If anyone had told me when I first moved to Dallas in 1976 that there would be light rail here within in my lifetime I’d have laughed.  At the time only a handful of U.S. cities had light rail, almost all of them east of the Mississippi.

Today I live within walking distance of DART Rail’s Mockingbird Station, my portal to over 70 miles

Dallas’s Mockingbird Station

of track connecting 55 stations.  Its puts me within easy reach of healthcare at Baylor Dallas (4 stops), Texas Health/Presbyterian (3 stops), and UT Southwestern (8 stops).  I’m within also within a no-drive range of events at Victory (6 stops), Arts Plaza (2 stops), and Fair Park (5 stops), as well as of restaurants and entertainment at West End (5 stops), Southside (7 stops) and Deep Ellum (3 stops).  I often take my bicycle on the train to access biking trails otherwise beyond my reach, and to get to and from stations quickly and conveniently.  When the DART Orange line is completed in 2014, DFW International will join Dallas Love Field as a rail-accessible airport.

DART Rail might well not have happened because the “obvious” benefits of light rail had failed to move Dallasites until the last century had drawn nearly to a close. The few rails carrying trolleys and inter-urban trains were deserted and removed or repurposed soon after serious freeway construction began in 1948.  Most Texans migrated directly to automobiles from horses; both seemed better suited to the wide open spaces.  Texans also seemed to lack the herd mentality to queue up for the next train, and the pedestrian mind-set to walk to and from stations.  So what if rail schedules were more reliable than fickle freeway traffic and rail fare far cheaper than driving and parking a car?  So what if rail reduced pollution and was safer?  So what if urban rail was a game-changer for the many large households with two few cars… or those with no car at all?

What finally moved Dallas leadership to action is that highways can only carry so much traffic before further growth is choked off and cities can only expand outward; Dallas was in danger of becoming the hole in the donut of its far-flung suburbs’ increasing prosperity and prominence.  A vibrant central business district is dependent on urban rail to deliver its workforce daily.  As the cost of

Dallas’s Pearl Station

single-family housing in desirable urban neighborhoods becomes increasingly unaffordable, condos and apartments will fill the gap as long as light rail lets them put fewer cars on the streets.  One has only to look at the blocks surrounding more mature DART Rail stations like CityPlace, Mockingbird, and Cedars to see a big uptick in new apartment construction and the retail goods and services that follow it, many of them ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses.  Mass transit can be a powerful engine of redevelopment.

The combination of mass transit and affordable urban housing breeds communities that cut across divisions of race and class.  Adding a healthcare institution to this mix puts the process on steroids.  The DART Rail Baylor Station is the hub of  redevelopment that’s doing more to revitalize Deep Ellum and adjacent neighborhoods than decades of failed initiatives.  Maple Avenue is being transformed by the intersection of DART Rail with UT Southwestern.  The same goes for the intersection of educational institutions and rail; the day is not far away when UNT students will be able to ride urban rails from the Denton campus to the South Dallas campus.

To my great delight, I’ve found that it’s at last truly possible to live an urban lifestyle in Dallas, Texas, and light rail is an important part of the reason.