Councilmember Koop and I traveled to Portland and Seattle last weekend to tour each city’s streetcar system and bicycle infrastructure. Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez (who oversees economic development) and Jay Kline (DART’s streetcar coordinator) joined us.
Both cities have used streetcars as economic catalysts, allowing considerable mixed-use development in depressed areas. The Pearl District in Portland is a great example. Only a few years ago, it was a run-down, crime-ridden warehouse district. Today, it’s a vibrant, clean, mixed-use community with businesses and residences.
Seattle just invested in its first streetcar line, working to accomplish the same thing Portland did. So far, the investment is paying dividends, with a billion dollars of investment popping up along the line.
The streetcar tool can be used in the same way in Dallas. We just have to figure out a way to fund it. I think a Tax Increment Financing District is on the right track, but TIFs have to generate money via economic growth in order to throw off future dollars. And “future” is the key. We need some start-up money NOW to get the line(s) rolling (so to speak), and that really can’t be TIF dollars since those are future dollars. We’re currently working on how we can structure this, but I think we’ve got some real buy-in now that our folks have gotten to talk with out-of-town developers who have created remarkable growth in other cities, and whose developments would not have existed but for the streetcar lines.
Both cities have made significant investments in their bicycle infrastructure. As Dallas becomes more dense, we need to do the same thing. Portland and Seattle recognize that there are different levels of riders, a small percentage who’ll ride anywhere (they’d ride on Central if they could) and at the other end of the spectrum, those who won’t ride anywhere, for any reason. In the middle, there’s a large percentage of people who would ride if there were some level of protection or distance from cars. Portland and Seattle have worked to accommodate both the confident riders and those who want a little more protection. As Dallas moves forward on updating its bike plan (Sheffie and I are chairs), we will explore these different options, and hopefully do some demonstration areas.
I’ll have pictures up later today….