Who shot down J.R.’s condo?

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.


2 comments on “Who shot down J.R.’s condo?

  1. Daniel Olson says:

    I couldn’t stop thinking about the direction of Twin Cities LRT while reading Yonah’s excellent post last week about Dallas’ LRT shortcomings.

    Hiawatha, despite travelling in a low density corridor, has done well. The old industrial areas are ripe for redevelopment, though, where the opportunities in the Mpls section of the Southwest line are about zero. Southwest really seems like a commuter rail disguised as light rail, and it makes me wonder if it’s going to attract many non-commute rides. Unlike Hiawatha, it doesn’t have the benefit of Airport/MOA bookends.

    Bottineau would have the same shortcomings as Southwest if it chooses the D1 Mpls route. I read Yonah’s piece on Dallas right after studying the route options and it made me very wary of skipping the heart of North Mpls and taking the middle of nowhere BNSF route into the downtown interchange.

    Despite the U of M’s strange efforts for the Northern Alignment, the Central Corridor takes the opposite approach by passing through the densest areas and taking exclusive right-of-way on one of the busiest arterials in the metro. Some say the corridor has too many conflicting uses, there are too many stops, and therefore the route is too slow to be useful.

    While I’m inclined to agree with Yonah that a Central type line will gain better ridership and comprehensive impact than a Southwest Line, in 15 years we’ll most likely have a variety of lines to compare ridership and development impact. In the meantime I’m going to consider Dallas’ experience and regard the decision for the Southwest to skip Uptown a regrettable mistake we should not repeat with Bottineau.

    • Right on, Daniel. I thought it was really funny that the people who were opposed to the Nicollet route were all business people who drive in from the suburbs, while the people who actually use transit wanted that route. But there is no way the Nicollet route was going to win the political battle – our country is still too suburban for the word subway to shed its negative connotations.

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