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What role do streetcars play in a public transportation network? Streetcars are a first-mile/last-mile solution that connects people between the light rail or commuter rail system and their destinations, spanning distances that are too far to walk.
Critics say a city bus could achieve the same goals. But research and experience have shown us that new riders are less intimidated by - and more likely to ride - transit modes that have stations and dedicated right of way.
To persuade people to get out of their cars and take public transit, we must capitalize on efficient solutions. Streetcars are making a comeback because they provide rail service while preserving traffic lanes.
Modern rail vehicles travel an old route
The 1.6-mile route from downtown's Union Station to Oak Cliff's Methodist Dallas Medical Center marks the first phase of Dallas' modern streetcar system. On behalf of the city, DART is overseeing the project.
"Our track record with DART Light Rail and the Trinity Railway Express gave the city of Dallas confidence that we also could successfully design, build, operate and maintain the Dallas Streetcar," DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas said.
Development of Dallas' modern streetcar was kick-started by $26 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition to the city of Dallas and DART, other project partners include the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Texas Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration.
"Dallas is taking another notable step forward in its efforts to build an efficient, reliable and connected transportation network that helps grow the region's economy and connects hard-working families to jobs and opportunity," said FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan. "We're calling on Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill that will make more projects like the Dallas Streetcar a reality."
DART awarded the design-build contract for this first phase to the joint venture of Stacy and Witbeck/CARCON Industries. The streetcars were designed and manufactured by Pennsylvania-based Brookville Equipment Corporation.
Infrastructure encourages economic developmentThe Union Station-to-Oak Cliff starter line traverses the Trinity River corridor, which separates southern Dallas from the city's largest employment centers. Specifically, the project targets commuters in mixed-use districts adjacent to downtown and helps connect them to transportation choices in the city center.
"Public transportation - such as DART and the TRE, combined with the creation and extension of the streetcar systems - is imperative to providing alternative transportation options that improve regional mobility and create more sustainable lifestyles," said Mike Cantrell, chairman of the NCTCOG's Regional Transportation Council.
The area within a two-mile radius of the streetcar line is considered economically disadvantaged, as defined by federal law. Providing better land use/transportation connections will reduce dependence on automobile travel, freeing income for other uses. The streetcar project is an integral part of the city's economic expansion initiatives in this historically low-income, minority community.
Construction uncovered old trackThe 100-year-old Houston St. Viaduct is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and rehabilitation required coordination with the Texas Historical Commission.
The city uncovered the original 1912 plans for the Houston Street Viaduct, which show that the bridge's 44-foot-wide roadway originally included space for two interurban trains. The rails were never laid. Almost 100 years later, the Dallas Streetcar line will fulfill that original intent.
To avoid placing an overhead catenary system on the historic bridge, the vehicles feature a battery power system allowing them to run "off wire" for almost a mile as they cross over the Trinity River corridor.
During rail construction on Colorado Boulevard, crews discovered a figurative time capsule hidden in the road. Underneath the pavement were girder and T-rail tracks dating to an old interurban system.
Because the tracks were caked in concrete from the demolition, crews were unable to find markers to determine the exact age. DART Streetcar Projects Director Jay Kline speculated the tracks could be up to 100 years old.
Future expansion comingThe second phase, which extends the route to the shopping and dining of Oak Cliff's Bishop Arts District, is expected to be completed by early 2016. The third segment, currently in planning, will expand the streetcar line to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and Omni Dallas Hotel.
Once the starter line is complete, DART will be able to reduce the level of bus service along the streetcar alignment, which will prolong the life cycle of the roadways in the area.
DART and the city also are developing a plan for a route through the Central Business District that would connect the Dallas Streetcar's downtown-to-Oak Cliff line with the heritage M-Line Trolley, which serves the Dallas Arts District and Uptown. This connector would enhance transit access and capacity within downtown, extending the reach of the DART Rail System.
"As the Dallas Streetcar system expands, it will make public transportation available to hundreds of thousands of riders who wish to live a more urban day-to-day lifestyle and make transit a way of life," Thomas said.