Every policymaker should take a moment to read, or have an aide read to them while they’re talking to their broker and walking on the treadmill) yesterday’s Transport Politic about Dallas’ pathetic transit ridership, despite having the longest light rail system in the country. His point is basically:
that density matters a whole lot more than overall length of rail lines.
This paragraph contains the crux of his argument:
what Dallas really lacks is residential compactness: The downtown itself has grown from 1,654 residents in 2000 to 10,446 today (that’s pretty impressive!), but neighborhoods immediately adjacent to this area are primarily made up of single-family homes. Moreover, the alignment of the rail corridors, generally following existing highway or rail rights-of-way, often do not reach the densest areas or the biggest destinations. The well-populated (and popular) neighborhoods north of downtown, including Uptown and Oak Lawn, are mostly inaccessible to light rail. An underground station on the Red Line originally planned for Knox Street, which likely would have attracted plenty of riders, was not built because of local opposition.
I love that local opposition felled the station with the highest ridership potential! God bless America, love it or leave it.
Interestingly, although Minneapolis has a density advantage over Dallas (thanks mostly to history – Mpls grew larger earlier), light rail lines built or proposed here aren’t much better in terms of serving potential riders. Check out these screen prints from the HTA index site for Dallas and Minneapolis, taken at the same scale for comparison’s sake:
The Hiawatha line runs through the lowest-density portion of South Minneapolis, the Southwest line is proposed to run through the Bassett Creek industrial yards and Kenilworth parklands, Bottineau will either destroy the already low-density area of North around Penn or skip through North to Wirth Park. Central will serve neighborhoods that are barely more dense than Hiawatha’s, but I think will appear much more dense after this census, at least, since there has already been a lot of infill along University and in Stadium Village.
TOD, of course, is the goal of many of these lines; but the Transport Politic implies that TOD was a goal of Dallas’ system as well. At best, TOD will be a long-term aid to ridership – maybe we should focus on building trains where riders are now rather than where they may be someday.