats, but 35 parking spaces. The only way to make this space make sense now is to tear down adjacent historic buildings to create parking lots (like what we see at Charco Broiler or the Fiesta grocery store on Jefferson which tore down historically lined street buildings to create a giant sea of parking), but that “remedy” is what makes the area no longer walkable and creates an environment that resembles the suburbs.
There’s far more that needs to be done like reconnecting Jefferson Boulevard, and getting deeper into Downtown Dallas, but for now we have our stake in the ground. It’s a great day for Dallas, and an even greater day for Oak Cliff.