Saturday, August 21, 2010

DART: The Loser Cruiser

Wow. Long time no see.

I apologize for my long hiatus. My day job resumed in the last few weeks, after a wonderful summer vacation. This, along with some of my other projects has consumed much of my time.

So this summer I lost my car. It was totaled in a flash flood in Lubbock, TX.
This has put me back in my beloved metroplex without a car.

It is said that one can't really live in the Dallas area without a car. At least one blogger at Walkable Dallas has devoted a blog to this discussion. I like this blog. And I hope all the recommendations of the author (Patrick Kennedy) be fulfilled. It tends to lean heavily towards urban planning and can sometimes waxes academic. Which is alright, I think all of us need to wax academic a little more. Even IF ignorance is bliss.

My only real criticism of Mr. Kennedy's blog is that he lives in downtown. He works in downtown. He can bike to Deep Ellum for chrissakes! If he has to use public transportation, like to get to the Bishop Arts District or Lower Greenville, his bus/train ride is going to be 30 minutes at its worst.

Most of us can't swing living and working in downtown Dallas. We have to live where most of the Metroplex lives, in the goddamn suburbs!

I live in Irving.

But I have also lived in Richardson, and Lewisville, and have been carless in all these places at one time or another. And in these situations I have had to ride DART, Dallas Area Rapid Transit. They should be required to take the R out of it, because its about as Rapid as a legless turtle going uphill.

I am riding DART again.

I am riding it to work, I am riding it with my wife to go to recreational activities, and all I can think is that I need to hurry the hell up and get another car.

I once read an article in Lit Monthly once proclaiming the virtues of riding DART, the author talked about how wonderful it was to ride DART, and how green it was and whatever. This person probably rode the damn thing once, to write his article, and like everything else in Lit Monthly its always a positive review. IF Lit Monthly reviewed shit it would pontificate about its marvelous texture, its spiritual smell, and its great power to provide warmth.

Let me tell you about DART, and it aint going to be pretty.

First of all, let me just say that I support a strong DART system. I do. I want there to be more trains, more bus routes, and therefore more funding. The reason I want this is because I want DFW to be able to be green. Realistically.

I also want to commend DART for finally putting bike racks on the buses, and bike hooks on the trains, a lot of the inefficiencies of using DART can be circumvented by riding a bus or a train within biking distance of your destination. Though the coexistence of DART and biking still needs to be improved upon.

Let me just shoot this out in a list. Lets call it, reasons why DART sucks.

1.) Security. My number one beef with DART is security. Now not all routes are created equal. If you take the Red line from the Arapaho station in Richardson to any of the stops north into Plano you are going to have a pleasant ride. You really will. The buses are also not as bad as the trains, my personal experiences tend to be primarily with the Red Line and the TRE. But I am told that the Blue line is even worse than what I will now describe.

I have nicknamed the Redline between downtown and the Spring Valley station the Race War. I know this is going to be sensitive commentary, but I don't want to soften the facts.

When riding this route I have often been treated rudely by young men, had my personal space deliberately invaded when there was plenty of space around, I have had young men get in my face like they wanted to fight and start rapping along with their MP3 Players. When riding this route I have had young men approach me in groups and ask me what I would do if they stabbed me. When I have had friends riding this route they have been the target of small impromptu hate rallies against "The White Man" when they were alone and surrounded by a group of antagonists. I have had friends violently assaulted for being white. The aggressors are always young African American men. It seems that hostility towards whites is the motive, which is utterly depressing.

This is the treatment you can expect when paying to ride DART.

I have lived in West Harlem, where black supremacists preach openly. BUT ... I have never been treated as badly, rudely, or felt as concerned for my safety under racial provocation as I have on the Red line between Downtown and the Spring Valley station.

There are also DART bus stops that are unbelievably unsafe. For example the bus stops in front of the Parkland hospital is little better than a homeless camp, and not with the kinds of homeless people you find on a Lifetime movie. Real homeless people, the type who prefer crack or meth to a roof over their heads. Now the scary homeless folks in front of Parkland came in a rainbow of colors, and themselves did not seem to discriminate in their constant panhandling, and other sketchy behavior. Including one I saw threaten to kill a gas station attendant for asking the guy to quit standing around watching the football game.

DART has its own police station, its own police department. Yet the only time I see them is when they are checking for passes on the trains. Maybe the emphasis needs to be on keeping the peace. I believe if the DART PD made it a priority they could really clean up these concerns, but the priorities are off.

If I felt safe on DART I would want to ride it a whole lot more.

2.) DART is too fucking slow. For me to drive from Irving to Downtown Dallas is about 20 minutes. For me to take DART from my place in Irving to Downtown Dallas is about an hour and a half. That means a 3 hour round trip. Unacceptable.

To take DART to Plano or Richardson is 2 hours one way. Thats a four hour roundtrip, there are people who could probably do Austin and back in 4 hours.

This means that if you want to have an active social life, and you want to take advantage of the variety of cool groups and activities in the Metroplex, you are likely to spend more time on DART then where you are trying to go.

3.) DART stops running at midnight on most routes.

DART has the potential to drastically reduce drunk driving, but not if you are looking at a long ride and the rides quit at midnight. You are going to have to leave the bar by midnight in the best case scenarios. For my favorite bars I would have to leave at ten or earlier.

DART should run all night, and there should be an active campaign to reduce drunk driving by increasing DART use.

4.) DART drastically reduces its routes on the weekends.

This is when I go out. Sucks to be me. Once recently I took the DART to Wal Mart on a Sunday evening at 6 pm, to run a simple errand. I didn't double check the schedule but it turns out that I missed the last bus, which came before 7 pm. This was followed by a 7 mile 3 hour walk home.

This is the reality of DART in DFW. There is no sugar coating it.

There are good things about DART. And I am riding it almost every day right now due to my loss of car. My whole complaints about the trains are for the most part not true on the buses or the TRE. I also meet nice people on the bus, and often have good conversation. After my stay in New York I can say that our trains are competitive with the legendary New York system for travel time to comparable distances. Though in New York I was never afraid for my safety. And I rode in Harlem and the Bronx.

Yet that does not outweigh the negatives. Especially being concerned for my safety, and worse yet the safety of my wife. I am far more comfortable with something bad happening to me than her. I ride the trains with a powerful stun baton in my backpack now.

I have regularly visited LA, which is a city that is laid out in similar way to DFW. They have buses that focus on main streets. I think DFW could benefit from this. We need a Beltline route and a loop 12 route that just rides these circles in both directions 24/7. A route like this for any streets that bisect Dallas would be good too.

We need more trains. I am very happy about the Green Line. I am looking forward to finally riding it. I also think we need a train that follows the 635.

The T in Ft. Worth needs to become part of DART and all of the surrounding communities that have heavy commuting as well. I used to have to get from Lewisville to Garland every day without a car. It was a nightmare. I had to get the Carrolton transit station every day, 8 miles from my house to enter the DART system. To use the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) I would have had to pay almost as much as a car payment to use both systems, and thats with a month pass. Arlington should have to pay a million dollar fine for not having a transportation system every year they stubbornly screw up. This city has UTA for chrissakes! If you have a big university you need a bus system!

If we did these things, along with my other suggestions, then we could realistically ask metroplexians to reduce the use of their cars. Until then the DART vehicles will continue to deserve the nickname Dallasites gave them a long time ago "The Loser Cruiser."

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