How Oak Cliff Neighbors Brought Back Their Streetcar

 

OCTA Group Shot

Dallas City Manager AC Gonzales stands with Luis Salcedo, Sylvia Salcedo, Councilman Scott Griggs, Jason Roberts, former OC Chamber President Bob Stimson along with board members and friends of the Oak Cliff Transit Authority.

The story of a neighborhood’s resurgence is always unique, but chances are it begins with the work of a handful of dedicated residents. North Oak Cliff‘s recent redevelopment has been just short of dramatic — and this month’s opening of the OC Streetcar may be the most impactful development yet.

It might appear to outsiders as though the trolly came as a blessing bestowed by City Hall or by the award of a federal grant, but in reality it was accomplished as most change happens — by a handful of dedicated residents.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.   – Margaret Mead

OCTAshirt

The Oak Cliff Transit Authority printed these shirts 6 years ago. Sylvia Salcedo found them in her garage just in time.

It started as a hare-brained idea from the always-inspired Jason Roberts and a group of his acquaintances in North Oak Cliff. Roberts formed the nonprofit Oak Cliff Transit Authority (OCTA) to basically create buzz about the OC streetcars that stopped running in the ’60s. The OCTA Board existed as names on a website only.

Roberts and neighborhood Engineer Luis Salcedo enlisted Scott Polikov (a former Washington DC Lawyer turned Urban Planner) to help secure some federal funding. Polikov traveled to DC and determined the TIGER grant would be a great fit. The recently announced grant for shovel-ready projects was an incredible opportunity to start the project with the most difficult stretch: the mile-long bridge from downtown Dallas to Oak Cliff.

Roberts, Salcedo, and Polikov pulled in engineers from Salcedo Group plus Don Raines to start the initial analysis, working diligently (pro bono even!) with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Dallas City Hall and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) to create a proposal for the initial round of TIGER funding. It was a Herculean effort gaining all levels of political support from City Council reps to Congressional reps.

The $23 million TIGER grant only provided a portion of the funding though. It’s become a massive public-private partnership made possible by the support and funding from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, DART Executive Director Gary Thomas, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia, the Regional Transportation Commission, Texas Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, and of course the NTCOG, and visionary Dallas city officials and staff such as Councilman Scott Griggs (a founding board member of OCTA) and Keith Mannoy (Dallas senior transportation planner who retired the day the streetcar opened.)

This Thursday Roberts will lead a tour of Oak Cliff’s revitalization for urban planners, engineers, and visitors from around the country attending the Congress for the New Urbanism‘s 23rd Annual Congress in Dallas this week. The tour’s sold out, but if community building and neighborhood revitalization is your thing, you should check out the agenda.

In all, Roberts counts over 80 meetings that he, Luis and the rest of the OCTA team attended to make this project happen. Almost 6 years after the Oak Cliff Transit Authority was created, 10 years after the planning began, the streetcar opened in Oak Cliff.

As neighborhood activists everywhere know, it’s never easy, but the results can be life-changing.