Written by Phil Cerroni
By Alice Canham
For Irving resident Blanca Alarcon and her youngsters, it was all about the orange shaved ice. Seated alongside the access way to the new Las Colinas Urban Center Station of DART’s Orange Line, they were among thousands of visitors on hand as DART celebrated the opening of three new light rail stations in Irving. The “Super Saturday” event took place July 28, with regular service underway July 30 at stations serving Dallas University, the Urban Center and the Irving Convention Center.
”There’s a long line for the concessions,” said Blanca, spooning up the cold, sweet treat, “but they’re working pretty fast. We didn’t have to wait too long.”
That’s an important consideration on a blistering hot afternoon with temperatures well in excess of 100 degrees. DART and police officials were busy directing foot traffic and making sure no one overdid it in the heat.
Frank Santoni took shelter near one of the oversized orange ribbons striping the area, hoping that he and his three sons had snagged great seats for the parade. Noah, 12, Alex, 9 and Luke, 6 were in town from Richardson, and they’d ridden the Orange Line to get to Irving.
“We heard about the festivities,” said Frank, “and we thought we’d partake.
“We like to go to the University of Dallas for functions, and I think we’ll definitely take the Orange Line to get there.”
And that’s the point, according to civic leader Roland Medina who could be found escaping the heat aboard one of the air conditioned rail cars that traveled back and forth from the Urban Center Station to the Convention Center Station.
“By the end of this year we’ll be seeing the opening of the Belt Line Station, and by the end of 2014, it’ll go all the way to DFW Airport,” Medina said. “You can get a train here and transfer so you get all the way to Plano. Or go to the Bachman Station, get a transfer to the Green Line and eat at Babe’s, or head to the Dallas Arts District and back.
“It’s going to have a very big economic impact. This will bring a lot more business to the area.”
It was a view echoed by Chris Wallace, President of the Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce who surveyed the scene back at the Urban Center Station.
“The City of Irving and the Chamber have been working on this for many, many years and it’s great to see it coming together,” said Wallace. “It’s just the beginning. As more and more developers come into the area to take advantage of the Orange Line, they’ll bring in more retail, more high-end, multi-family condominium projects, single-family homes and office complexes.”
The wail of electric guitars punctuated the afternoon as bands signaled the start of the street fair – and finally that parade, complete with sirens and waving dignitaries.
“My team at the Chamber also helped DART with organizing the parade; logistics for the properties and so forth,” Wallace added.
Wallace said there was one more element that he found particularly intriguing: the inclusion of art to augment each station’s identity.
“There are artist panels at each station,” he said. “Each was designed to be unique to that area.
“Faculty and students at the University of Dallas were involved in planning that panel, for example.
“When we open the Carpenter Station, a deferred station that won’t open until we get more development along there, it will depict some of the history of the Carpenter family and their ranch that we now know as Las Colinas.
“We’re planning to exhibit those pieces at the Chamber, at City Hall and at the Convention Center.”
There’s no doubt the stations are aesthetically appealing, but in some respects that may actually be a hindrance to safety, according to Mark Ball, media spokesman for DART.
“This [Urban Center] Station is unique because it blends in with the neighborhood,” he explained. “It’s absolutely gorgeous. This is a pavement that matches the color everywhere else in the area.
“But that could be misleading to some people because it’s a flat surface. Up until the opening of this station, it’s been a magnet for people to go jogging, walking or riding their bicycles along here.
“Now that trains are going to be using this area every twenty minutes, it’s become a concern.
“People with their headphones on, or not paying attention could be at risk. These are not loud trains; these are very quiet vehicles. If you don’t pay attention, you could walk right into the path of one.
“We actually had an education campaign for all the area schools, in both Spanish and English, and we have knocked on the door of every building up and down this street. We’ve handed out fliers and put up signs, and tried to communicate the seriousness of this safety issue.”
Cautionary messages aside, though, for most customers the Orange Line will serve as an open door to excitement in Irving.
For Evan and Rachel Stout, it’s become a new tradition, thanks to their mother, Susan.
“We rode the Green Line on its grand opening, so we thought we’d come down here from Carrollton to check out the Orange Line too,” said Susan. As her children traced their route on the map posted inside the train’s pristine interior, she added, “We’re making a day of it. And if we can watch the parade from inside the car here, where it’s air conditioned – that’d be just great.”
Then there’s the perspective of Blanca Alarcon, balancing her orange shaved ice in the midst of the crowd.
“We’ll use it for fun,” she said. “Wherever it will take me, and then back home.”