Hundreds Gather To Organize Efforts In Pushing Proposed Deep Ellum DART Extension Underground.

If there’s been one constant throughout this recent election cycle, it’s been advocacy for citizens to become more invested in local politics. It makes sense, really: It is through local politics where the issues that most directly affect people are tackled.

Yesterday evening at the Bomb Factory, this truism was on full display. At community gathering organized by Deep Ellum community leaders, hundreds of everyday citizens confronted a proposed neighborhood development in Deep Ellum with both concern and a passion for the future of their city.

Specifically, the forum focused on DART’s proposed new D2 line and the potential effects that this development would have on the neighborhood. In a room filled with local business owners and residents alike, the event featured a lively panel and Q&A session meant to educate and rally the neighborhood in the hopes of forcing changes to a plan that many in the neighborhood believe would have a negative impact on the recently vibrant entertainment district.

The panel included moderator Matt Tranchin from Coalition For A New Dallas, property owner and former DART board member John Tatum, walkability and urban planning expert Patrick Kennedy, and Deep Ellum Community Association president/Life in Deep Ellum executive director Rachel Triska, with Deep Ellum Foundation executive director Jessica Burnham handling hosting duties. While they were invited to participate, it should be noted that no current DART employees or board members were present.

Not familiar with the D2 line proposal? You’re not alone. Many of the attendees at last night’s events admit that they themselves weren’t aware of its existence until the last couple of months.

In short, the D2 represents DART’s proposed second light rail track through the southern part of downtown Dallas, providing the DART with more of a loop around the Central Business District as opposed to the cut-through across the northern part of Downtown that exists today. Its main purpose, at least in theory, is to alleviate the traffic caused by commuters traveling to downtown. Proponents of the proposal say it will result in reduced public transportation wait times, increased efficiency of the public transportation system and an increased frequency of service, with trains running every seven minutes along the proposed route. Based on that, advocates for the current proposal argue that the D2 will result in a better DART experience.

Many at last night’s meeting take issue with this proposal, though. To a large degree, their concerns center around the fact the southern part of Downtown Dallas has changed so drastically since plan was initially proposed, and that the city has since made too many concessions to those that developed properties in that area. What was once proposed as a rail along Young Street — one that would have affected the First Presbyterian Church and condominiums across the street from the Farmer’s Market — has been changed to a proposed route along Jackson Street, right through where one of the few dedicated bike lane Downtown currently runs.

What was never changed, however, was the proposed Deep Ellum portion of the line — an oversight that the organizers of last night’s meeting say can still be fixed because, turns out, a new survey reveals that Jackson Street is too narrow to hold a light rail track anyway. And now, since a new route must be explored and new plans must be drawn up regardless, Deep Ellum activists hope that they can right some of the proposal’s earlier wrongs — elements that they believe would have a negative effect on their businesses and their ways of life.

The fear, essentially, is that the new line, which would extend the current DART rail along Good-Latimer Expressway down to Commerce Street before cutting back Downtown, would cut off Deep Ellum from Downtown much in the same way that I-345 historically has, which is why there exists a growing movement that argues for that stretch of highway to be torn down.

Those against the D2 argue that the impact of the rail would be just as bad if not worse. Imagine trying to make your way across Good-Latimer via foot, bike or car with trains passing by every seven minutes. Worse, imagine this scenario playing out during a busy weekend full of concerts or events. At best, it’s inconvenient; anything less than that and it sounds pretty dangerous.

Those at last night’s meeting take less issue with the route, though, than with its level. The most popular and potentially least intrusive option proposed at last night’s meeting involves building along this same proposed route, but as a subway that would minimize the line’s impact on street-level activity and travel.

Of course, with this plan comes increased cost, a factor that the DART board has repeatedly argued in its case against a subway, citing that such a project could cost upwards of a billion dollars. But would to whom? One of the reasons why the D2 was revived in the first place is due to a “core capacity grant” afforded to cities by the Federal Transit Administration that DART applied for, while lumping in D2 with other projects around the area, including the Cotton Belt Line, which would help connect Addison to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Applied differently, last night’s event organizers say, the funds acquired as part of that grant would help with the costs of the more expensive subway option.

Last night’s meeting — as well as the actions that its organizers hope to see come out of it — was meant to force DART to consider the subway plan, rather than to continue dismissing it as too expensive. Per the panelists, the D2 line is absolutely a necessity — but the problem is that it’s being planned as quickly as possible without considering the long-term ramifications. For proof, they point to the fact that there has been no economic or qualitative study done to asses the impact that this new line would have in the neighborhood.

As panelists also stressed, though, there’s still time for such developments. They encouraged attendees reach out to the city council members whose districts are involved in the proposed route (Philip Kingston, Adam Medrano and Tiffinni Young), to attend the bi-weekly DART board meetings that occur every other Tuesday at 1401 Pacific Ave at 6:30 p.m. (the next meeting is on August 23), to email DART directly with their concerns and to sign the online petition for the subway proposal. Coalition For A New Dallas’ Tranchin also promised a website dedicated to the proposal in the near future.

If nothing else, last night’s did seem to inspire the belief that change was possible. Throughout the whole event, attendees seemed genuinely concerned and attentive, then left feeling empowered.

Who says local politics aren’t exciting?

Traveling Man cover photo by Steve Rainwater, via WikiCommons.
Proposed route maps via DART.
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