Fort Worth City Council members today will get an update on a plan to put Forest Park Boulevard on a "road diet." What's that mean? Well, as the nickname suggests, it involves trimming the number of main lanes on the road, and making it more pedestrian and cyclist friendly. But some commuters who use Forest Park Boulevard to get to and from downtown say the plan is all sizzle and no steak.
How should we pay for roads, rails and other components of the United States' infrastructure going forward? I'll be attending the International Transport Forum May 22-24 in Leipzig, Germany, and the focus of the get-together is how the developed and developing nations of the world should pay for the improvements they need to ensure their people can get around (preferably without harming each country's natural resources).
In the U.S., motor fuels taxes clearly aren't sufficient to keep up with population and job growth (not at the current tax rates, at least). So there are other options, including raising taxes, building more toll roads, private development of roads, etc.
Or there's the do-nothing option - just let the infrastructure decay, and let our grandchildren deal with it.
Before I head over to Germany to cover this event, along with journalists from China, New Zealand and a couple dozen other places, I'd like to cobble together your thoughts on the broad topic. To join the conversation, post a comment to this blog or send an emal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beginning Thursday, four bus routes with nearly 800,000 combined riders annually will serve the new Sierra Vista Transit Center.
But southeast Fort Worth advocates hope the new facility at East Berry Street and Riverside Drive is much more than a glorified bus stop.
Instead, their goal is for the $500,000 transit center - paid for mostly with a federal grant - to become the centerpiece of a grander plan to convert the worn-down sector of Fort Worth into an urban village.
"There's still a way to go on that, but with this transit center and opening of a Wal-Mart up the street we're starting to get that synergy going," Allen Smith, executive director of Southeast Fort Worth Inc., said Wednesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new center. "There's a great need in this area."
The Berry/Riverside neighborhood is one of about 16 areas identified by city officials as an urban village. The long-term goal is to create transit and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods with a mix of commercial and residential uses that is attractive to developers.
Berry/Riverside has a lot going for it - including its geography. It rests just below the Rolling Hills neighborhood, with Cobb Park nearby and plenty of vacant land available for whatever uses might be suitable - perhaps another grocery store, a pharmacy, clothing shop or restaurants and family entertainment.
A developer, Vertex Asset Partners, L.P., plans to redevelop the former Oak Brook Mall site across the street from the transit center into modernized retail development, according to information on the city's urban village page.
But it's also a neighborhood that more than its share of run-down buildings - and a reputation, deserved or not, for crime and vagrancy.
"We certainly have the challenge of bringing in small businesses that can stay," said Andre McEwing, board secretary of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, and a long-time advocate for the area. "This community needs basic services."
But with Thursday's first official full day of service at the new Sierra Vista Transit Center, bringing foot traffic to the area shouldn't be a problem.
The area will be served by four bus routes, T president Dick Ruddell said. They include: Route 3 Riverside/TCC South campus; Route 5 Wichita/Glen Garden; Route 8 Riverside/Evans; and Route 24 Berry St.
Those four routes carry a combined 775,000 riders per year, T spokeswoman Joan Hunter said.
The bus transfers now to take place at the Sierra Vista Transit Center previously were handled at various stops along Riverside Drive, between Glen Garden and Berry, she said.
The plaza was partially funded by a $400,000 federal grant administered by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Also, in 2006, Berry/Riverside urban village received an $823,571 federal grant to master plan the area and make street improvements along East Berry Street between Yuma and Sycamore Creek.
The Sierra Vista Transit Center will feature numerous pieces of public art, some of which are scheduled to be installed later in the year. The place also features a marker in memory of Monique Pegues, the T's longtime government affairs director who died unexpectedly in 2010.
Fort Worth's new bike-sharing program kicked off Monday, and cyclists are hoping it will gradually change the city's car culture - two wheels at a time.
"All of you resonate the message that there is an acceptance of bicycles as an alternative," Mike Brennan, Fort Worth Bike Sharing board chair, told about 300 volunteers who gathered Monday morning at Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth.
After a few remarks by Brennan and other leaders, the cyclists from various riding clubs then hopped on the 300 shiny, red Trek touring bikes and rode them to the city's 28 new bike-sharing stations. Brennan noted the eclectic mix in the crowd - whose clubs include colorful names such as Bicycle Betties, Night Riders and Manly Bulge Bike Club.
"There's a group for every type of rider out there," Brennan said.
Bicycles are available for rent at 28 stations mostly in downtown, the Near South Side, the cultural district and at Texas Christian University. More stations will be added during the summer, officials said.
Riders typically use a credit card to rent the bikes. Regular users can pay an $80 annual fee for unlimited use. Others can pay various rates that start at $8 per day, with additional fees for rides lasting more than 30 minutes.
The idea is to rent the bike at one location, and return it to a bike-sharing rack at the end of your trip.
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority - also known as the T - created a non-profit organization to run the program and accept donations.
The effort was boosted by a $1 million Federal Transit Administration grant awarded in July to set up the stations.
Among the volunteers who rode the bikes to their new stations was Don Koski, director of planning and project delivery for the Federal Transit Administration's Region 6 office in Fort Worth.
"We see bike-sharing as an extension of the transit system," Koski said. "There are people who ride the bus or the TRE (Trinity Railway Express) and use a bike for the final leg of their destination."
Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns predicted that the ready availability of bicycles will motivate people who work in the central part of the city to get out of their "dim, flourescent-lit rooms" and go for a ride.
"There's an incredible community spirit," Burns said, "and a focal point for us to get together."
Top photo: Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and about 300 helpers kick off Fort Worth's new bike-sharing program by riding bicycles to their racks.
During the Cold War, West Berlin residents who wanted to go from one end of their city to another could take subway trains that briefly cut through portions of East Berlin. The trains were allowed by the East German government to pass without stopping, although armed guards kept a close watch to ensure nobody got off the trains (or, perhaps more importantly, to ensure no East Germans got on). As the trains made their way through East Berlin, they would pass through trains stations that had been closed since the Berlin Wall was built. These train platforms - ratty, creepy and abandoned except for the presence of the guards - became known as "ghost stations." If you ever saw one of these stations up close, I would very much like to talk with you for a news story.
Please call 817 390 7796 or send an email to email@example.com Whether you lived in East Berlin or West Berlin, or just visited, I would like to talk with you about your experiences. Please include a phone number or email address so I can get in touch with you.
Also, if you have experience riding the modern trains of reunified Germany, including the InterCity Express trains that today go 200 mph-plus, I would like to speak with you.
Again, please call 817 390 7796 or send an email to
Last year, I was fortunate to attend the International Transport Forum, an annual event held in Leipzig, Germany featuring renowned goverment officials and transportation experts from around the world.
That trip introduced me to Germany's passenger rail system. (Some of those Cold War "ghost stations," by the way, have been dramatically rebuilt and are now hubs of modernity in Berlin.) Today, I'd like to do a story comparing the German experience to the United States' effort to develop a more effective rail system. I am planning a return trip to this year's International Transport Forum May 22-24 in Leipzig, and I hope to explore the issue of passenger rail more in depth while I'm there.
But before I go, I need your help ...
Please spread the word to anyone you know who spent time in East Berlin, West Berlin or more recently in reunified Berlin. I would very much like to talk.
- Gordon Dickson.
Photo: Berlin Wall Memorial
Tarrant County commissioners have stated their position on high-speed rail. They want the 220 mph bullet trains to stop at DFW Airport - not at downtown Dallas and Fort Worth. Commissioners stated their position in the strongest terms during a meeting Tuesday that was aptly covered by the Star-Telegram's county beat writer, Steve Campbell.
Texas' first rail director is stepping down, nearly four years after state officials created the position to get the state up to speed with other regions of the United States in terms of passenger rail services.
Bill Glavin, who lives in Southlake but has spent most of his time residing in Austin since he took the rail director position in December 2009, confirmed Wednesday that he will be leaving the Texas Department of Transportation at the end of June.
Before entering public service, Glavin had decades of history with freight railroads, including Burlington Northern Railroad and North American RailNet.
"I turned 60. I qualify for railroad retirement," Glavin told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview, when asked why he is leaving the job. "Half my pay goes toward commuting between here and Austin and having ... to do all the things to make that work. (Retirement) just seems to make sense."
Glavin played a major role in preparing Texas for better passenger rail services that could be built in the next few years, including improved Amtrak service and a proposed high-speed rail line with 220 mph service from Houston to Dallas, rail supporters said.
"We've gone light years ahead in the past couple of years, compared to where we were the past couple of decades before that," said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates.
Under Glavin's watch, the state has made progress in a proposal to move Amtrak onto the Trinity Railway Express line in Dallas-Fort Worth, LeCody said. Also, a study of higher speed rail service from Oklahoma to Fort Worth and South Texas is under way.
State officials, the Union Pacific Railroad and Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway Co. also are working on a plan to improve massive freight congestion at the Tower 55, a notoriously busy rail intersection just southeast of downtown Fort Worth.
The state-owned South Orient Railroad corridor between Brownwood and San Angelo also has been improved, resulting in a dramatic increase in shipments in that corridor.
Updated: 5 p.m. to include comments from mayor and clarify city's position.
Fort Worth officials say they're willing to support the proposed private development of the Cotton Belt commuter rail line, if they can be assured that any federal funds awarded for the Tarrant County portion of the project aren't spent in the Dallas area.
More than a month after rejecting development of the Cotton Belt line, Fort Worth city officials on Tuesday will be asked to approve a compromise resolution in support of the project. The Cotton Belt as originally pitched would stretch from southwest Fort Worth to Plano - 62 miles in all.
But Fort Worth officials say their sole priority is not the entire 62 miles. Rather, their focus is on TEX Rail, a proposal to develop the 37 westernmost miles of track from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport. In other words, they want to remain singularly focused on getting the Tarrant County portion of the line up and running by 2016.
"Our focus is on TEX Rail. Our emphasis is on getting to the airport," Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan said. "We need to build a connection on the western side of the Metroplex."
Fort Worth isn't seeking private development of TEX Rail. Instead, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority - also known as the T - is applying for a federal new starts grant to cover up to half the estimated nearly $1 billion cost.
Mayor Betsy Price said that while she would be interested in learning about any plans for private development that could make public dollars stretch further, she doesn't want the Cotton Belt project to cause any further delays on the TEX Rail plan, which has been discussed since 2005.
Mainly, Price and other Fort Worth officials say that if TEX Rail is awarded federal money - possibly up to $480 million - they don't want any of the funds being transferred to other portions of the Cotton Belt project in the Dallas area.
To prevent that from happening, the resolution the council will consider Tuesday calls for the Cotton Belt to be developed in two separate agreements - one for the TEX Rail portion west of DFW Airport, and the other for the cities east of DFW Airport.
"The eastern part from the airport to Plano, they're going to do that on their own," Price said. "Our focus is in the TEX Rail project. We want the Cotton Belt proposal split into two pieces."
Supporters of the Cotton Belt project say it's important for other cities in the region to be connected to DFW, including Coppell, Carrollton, Richardson and Plano - even though Dallas Area Rapid Transit isn't expected to have funds for such expansion for at least 20 years.
That's where the private investment would come in.
Under a compromise resolution hashed out last week by Jordan, Price and officials from the T and North Central Texas Council of Governments, Fort Worth would support private development of the Cotton Belt line from DFW Airport east to Plano.
Fort Worth's support is considered crucial because Cotton Belt supporters are in Austin these days trying to get the state Legislature's permission to create a special tax district covering the 13 cities and three counties that would be connected by the project. Fort Worth's decision in February to reject the Cotton Belt project has those supporters worried that their bill won't get anywhere during the current legislative session.
An unidentified developer has notified the council of governments that it intends to make an unsolicited proposal to develop the Cotton Belt line. The details haven't been released, but generally the idea is that the developer would arrange the upfront financing for the project and would be repaid over many years by increased property values and transit-oriented development along the corridor.
Some Fort Worth officials say they don't need a private developer to provide financing on their side. If an area has potential for transit-oriented development, the city already has the power to create its own special tax district, Jordan said.
Grapevine has joined with Fort Worth on the TEX Rail project, and has its own transit-oriented development plan in that city's historical center.