Pedestrians face danger on Orange Line 'path' in Las Colinas

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on June 12, 2012 at 10:44 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 13 at 9:48 AM

Orange Line

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IRVING — On a recent afternoon run, Andrew Brininstool decided the newly paved median of Irving’s Lake Carolyn Parkway would make the perfect path. The freshly-set pavers run largely uninterrupted for nearly a mile.

“It’s very convenient,” he observed. “It’ll get you from one end to the other with no real issues.”

There is, however,  a major issue.

The land is actually off-limits, and running on it is technically breaking the law.

This pavement isn’t meant for runners —  it's for trains.

Although the paved median appears to be a welcoming sidewalk, it’s actually the right-of-way for DART’s new Orange Line light rail service that begins passenger service at the end of July. The transit agency wants to make it clear to all pedestrians: Stay away from the tracks.

“It’s not meant as a sidewalk,” said DART spokesman Mark Ball. “It’s meant as decorative… we feel like the public maybe doesn’t quite believe us.”

It is hard for many to believe.

DART paved the tracks through part of Las Colinas, making the rails even with the ground. The pavement stretches beyond the rails, and it’s so wide and flat that it strongly resembles running paths popular in other areas.

“It’s a smooth surface,” said Reggie Becht who found it a tempting location for him to practice his wind sprints. “You don’t have to worry about stepping in any potholes or anything.”

Making it even more tempting is the fact that sidewalks are not consistent in this part of Irving. New apartment complexes stand next to empty lots where sidewalks have yet to be built.

Brininstool says he faced a choice of running on DART’s paved median or in the “high weeds.”

“I figured this was safer than the gutter over here” he said.

Yet the transit agency insists its paved median is not safe. When the rail line officially opens next month, trains will be zipping by every 20 minutes. DART has already been sending test trains down the tracks.

“If people are jogging with their headphones on, maybe they don’t hear the train approaching them,” Ball said. “There’s just too many possibilities with people getting hurt.”

DART police could write tickets, but the agency prefers warning people with extra signs. Directors say they’ve handed out nearly 1,500 warning fliers to nearby businesses and residents.

“If they stayed off the right-of-way and away from our trains, it’d be a lot better for all of us,” Ball said.

The issue has many people asking the obvious question: If this isn't a sidewalk, then why did DART build it to look like one?

The agency says it simply was trying to give the community what it wanted. Normally, tracks are lined with gravel, but neighborhood leaders fought the idea, fearing it would look ugly.

“We have an issue because of our desire to work cooperatively with the communiy," Ball conceded. "This is a very influential community.”

Las Colinas prides itself on its strict codes and covenants dictating the appearance of buildings and streetscapes.

“We were very concerned with the aesthetic appearance,” said Rick Bidne, who leads the Las Colinas Association, which is the property owners’ group that dictates how much of the area is developed.

Bidne says his group worked with DART and the city to settle on the designs, adding that he hadn’t heard of any safety concerns with the tracks.

Meanwhile, joggers question why the rails are so accessible if they’re intended to be off-limits. DART says it may consider changing the design if it becomes a bigger problem.

“If they don’t want it,  they should block it off a little bit more.” said neighbor Laine Murray.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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