Showdown: Commuting by Car Or by DART. Who Wins?

My move to The Dallas Morning News this year happened quickly. It required me to move to Texas a month ahead of my family to start work and get settled in. Since that time I have had the opportunity to drive to the office in downtown Dallas and to use the light rail option offered by DART.I rented an apartment in the Walnut Hill area. At first I drove every day.Having spent the last five years in the Atlanta area, I was acquainted with the terrible traffic. Atlanta's MARTA rail system works well for people in the city of Atlanta, but not for people in the surrounding areas. For many people living there, driving back and forth to work is the only option.So how does Dallas traffic differ from Atlanta traffic? Speed and volume. Atlanta is the South and nobody there is ever in a hurry. With so many people driving, traffic congestion is almost always an issue.In Dallas, people want to get places and get there fast. As somebody who hails from New York and New Jersey, I like this approach much more than the glacier-like movement in Atlanta.People want to go fast, and so they have fast cars. I have seen more Mustang GT's, Camaros and Dodge Challengers in the short time I've lived here than the previous five years combined. Unfortunately, Dallas-area drivers operate them with the skill of somebody who has only ever driven a go-kart.People signal to change lanes - not to check to see if you'll let them go but to say: "I'm going. Oh, and I might change three lanes at one time so be ready." Yield signs are pointless because people don't yield. One evening, while driving on Central Expressway a young man in a Camaro sped around somebody in the left lane. He swerved, over-corrected and slammed into the cement divider before going back the other way and slamming into a tractor-trailer.Any accidents on Central would turn my 15-minute commute into a hell ride - complete with imagery of death, destruction and mayhem, committed by me, in my head. I loathe traffic congestion with the heat of a thousand suns.It's why I was looking forward to Sept. 4 and commuting on DART. Having moved from Dallas to settle in Plano, I boarded the Red Line at Parker Road.... I am no stranger when it comes to trains. I commuted to New York City from New Jersey via NJ Transit and the PATH. I've ridden the NYC subway, the DC Metro, Philadelphia SEPTA and Chicago CTA, among others.So what is it like to ride DART? For the most part, I have been pleasantly surprised. The trains run on time. Cooling is a must in the Dallas heat, and they pass that test. They are, for the most part, clean. One time I boarded to find somebody decided to leave what looked like the remnants of a ravaged 7-11 hot dog on one of the seats, but no transit system is immune from the occasional slob.During my ride, I listen to music and read, knowing I won't have thoughts of affixing a flamethrower to the roof of my car to clear traffic during rush hour. In that respect, DART wins out over driving on every measure.One thing that puzzles me about DART, however, is its lack of fair enforcement. The DART stations don't have turnstiles, and fare enforcement officers show up only occasionally. In 45 days of riding on DART and traveling 17 stops on the Red Line from Parker Road to Union Station (and back), I've encountered a fare enforcement officer just four times.It's not hard for people to jump on the train at Pearl Arts and jump off at West End. And they do. While most appear harmless, others make riders wary. And it's easy to spot. The open platforms allow for this, and while it would be an expensive endeavor, DART can probably find cost-effective ways to cut down on the number of people who get on trains with no intention of paying for their ride.All that said, I will still be riding DART. It's better for my sanityand for that of the people of Plano, Richardson and Dallas who won't hear the fading string of profanities I'd unleash on a daily basis driving to work.Give DART a chance if you haven't already. But if you prefer to drive to work, lay off the gas just a tad. It will be better for everybody if you don't get into an accident.What's your view?Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.  Continue reading...

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