Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Downtown Plano

Well, as promised my wife and I went on a journey via DART train to Downtown Plano. Though the area is small, there was considerable life to be had. Several shops were open, as well as the Austrian restaurant that we set out to try. We walked from our house to the Pearl Street Station because my wife refused to ride a bus (FYI the station is about 1 mile away). During the entire walk to the station, there were a string of complaints about having to take the DART to Plano rather than driving.

We finally boarded the train and were on our way. As the train progressed north, more and more passengers disembarked. On the way, I pointed out the Park Road Development to my wife (One would hardly notice it otherwise). 30 minutes later (which I stress because driving probably would have taken about as long) we finally arrived in Downtown Plano. The area is like an old fashioned downtown from Small Town, USA.

Immediately next to the station is a 'medium density' residential development similar to what is all the rage in Uptown. One small block over was the main drag, with several art and antiuque shops. Though we are not that into antiques or vintage stuff, it was still nice to see anyway. There were some interesting art pieces in the storefronts of some of the shops.

The Austrian restaraunt was very good, good beer too. Afterwards, we found a small wine shop which had wines for sampling. The wine lady (not sure if I should call her a wine master) was very polite and helpful, and allowed us to sample some wines from Argentina and Texas. We bought a couple of bottles and headed back to the station.

We were having such a good time that we decided to stop at Mockingbird Station for a couple of margaritas. By the end of the day, we both enjoyed the experience.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Park Road Development

I am back from the Park Road development. When reading about this thing, I was under the impression that it was a TOD (Transit Oriented Development). I now realize that the term is used loosely. A couple of the articles that I read, including one from DART, celebrated this new 750 million dollar development, stating that it would be a catylist for change in the Five Points area and along Park Road. Some readers posting on 'Unfair Park' were quick to remind readers that the area has had the greatest number of violent crimes in Dallas for the last couple of years. The areas on the other side of the tracks (literally) from the development thus far look unchanged. Of course, the development is new and change takes time.

I had read that there would be some kind of connection between the Park Lane station and this new development, that some kind of walkway would connect directly to a plaza or mezzanine. No such connection exists, and there was no sign of a connection being built. Instead, pedestrians get to cross Park Lane on foot, and walk back under the tracks to a drive in front of a parking garage.

The development seems to diminish its' own presence, and the interior where most of the shops and restaraunts will be is not directly accessible. As an anecdote, when I was leaving the office to travel to the location, my coworker asked me where this development was, to which I replied "the big parking garage with apartments across from the mall."Initially I found my self wandering the art school campus that was left in tact, which was private and unassuming. There were no straight paths or views out to the surrounding area. After walking through pleasantly shaded plazas on the campus, I finnaly arrived at the main street of the development.

The buildings are handsome, a kind of post modern style with a splash of Texas Hill Country chic. from every building and frontage rose the tops of parking structures. Being a self-styled post modernist myself, I appreciated the honesty and dimantling of the myth that the store facades created. Most of the shops were vacant, though the Dick's Sporting Goods was open, as well as a Nordstrom Rack. The steet scape was very nice, every detail seemed appropriate down to the benches, planters and street lights. The street plan is essentially a crucifix, with the long leg parallel to Highway 70, and the short leg dying abruptly at the dart rail. It was strange to see such a dense fabric stop dead at the tracks. It was almost like a clif's edge that you dare not cross.

With no shortage of parking available, it seems as though public transportation was the last thought on the developer's mind. Just about every acre not occupied by street housed a parking garage of some order. Also, I noticed no shuttles running between the Northpark Mall and PRD. Perhaps the service simply hasn't started yet, or maybe there isn't enough yet to see in PRD to justify the expense. Overall, the development was nice, but the pedestrian approach is uncerimonious to say the least. I suppose that a TOD is nothing more than something you wouldn't mind walking to from a train station. By that logic, the arts district could be considered a TOD, or any other number of developments.

Perhaps I am jaded, but judging by this development, 750 million dollars doesn't buy much in the way of a great development.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Tap For This Weekend

My wife just informed me that my cousin and some of her friends want to have a girls night out, so I will be on my own tomorrow. So I have made a plan for the evening, begining with a trip to Cedars and the absinthe house down there for happy hour. After a couple of drinks, I will go up to the Park Lane Development just to see it. If it is anything near as cool as the website says it is, then I should be in for a real treat. I think that most shops and restaraunts will be open in the summer, but the streetscapes should be in place, and I would like to see what a 3/4 Billion dollar development looks like!

After that, it will be on to dinner. I have not selected the locale yet, but I know that there are a couple of restaraunts in the area of Park Lane, and if that doesn't pan out, there are restaraunts at Mockingbird Station, Cityplace or the West End that would all be good.

For Saturday, weather permitting, we will take the train up to Downtown Plano and try this Austrian restaraunt there that everyone says is great, and see some of the shops up there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Brief Cost Analysis

I think everybody likes to see a dollar benefit comparison from public transportation versus personal transportation. Well, here's mine:

My car (on a good day) has a fuel efficiency of 28 miles per gallon. My daily commute would be about 4 miles round trip every day. This means that for a daily commute, I would consume .14 gallons of gas. Not bad! This multiplied by 20 gives an average monthly gas consumption of about 2.85 gallons a month for getting to and from work. Now, take this and multiply by the cost per gallon of gas, currenly around $1.85 and I have a monthly cost of about $5.29

To put this number in perspective, I would have to work roughly 16 minutes per month to afford my gas. Now before I continue, I should mention that my public transportation pass is $25 a month, so thus far public transportation seems like a bad deal. The real cost of commuting to work is in parking the car. Downtown Dallas doesn't let you park for free, there are metered spots, which are not appropriate for 8 hours a day, then there are pay lots. The cheapest is one with a price negotiated by my office for $25 dollars a month. So add this in, and now my public transportation saves me $5 dollars a month! (I just got 15 minutes of my life back!)

The public transportation is also pre-tax so the real cost is likely somewhere around $22. All of these numbers are conservative. My car is probably not as efficient in the city as 28 MPG, so all the better for public transportation. One other benefit is that I recieve a discount on my insurance for utilizing public transportation more. I wish I knew the actual dollar amount...

The next factor in cost is time. I used to walk to work every day, and it took me about 25 minutes to get there, a little longer to get back because of vehicular traffic. If I leave the house at 7:15, I can usually be at the office by 7:40, so 25 minutes. Getting home, because of the bus schedule, takes me roughly 35 minutes (right on par with walking to our previous residence)Driving myself, as I do on occasion due to inclement weather, I can get parked and in the office in about 20 minutes. So to me, the issue is a wash. It just happens to take a while to get there, even within 2 miles of my office.

Simply put, until traffic and commute times get worse, the public transportation will probably be no more or less efficient. However, for remote cities like Plano or Garland, the idea of a trouble free 'park and ride' commute would be a tremendous added benefit. To me, it would be worth it to avoid all of the crazy drivers in Dallas!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Train and a Haircut

Yesterday, I went to get a haircut after work, taking the train to Uptown from the West End. This was very convenient. However, my wife had to pick me up after on her way home from work. Otherwise, it probably would have taken me 30 minutes to get home when a 5 minute car ride would have sufficed.

This kind of brings me to an idea I've been kicking around with regards to transportation and planning. I call this idea 'Rail Scale' (not to be confused with 'Whale Tail') Trains are extremely helpful in hyperlocal transportation, like Downtown Dallas where each station is no more than about a quarter mile from the next, or in semi-regional transporation where each station is a couple of miles apart (like all the park and rides starting with Mockingbird Station in the north) and is supplemented by either parking for commuters or access to transfer stations for busses. These are of course less convenient, which is why I think the park and ride structure is a smart one and will become more popular in the coming years.

I have long said that adding lanes to a highway are a bit like adding another notch in a fat persons' belt. The only answer to releiving traffic from the street perspective is to add more streets in parallell. Multiplicity of strees if you will. Since Dallas is out of room, and there is a strong movement by the amalgamation of cities in Dallas county to slooooooooow traffic down in their towns, this seems more and more impossible. Not to mention that there is only so much expansion room for the other highways. Leftover options are to 'double up' and stack highways, try to expand existing highways, time lights etc.

I suspect that the growth of the area will exceed the capacity of these roads, and that ridership on public transportation will likely increase, with the park-and-ride as the crowning jewel. It's not the utopian system that EcoNazis dream of, where every man is set equal by their reliance on public transportation to save mother Gaia, but I think its a great free-market idea, letting those who think it's worth it make use of transportation, and letting nature take its course.

Let's be honest, there is a price to be paid in exhange for less fuel consumed, fewer hours in gridlock traffic, and that price is time and flexibility. It simply takes longer to get from A to B, and requires more planning to time connections or rides. As the equation changes, this price will seem all the more reasonable to more and more people.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wonderlust

Not really one of my better stories, but when I first moved to Dallas, I would on occasion go out drinking with my co-workers. At that time, I walked to work nearly every day, so I didn't drive to happy hour, but rather would hitch a ride with a friend. One night, some people decided to go to a bar on Knox-Henderson, way out of my striking distance on foot, or so I thought.

A couple of Maredsous later, I decide that I need to get home to my wife. Nobody in the bar really looked interested in leaving, so I slipped out of a side door. On a side note, Dallas is not an easy town to navigate. It is a quiltwork of grids that each face a different direction and it is very easy to get turned around, or think that you're headed in the right direction when that may in fact not be the case. Luckily for me, Highway 75 was near by and easy enough to find.

After stumbling, somewhat intoxicated, across a couple of heavily trafficked intersections, I decide that I need to get my ass on a train. Regrettably, there is no train station anywhere nearby, so I start walking south along the highway, knowing that I would eventually come accross Cityplace. Though my recollection of the proceding events are hazed by my state of sobriety or lack thereof, I believe that I walk about as far as I can stand and notice a McDonalds, and damnit, I want some Chicken McNuggets! I go in and have my fill, and then contemplate calling my wife for a ride home. That would have been the rational thing to do, especially given my state. However, greater forces prevailed and I decide to resume my journey.

I finally reach Cityplace and begin my descent underground to the station. I can't help but notice unsavory looking characters hanging around, sleeping on steps or park benches. But I was drunk, and probably thought I could take them in a fight if I had to. This is where things got a little confusing.

I never actually recall getting on the train. A rare blackout for me. The next thing I remember is being jarred awake by jerky stop at the Pearl Street station. Personally I thank God for the clarity in that moment, for the wisdom to disembark the train there, and not somewhere past Union Station. I step out and look around, being the architect I look up (naturally) and see the Adams Mark Hotel. Where the hell am I? I picked a direction and started to walk. Luckily, I saw a bright lit square upon the One Arts Building and was able to find my way back to the apartment. My wife was shocked at my stupidity. In retrospect, so am I.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Buses

A couple of thoughts on DART

-The people who ride are really nice to me, until they find out that I don't carry cash.

-The buses are clean, if a little stale smelling.

-One time, the roof hatch on the bus leaked on my pants. Yes, I'm sure it was the roof hatch.

-If the passengers don't talk to you, chances are good they aren't looking for a handout. Ironically, these are probably the people you would rather be talking to. (see note above)

-Taking the DART does take more time than simply driving. Most of this extra time is simply waiting for the bus/train to show up.

-Times aren't all together inconvenient, though locations of stops and stations can be.

-Bus routes are confusing.

Trip to Nowhere


Though this was some time ago, I am reminded of a time when my wife had to work very late, and so I was on my own for dinner. With my office being only three blocks from a train station, and since I was walking home every day at that time, I decided to travel to a new venue and try something different. At first, I was thinking about going to Mockingbird Station. There are some good restaraunts there, as well as ice cream. And I am a man who loves his ice cream. So I hop on a blue line train and off I went. En route to Mockingbird, I glanced over at the diagram of all the train stops for the line, and I noticed that the line ended at Downtown Garland. Perfect!

Surely, there are all sorts of cool restaraunts in downtown Garland, right? So we finally pull into the station (I was about the only person left on the train anyway) As I disembark, I notice on the schedule that service is infrequent and that there aren't many evening trains that head back to Dallas. Making a mental note, I head into town. As I walk, it becomes very obvious that there is no one there. The place is like a ghost town. All of the stores are closed. None of the restaurants were open. There was even an old style town square a la Back to the Future style, sans the people.

Moral of the story? Downtown Garland sucks, don't go there. Thats it. Those are 60 minutes of my life I will never get back. And I will never forget...

First Adventures in Public Transportation


I suppose now is as good a time as any to explain the purpose of this blog. In short, growing up in Baton Rouge, there never was a truly robust public transportation system that everybody used. It is a driving town, and will probably remain so for years. Not that I have a problem with that, its just not dense enough, the commutes not painful enough...yet. My wife and I moved to Dallas about two years ago, and we have lived near the center of town. Since we just moved, I will finally have to be reliant upon public transportation. My reasons are simple: I don't want to pay for a parking spot at work, I like saving money on gas and I like the added excercise.

I am an Architectural intern, and in school was and at work am constantly subjected to intellectual discussions of the city, and sooner or later the topic turns to public transportation. The largest proponets are EcoNazis, who I think have no idea what relying on public transportation is like. Most, I imagine, have never and will never ride a bus if they can help it. I am not an EcoNazi, and I don't use public transportation to save the earth, just to get to and from work, and on occasion, other destinations. My goal is to have a 'Public Transportation Adventure' every two weeks, or twice a month.

So without further adieu, the first adventure...

Yesterday, I had to personally deliver three rather large architectural models to a site in San Antonio. I rented a car in Dallas, drove it down, and dropped it off and flew back to Dallas. Upon arriving in Dallas, My boss needed to leave immediately to pick up his two kids from daycare. I called my wife to let her know I had touched down, and she offered (wisely I might add) to pick me up after getting off work. Her office is not too far from the DFW airport. I said 'no, don't hassle yourself, it's cold and rainy and traffice will be terrible.' She insisted and so did I, and eventually I won. I knew there was a shuttle to the Centerport station where a train could take me back to Dallas. The shuttle was there waiting when I exited the terminal, and I boarded.

I was the only one on the shuttle, apparently remote parking and trains are none to popular in DFW. I arrived at the remote station and transfered over to a shuttle for Centerport. When we arrived, there was little to behold. The station was more like a light rail station with some undersized coverings (it was very cold and raining sideways), and roughly three people waiting including myself. During the ride, I erroneously interpreted the train schedule and thought that an eastbound train would be by shortly. Unfortunately, I was looking at morning times, and the train didn't arrive for another 25 minutes.

When the train finally arrived, I welcomed the warmth and dryness on the inside. The train was clean and well lit, and punctual. There were only two passengers in my car. Thirty minutes later, we were in Dallas as promised, pulling into Union Station. I love it when things are on time! I promptly moved over to the nex platform to catch a DART rail up to the east transfer station downtown. I glanced at the schedule for the bus route I use, and realized that I would be cutting it close, or I would have to wait another thirty minutes in the rain for the next bus. When the train pulled into the Pearl Street station, I ran like hell to make it to the transfer station. The transfer is a city block away, so in the process, I was soaked in the pouring rain.

Freezing my ass off, I happily boarded the bus, all the while thinking of how to apologize to my better half. A few minutes later, I reached my stop and walked home in the cold rain. My wife was staring at me through the door shaking her head :P All told, the trip took about an hour and a half, though it would have been shorter had my plane landed on time. As the experience goes, I would only recommend this route to the airport on a few conditions. First, that you have plenty of time to wait on various modes of transportation (I had to make four transfers to different systems). The TRE line is definately the limiting factor here, because it runs infrequently. Second, that you are travelling light. Any more than a carry on and this trip would be a workout you don't want. Third, and finally, that the weather is nice. Nice enough that you would take a leisurly walk in the park. In general, be familiar with the schedule of your route. None of the systems mesh perfectly and try to avoid close calls. It's better to wait fifteen minutes than to experience the frustration of missing your ride by fifteen seconds (I know, its happend to me before)