Archive for the ‘Streetcars’ Category

Realities and Misconceptions about Downtown

October 13, 2009
There is always a lot of talk about what needs to happen to keep the momentum going in Downtown Dallas. But what you inevitably hear and read are an undercurrent of naysayers bemoaning the same factors for why downtown will never return to its past glory. The homeless. The tunnels. The (fill in the blank).
In my opinion, these are not reasons to ignore downtown.  I don’t see them as barriers to the recovery of downtown Dallas.

Yes, there are homeless people in Downtown Dallas. Unfortunately, there are going to be homeless people in every downtown in every major city. A good friend of mine in real estate made an interesting statement about the homeless, which was “if you had more people downtown, you wouldn’t notice the homeless because they would blend in with everyone else.”  When you compare Dallas to other cities, there are not a lot of homeless people.  I have seen cities with a much higher population of homeless revitalize their downtown. What city lets 10-15 people walking around during the day asking for change affect what is going to happen in a given part of town? See how much sense that makes? The people that don’t travel downtown because of the homeless folks probably will never come downtown anyway.
There is a need for improved lighting, but that will come with time. Also, applications are starting to arrive for video boards, which will provide a little flash to the major downtown streets.
What I really here are a bunch of excuses.
These are really excuses for people that wouldn’t invest, shop, or live downtown in the first place. Yet, some business owners have built downtown to great success.
7-Eleven opened at Commerce & Field. They didn’t say they couldn’t be successful because of the tunnels or anything else.  Try going in the store anytime during the day; there’s always several people in line or moving about the store. I would guess that it’s one of their more successful stores in Dallas.
The Joule Hotel is right in the middle of Main Street. They didn’t say that you couldn’t have a high-end hotel because a few homeless people are walking by the building. It’s a successful place.
Another reality: we’re stuck with the tunnels.  Most of the stores in the tunnels provide basic retail functions. They are a cash generator for the building owners and it’s probably too cost prohibitive to close the tunnels.  Philadelphia has an entire network of tunnels full of similar retail shops; so does Houston. In fact, in Houston the tunnels are marketed as an amenity, and some of them are open at night.
I have a different take on the tunnels than most.  We should look at the tunnels more as an asset and part of the overall strategy. Attract higher-level retail at the street level and leave the rest in the tunnels.  I’m sure the tunnels have lower rent costs, which would allow an aspiring business owner to strike out on his own and move to a street-level space once they have enough business.
I also disagree with the current alignment of the downtown streetcar. In my opinion, the route completely cuts off Deep Ellum from the rest of downtown. It’s a great route for the Arts district, but not for anywhere else.
I know that Deep Ellum is listed as a “potential extension,” but there are great businesses there now.  The main streets have multiple lanes that would be conducive to a streetcar.  How cool would it be to leave your office during lunch, hop the streetcar down to Twisted Root or Lemongrass or St. Pete’s, and get lunch? It also would show out-of-town Arts District patrons about this great alternative retail and restaurant scene right in the middle of our city.  Maybe just throw Deep Ellum a bone by having the train stretch to Good Latimer and Commerce,  circle back to Main and then continue north at Harwood Street.
If it’s impossible to build this route, then they should simultaneously look at a route for Deep Ellum.
The other funny thing is the people that are worried about driving on the streetcar tracks. Do you know how to drive? Seriously. As with a lot of things in Dallas, we want the amenities without any hassle. Well, the real world (which includes the cities to which we compare ourselves) works a little bit different.
It’s all about how you look at the situation.  Dallas has certain realities that must be dealt with downtown, but we should look at them more as opportunities than excuses not to invest, to shop, and to live.

More on Downtown Streetcars

January 26, 2009

I watched the briefing today regarding downtown streetcars, and it triggered a couple of additional thoughts.

When you start looking at the streetcar as a way to increase property values and development, why wouldn’t it go into the more undeveloped sections of central Dallas? The parts where most of the maps are drawn in the briefing are getting redeveloped on their own. I didn’t see any streetcar lines being considered for Deep Ellum or the Farmers Market.

With respect to DART, I hope that all rail lines are funded for southern Dallas and to DFW Airport before streetcars are funded.

Downtown Streetcars?

January 26, 2009

A lot has been written regarding the possibility of streetcars, and they are now being discussed by the Transportation Committee at City Council. I’m not the biggest fan of streetcars in downtown Dallas, although my mind is not completely closed on the issue.

I hope that if downtown streetcars are approved that they do not travel down Main or Elm Street.

You can’t have parking meters and streetcars in a given direction when you only have two lanes. Add the DART buses, which most times do not pull into the proper lane when making stops, and you’ve got yourself a traffic disaster. Don’t forget about our beloved valet parking services.

Traffic is already bad on Main Street. Drive down Main Street on any weekend or during rush hour and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Maybe the parking meters should get the axe before we even consider more streetcar routes.