DARTing Around Dallas: A Transit Trip

Over the weekend, I took a trip to investigate Dallas’ DART rail system, spending two days in the city without a car. I didn’t even drive up there. Thanks to the new Megabus service (and $60 cab fare to and from Grand Prairie), I was able to make the nearly 500-mile trip through mass-transit services.

I know what you’re thinking… two days in a strange city with Texas triple-digit heat while my car and it’s life-saving A/C sit idle in Houston? Insane, right?? It actually turned out to be quite the educational experience, and was a great examination of DART and how it’s important service impacts the North Texas region. Here’s what I learned…

At 72 miles and counting, the DART Rail system is the longest light-rail system in the United States. To be clear, by “light rail”, it is mainly referring to the type of vehicles used, as they are not capable of operating at faster speeds than heavy rail modes (such as the NYC subway). But DART is something of a hybrid system. Most of the rail miles are either at-grade (street level) or elevated, but one station is actually a subway which we’ll get to in just a bit. The primary function is as commuter rail between the city and it’s vast suburbs. The system is also expanding rapidly, with a connection to Irving opening this month, an extension into the suburb of Rowlett this December, and a full connection planned to D/FW Airport set for 2014. Either way, for an American city, 72 miles of rail transit is quite the accomplishment.

The light rail is definitely expansive, but still manages to be quite disconnected from some parts of the city. While it does connect downtown to key suburbs of Plano, Garland and Carrollton, the line misses many of the city’s major employment centers. For the ones that are served by the rail line, the stations are often planned in an inconvenient pattern. A good example of this is on the new Green Line. The Inwood station also services Dallas/ Love Field airport, but rather than build a direct terminal connection, DART rail had to settle for an approximate location and run a shuttle between the rail stop and the airport. However, one stop that works extremely well on the Red Line is the Downtown Plano station. It’s built right into the fabric of the city’s historic downtown, and puts you right in the middle of lively shops and scenery. The living area, employment center, and transit connection all converge in harmony at this stop. In other suburbs like Garland and Carrollton, the potential is definitely there for a similar situation. But these areas are mainly connecting a small group of people where they live. Connecting major employment centers would serve a larger number of the D/FW population.

Ah, Cityplace station. The only operating subway station between St. Louis and the West Coast. It is quite a feat of ingenuity and sheer determination on behalf of the people of Dallas, and something they “should” be proud of. As an avid transit enthusiast, It’s really a spectacular thing to behold.

The only problem?? Cityplace, 12 years after its opening, sits virtually empty. The handful of passengers I saw at the station barely justify a project worth hundreds of millions in taxpayer money. It is hurt greatly by the fact that there is very little encouragement to be used as a transit hub except for the bus stops and historic streetcar. But it’s just “far enough away” that it discourages Uptown residents from use, and only serves as a midway between more popular points on the Red and Blue lines, such as Mockingbird Staion or Downtown. The sad truth is, Dallas spent lots of time building a random Subway station, when those millions of hub investment should have been poured into downtown. Yet the downtown stations are at street-level, but easily have 3 times the number of people as Cityplace staion at any point of the day. Given the wary economic climate, it will definitely be an uphill battle if Dallas, and anywhere else in Texas, ever wants to have subway in the future. That fate rested on the rousing success of Cityplace and sadly it has not delivered.

Cityplace Station (friday evening)

Cityplace Station (Saturday)

Another serious issue with DART rail? Fare collection. Yet again another light rail that works on the “honor system” assuming that people will pay their fare to ride. This is true for most people, but a VERY significant number of citizens are riding the rail for free. Even when fare inspectors were present on the train, I didn’t see them write a single citation to fare dodgers. That sends a terrible message to observers by encouraging others to follow suit.

Why is fare collection so important? Because in states like Texas, where any notion public transit is an uphill battle, we need to know the truth about our ridership numbers so that people will understand that these systems are needed and utilized. Of course the obvious? DART is losing money! In my brief trip, I observed at least 40 dodgers in my section of the rail car. Those were just on the select trips that I took. On a daily basis, a conservative estimate on all lines would easily reach the hundreds. So a couple hundred people not paying fares every day?? You do the math.

Though DART Rail is far from perfect, it has given the citizens of D/FW one very important and special gift… true mobility. This is much farther than in the sense of just transit. Because the system covers such a wide area, many citizens who may not have a car are able to travel to places they may not have thought to by bus. Take all of those quaint shops in Downtown Plano for example. Unlike your high-skill employment sectors, jobs in the suburbs may be more easily adaptable to workers that don’t have specialty training. The Red Line and other DART Rail lines make it possible for someone who can’t afford a vehicle to have a safe and reliable way to work, even if they find a job that isn’t so close to their home. By connecting these key suburbs to the city population, Dallas also connects its citizens to more job opportunities. So in the truest sense of the word, DART is able to achieve mobility both from the transit perspective, but also improve quality of life for citizens of all economic classes.

So there’s still some definite work to be done with DART, but I applaud the efforts of the people of D/FW for working hard on transit. They are building the path to a better Dallas, and a better Texas for all.

The Verdict on Healthcare…

Finally the long wait is over. Per SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court has ruled the Affordable Care Act CONSTITUTIONAL by a 5-4 vote. The Healthcare law remains mostly intact.

on the individual mandate:

“The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause,” Roberts wrote. “That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.”

However the court did not agree with the right of Congress to control Medicaid expansion. It allows states to “opt out” if they do not wish to participate in the expansion, while still retaining their current levels of funding without penalty. That’s the only major provision of the law that wasn’t upheld. Here is the link to the full opinion.

Here’s a few reactions via Twitter…

Lawrence O’Donnell calls out “Mirage” Individual Mandate

In what may be the most informative 8 1/2 mins of political punditry in the Health Reform debate, veteran Senate staffer and Left-leaning journalise Lawrence O’Donnell sets the record straight about the so-called “Individual Mandate”. Many Liberals are becoming aware of the hypocrisy from the Right on the mandate, as it was originally a Conservative idea. But Mr. O’Donnell reminds us that the hypocrisy around this idea of the mandate is equally shared by Liberals and the Democratic Party. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama were both fully opposed to an individual mandate at one time, yet that is the bill the Obama administration ended up supporting.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Why Liberals must avoid ‘Savage’ route to equality

Liberal activist Dan Savage is respected for his work as founder of the “It Gets Better” campaign. Make no mistake that this organization has had a huge role in the rapidly changing public opinion of GLBT equality. As a country, we are all better for important projects like this one. But Mr. Savage is also well-known for his “colorful” language from his advice column, and for a long-standing vendetta with GLBT people that are known to be either in the closet, or working against equality.

Just this week the board at GOProud, one of the most prominent GLBT Republican political organizations, officially endorsed Mitt Romney’s candidacy for President. Like many political groups, this was a decision which required a vote. Some members, such as co-founder Chris Barron, admitted to voting against the endorsement, but as a member of the organization he chose to support his party and their candidate.

As a fellow Liberal, I do not agree with GOProud’s endorsement. Mitt Romney has already pledged to toe his party’s far-right line against same-sex marriage and civil unions. He’s even flirted with the possibilities to end or reverse the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. These are terrible setbacks in the fight for equality. Knowing all of this, GOProud’s endorsement was sure to garner attention. Mr. Savage attacked GOProud and has started a bitter war of very foul and disrespectful language. Though I do not support the organizations actions, I also cannot support Mr. Savage and his immature behavior. Ultimately, his actions will do more to harm the fight for equality. He is being used to further existing stereotypes to show how “out of control” the GLBT community is. By attacking organizations like GOProud, Dan Savage fuels the fire that Conservatives can use against the movement.

Before we get caught in a “civil war” within the gay community, it’s important to pause and look at the accomplishments made under the Obama administration. As of this year, we now live in a country where more than 50 million Americans in 8 states recognize same-sex marriage as full and legal. Military soldiers can now serve their country without of dismissal regardless of their sexual orientation. More GLBT couples than ever before are having children and families without fear of scorn from their neighbors. Even in a state like Texas, the city of Houston elected an openly gay mayor, and the GLBT voices in our government continue to grow. And despite what you hear inside the Washington spin zone, support for same-sex marriage is rapidly increasing the country, including within the GOP.

But where we’re also losing ground is in the actions of people like Dan Savage. As a community, we must remember that our fight for GLBT equality is for people of all political stripes, including GOProud. Even if Liberals disagree with them and their decisions, we have to find a way to do so respectfully, and show that what’s most important is that the work for equality moves forward, regardless of which political ideology wins the election. If Mr. Savage took a moment to scroll through his “It Gets Better” site, he’d be reminded that the gay community is the most diverse community on the planet. By design, that diversity also includes politics. For the rest of the Liberals, let’s not forget that there are very real and tangible threats to the struggle for equality, and they lie in the Right-wing fringes. Every minute that the GLBT community spends attacking each other, is a minute more that terrors like Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association and One Million Moms can plot against us.

Baracks Dubs strikes again: Boyfriend by Justin Bieber

So it turns out that President Obama is getting a lot of YouTube views lately, but they’re not from the whitehouse channel. The latest viral craze is BaracksDubs… mash-ups of the President “singing” some popular songs. Here’s the latest video of “Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber…

Maybe this would be worth a try for the election campaign? Just a thought

Mitt’s “Model” SB1070? Umm, Not so much

Well finally we’re getting some hotly anticipated news from the US Supreme Court. In yet another 5-3 decision (Justice Elena Kagan did not participate), the court has struck down major portions of Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law. Major news from this is that it preserves the right of the Federal Government to determine and enforce legal status, and it cannot be claimed by states. In that regard, today’s ruling is considered a “big win” for the Obama Administration.

From the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy read that “the national government has significant power to regulate immigration” and that states “may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” This means that Arizona does not have the right to determine immigration status without the Federal Government.

But one key provision of the law was upheld by the court. Police officers that suspect a person committing a crime can also inquire about their immigration status. But per the decision, they cannot make that determination without Federal Authority.

So if the Obama Administration wins, there has to be a loser, right? Of course, and that loser is Mitt Romney. Lest we forget that he referred to SB 1070 as a “model for the nation”. I suspect those comments will continue to haunt him between now and November.

The ABCs of the GOP: G is for

Game Plan

Say what you want about the Republican Party, but there are a whole host of things that they are VERY good at. The level of cohesion and consistency with which they execute their directives is admirable, if not enviable. Often times in interviews and speeches, GOP politicians sound like a “broken record” because they rarely deviate from the script, and this script comes from the party leadership. They’re also extremely sore losers.

After their decisive defeat in 2008, Republicans crafted a plan of historic proportions to make Obama a “one-term President”. The 2010 elections marked the halfway point to that conquest, and boy did it work. The approach was comprehensive, passionate, and delivered to the most minute detail.

Remember the “Fire Pelosi” bus tour? “Fire Pelosi” bumper stickers, campaign signs, pins and hats? It was a bold calculation by then RNC chairman Michael Steele to go after the Speaker of the House, and it was marvelously orchestrated. Rep. Nancy Pelosi became more hated than anyone else in Washington, and, perhaps most importantly, she bacame a house-hold name that left a bad taste in one’s mouth. The general public, even those that didn’t follow politics, knew that in order to “Fire Pelosi” you had to vote the Democrats out of the House. The phrase was everywhere in 2010, and the campaign was so successful in fact that it helped raise millions of dollars for the RNC. Even back in March of 2010, “Fire Nancy Pelosi” was trending on Google!! It’s a testament to the effectiveness with which the GOP apparatus operates. Who cares if the message wasn’t predicated in truth or facts? It WORKED.

Seen any “Fire Boehner” materials this year? That’s because that campaign doesn’t exist. Do we need to be reminded who won in 2010??

Of course even Nancy Pelosi was not Grand Ole Enemy No. 1… that will always be President Obama. Their pledge to obstruct, weaken and destroy his policies has been the main objective, even when it hurts their damages their credibility by having to abandon previous positions. As the GOP is well aware, President Obama isn’t the far-left socialist they proclaim him to be. Many of the ideas and policies he supports were started by Republicans. This is true for the Dream Act, Cap and Trade legislation, and even the individual mandate. As journalist Ezra Klein points out in a recent New Yorker column, “Indeed, with the exception of raising taxes on the rich, virtually every major policy currently associated with the Obama Administration was, within the past decade, a Republican idea in good standing.” What they know very well is that in order for Obama to be the enemy, they must oppose him at every turn. They have placed party loyalty above our struggling economy, governing our nation, and even their own moral character. The GOP game plan is above all… especially in an election year.

Hopefully the President is starting to figure this out. But what about the rest of the Democratic Party? Dems are making a big mistake by hoping that the GOP will suddenly grow a conscience and play fair. So it’s high time that they play dirty. Liberals and Democrats should be calling out GOP hypocrisy at every turn. They should encourage left-leaning media sources to give equal treatment to their fallacies. But most importantly, the left has got to fight the money, ad and social media wars. At any given time of day, it’s apparent that Twitter has “more Conservatives than liberals”. But is this really the case? Probably not… but the Conservatives are more disciplined and tweet in concert so that their arguments dominate the Twittersphere. The GOP’s game plan is effective because they have put the time and effort in to perfect it. In the age of 24-hr news and a barrage of information, Liberals can no longer rely on facts and better argument to carry them through to election day. They need to get some real skin in the political game. Just remember Dems… the game clock is ticking, and pretty soon it will run out.

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