Fort Worth Weekly had an interesting article about the demise of the Fort Worth Streetcar. The article attempts to figure out what went wrong. And who went wrong.
From my point of view the article did not quite get to the real reason behind why many thought the Streetcar plan was yet one more Fort Worth Boondoggle in the making. And just did not make sense.
From the article this one paragraph bugged me...
"Fort Worth’s historical attitude of giving little value to mass transit was probably a factor in the decision as well. Funding for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) has also been on the low side compared to other cities, and the accepted view has always been that it’s mostly poor people who ride the bus — another reason the system gets little respect. Thus, better mass transit options have always been considered pretty much off the political radar screen."
Mostly poor people ride the bus? Why is that? And why is that the Fort Worth attitude towards bus riding? I've actually had someone tell me this in person when I opined that I thought riding the Fort Worth buses was fun, due to their theme park like wild ride aspect.
Now, the only other big city bus system that I have used is Seattle's. No one in Seattle would opine that only poor people use the bus.
In the picture above you are looking at the Pioneer Square station in the Seattle bus tunnel. Notice how many buses there are. This was on August 7, 2008. A Thursday, about 3 in the afternoon.
Seattle has a population a little over a half million. Fort Worth has a population over 700,000. Yet Seattle's downtown is way larger than Fort Worth's. There are several vertical malls, several department stores, grocery stores, theaters, two sports stadiums, museums, a symphony hall, Pike Place Market, all sorts of downtown attractions. And a lot of people from one end of downtown to the other, each and every day of the year.
Serving downtown Seattle, public transportation-wise, are surface buses, bus tunnel buses, light rail that runs through the bus tunnel, the SLUT streetcar and the Monorail. You can be at the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle is) hop on the Monorail to Westlake Center (an actual downtown square, unlike Fort Worth's Sundance Square, which is parking lots), take the escalator from the Monorail level to the bus tunnel level and hop on a bus, or train, to take you to the International District's sports stadiums, or stop at any of the other stations, along the way.
All this transit, except for the Monorail and the SLUT streetcar is free. You start paying once you exit downtown.
Is anyone familiar with Fort Worth getting the point I am making here?
I've only touched upon a few of the attractions in downtown Seattle that make public transportation a viable and necessary option. Another reason public transit in downtown Seattle is necessary and viable is because a lot of people live downtown.
Fort Worth's streetcar plan, from what I understood, was that the hope was, build it and the attractions, and people will come. That has worked in some other locales. Like Dallas, Vancouver, Portland and others. But, in Fort Worth, methinks the foundation is way too weak for that sort of dynamic to occur.
I don't believe the "T" currently has bus routes circulating through downtown Fort Worth. Unless you count Molly the Trolley. That fact is rather telling, streetcar need-wise.
What Fort Worth actually needs to do is figure out why there are no vertical malls downtown, no grocery stores, no department stores.
Figure out why Heritage Park is a boarded up eyesore.
Seattle has a park similar to Heritage Park. It also had some problems. I believe a murder was committed in Seattle's Freeway Park. Freeway Park has water features, like Heritage Park did. When Seattle's Freeway Park became a problem Seattle did not put cyclone fence around it and turn off the water features. Seattle fixed the problem.
To my eyes, Fort Worth tends not to actually address its problems. Instead it pretends the problems aren't problems. How long is that embarrassing courthouse annex going to stand? It's been years now since I read it was coming down, with the historic courthouse to be restored to its original glory.
To sum up, in my opinion, Fort Worth needs to figure out why its downtown does not have attractions that attract crowds of people day after day. And necessities (like grocery stores) that would make it a place people want to live. Fort Worth needs to figure out why, on the busiest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving, downtown Fort Worth is a ghost town.
The year that downtown Fort Worth is not a ghost town on the busiest shopping day of the year is the year Fort Worth is actually ready to worry about building transit systems like streetcars.
Watch the video below I made of my Seattle visit of August 7, 2008. I was at Art in the Park in Pioneer Square (yet one more of Seattle's actual town squares). I walked to Westlake Center, then went into the bus tunnel. In the video you'll see one of Seattle's buses, on the surface, going by Westlake Center. In the bus tunnel you will see big, articulated buses, a lot of them, with a lot of people on board. You will notice that the bus I am on is standing room only. Picture the same scene in Fort Worth. You can't? Can you?
After the bus tunnel video I'll stick in one I made from the same day. Of Pike Place Market. On a summer Thursday afternoon. Make note of how big Pike Place is. In the video you see only a small fraction of the actual scope of the market. And note how many people are milling about. And how most of them look like they've had the air let out of them. You will see a big Texan or two, though.
Also, those who have heard me mention my disgust at how the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and downtown Fort Worth boosters touted Fort Worth's Santa Fe Rail Market as being modeled after Pike Place, well, the Pike Place video sort of shows you why I thought the local newspaper of record was not doing its job, and was pretty much spewing irresponsible propaganda....
And now a short walk through a small part of Pike Place Market...