by Eric Miller, August 2012
Dallas has a new light rail line! The Orange Line, which will eventually connect the city with DFW airport, saw its first day of public service July 30. For now it only goes as far as the Irving Convention Center, but will reach DFW sometime in 2014.
My first ride went short of the recently constructed convention center. I rode from Uptown to a place called Las Colinas, where the words "Urban Center" are stamped into the platform. That's a grand name for a place so close to the Big D, but it is gradually developing into a walkable urban center of sorts that just might turn into a nice place to live.
The planned community of Las Colinas was developed in the 1970s by cattle ranching millionaire Ben H. Carpenter. At the time it was the largest mixed-use development in the South. In the 1980s it became a popular landing place for relocating companies, but the housing portion has picked up considerably recently, and will no doubt be helped by the new Orange Line stop.
It didn't seem like it would be difficult to walk from the Urban Center station to any number of apartment complexes. A number of connecting bus routes indicated that a transfer, if needed, would not be difficult. The area is quite pleasant and livable, except for the fact that it is lacking in retail, especially near the new station. I expect that may improve some time soon, but for now there was not so much as a soda machine wehre you could buy a drink—or even a water fountain.
Las Colinas could benefit from the construction of something akin to Southlake Town Center. A large open parcel next to the train stop would also make an excellent spot for a walkable retail district, and go a long way to giving this "mixed-use" development a healthy mix.
I did not go to the last stop, the Irving Convention Center, because I had read that the station is actually some distance from the center and that the walk between the stop and the center is less than ideal. I had no reason to go there anyway, and stopping at Urban Center for some photos and waiting for the train to return on its was back to Dallas was the better option.
The other important stop along the is Love Field. Having two airports in a city connected (think O'hare and Midway in Chicago) will be a major benefit to the DFW region. It was obvious that the Love Field Stop was not actually in Love Field, however, and a connector bus was required for the final leg. That of course makes using the system less attractive.
When people ask me why I live in Dallas and not Fort Worth, I tell them one of the reasons is the public transportation. Dallas is investing in and expanding light rail, while Fort Worth continues to rely on buses. And wouldn't you know it: Fort Worth ranks among the lowest in transit use among U.S. cities. Within a few years Dallas transit users are expected to be able to change from the Orange Line to a train at DFW to go to Fort Worth, Grapevine and other destinations. Getting around within Fort Worth will continue to be a problem, however.
Connecting the airport by fixed-rail transit is important for any city. The cities with rail connections at the airport are the most pleasant to travel to. Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, and Portland, Oregon, come to mind. Then there are the cities that make it nearly impossible to get downtown from the airport without renting a car or hailing a cab. New Orleans and Los Angeles come to mind.
The Orange Line will be a boost to Las Colinas and the Irving Convention Center. The connection to the airport will be a boon to Dallas and the entire region.
Text and photos by Eric Miller