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What Would You Want In A Downtown Loop?

June 15, 2006 Downtown, Planning & Design, Public Transit 15 Comments

In response to yesterday’s post on the discussion of an expanded MetroLink system some were saying the two alternate routes for downtown just didn’t do enough. I tend to agree.

So it got me thinking, again, about what kind of internal downtown loop I’d want to create. This, in my mind, would be self contained and not connected to future north & nouth MetroLink lines. I’ve argued in the past for a modern streetcar system but I thinking at this point getting something running sooner might help spur additional development (residential, retail & office). Waiting for the funds for a streetcar system might result in a slow down of development.

So what would I do?

For cost reasons I’d start with a rubber tire (aka bus) vehicle. I would not want one of those ugly fake trolley looking buses nor would I want a standard shuttle or regular city bus. I’ve seen buses which look more like a rail transit vehicle — that is what I want.

In the ideal world I’d make this new rubber tire transit vehicle electric with overhead wires but again I am trying to be realistic rather than too far fetched. Perhaps a future phase would switch to electric vehicles and the original vehicles move on to serve shuttle purposes in another part of town like Cherokee St.

Where would it go?

The route would be simple so people aren’t confused about where it goes. I’d do a couplet by going eastbound on Olive and westbound on Locust. The question becomes which streets create the eastern and western Ends. I think on the east end I’d use either 7th or 9th, both being close enough to the 8th & Pine MetroLink station. On the west end of the loop I’ve got three choices: 23rd Street (just before Jefferson), Jefferson or Beaumont St (one block West of Jefferson).

While my proposed route is a basic rectangle that is easy to understand and put on signage it excludes many areas it leaves off many major stops. Not connected are Union Station, Savvis Center, 14th Street Transfer Center, Busch Stadium, Convention Center/Jones Dome or the riverfront. I don’t think a downtown loop can or should serve each and ever area of interest, if so, it would make the entire round trip a good 45 minutes or more. The question becomes what is the ideal compromise route and how close can we get so that people are willing to walk the rest of the way.

My route is heavily focused on the emerging West Downtown neighborhood located between Jefferson and 18th or 12th (depending upon who you ask). I think this area has great development potential and a transit line to get residents to offices in the CBD as well as others out to the area for lunch/dinner would be quite helpful in making development happen at a faster pace. If it extended to Beaumont & Olive it would be right at the foot of all the workers at A.G. Edwards.

How would we pay for it?

Such a circulator should probably be free or a minimal charge like a dollar, not enough to cover actual operations. So who would foot the bill? To a degree I think such a line serving downtown is in the interest of everyone in the city and region. As our downtown continues to prosper this attracts attention from outside the region which might result in a business relocating to the city or other parts like Belleville IL or Fenton, MO. I don’t know that we can convince the region of the benefit but it could be worth a shot. At the very least such a downtown loop would benefit downtown property owners, business owners and residents. We already have a CID (Community Improvement District) with special taxes for the Eastern portion of downtown. Create another to the West and perhaps that is the start.

How often and how long?

The issue of frequency and hours of operation is tough. I’d hate to see tax money pay for an empty bus to drive around all day although I think that is inevitable at times. I could see a morning rush getting residents from lofts in the West to jobs in the CBD with the reverse in the afternoon. The downtown loop could help bring workers from the CBD out to restaurants in parts West for the lunch rush. In the evening I could see residents from all over downtown using the shuttle to get to dinner, the soon to open bowling alley and the planned movie theatre. The potential does exist to make it possible to get around downtown without using a car. For a downtown worker on a limited income, not having a car could possibly allow them to buy or rent a small loft in the West Downtown area.

Future expansion of the loop could continue west toward Grand. This might be phased in over a period of a few years with each year adding 3-4 more blocks to the West. I’m not so crazy about Olive west of Compton with SLU’s massive parking garage and gated campus. Perhaps at some point the route switches to Locust & Washington?

What are your thoughts? Tell me what you think of my initial thoughts or outline your own concept.

– Steve


Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. LisaS says:

    The model that comes to mind is the St. Charles streetcar line in New Orleans. Like what you’re proposing, it travels one way down two streets a couple of blocks apart downtown, then joins back together at Lee Circle before beginning its dedicated right of way down St. Charles. This system works well, despite its integration with traffic.

    One advantage is that this concept would be fairly simple to extend–in my view, Olive from Grand downtown is far too wide for the amount of traffic it carries, so a street car right of way might actually improve the street, make it seem less desolate. If street parking on Lindell was abandoned, the line could continue to the CWE as a single line (similar to the Airport Metrolink access), with a final stop at Euclid.

    A north-south line serving the convention center, busch, etc. could be added, using the east-west tracks as its northern end, and Market (also too wide) or Chestnut (underutilized) for the southern. This would serve the major tourist destinations and connect them to all the available parking garages.

    If people can get together to do a streetcar line down Delmar in the Loop, why not Downtown?


    [REPLY – Thanks Lisa! I think a separate north-south component might be needed as you indicate. This could potentiallly extend further north or south as demand warranted. Getting downtown residents to Soulard Market on Saturday mornings would be nice.

    However, you’ll have a hard time getting me to go along removing parking from any street as this serves as a useful barrier between cars and pedestrians. – SLP]

  2. Nate says:

    What is your problem with SLU, steven?


    [REPLY – In running a shuttle/transit line I think it best to pick a route which has “active” uses on both sides of the street, or at least the potential. The entire south side of Olive/Lindell from Compton to Grand is a dead zone zone as it doesn’t relate to the street. Going west fo Grand that changes entirely as the campus does, at that point, embrace the street. – SLP]

  3. Dano says:

    “I’d make this new rubber tire transit vehicle electric with overhead wires”

    Do these exist? Sounds like a bad idea from an electrical viewpoint. You need a highly reliable connection between the vehicle and the ground that only something like a rail can provide. Otherwise you run the risk of frying every person who touches the vehicle and ground at the same time.

    [REPLY Actually this is quite common. Seattle’s buses are diesel in the ‘burbs and then they switch to overhead electric in the city. I believe they use another wire for grounding purposes. – SLP]

  4. Brian says:

    Personally, I’d like to ideally see both a north-south light-rail line through downtown AND an east-west streetcar from downtown to midtown via the loft district. The former could be funded as a major federal project, while the latter should ideally be funded more locally by the increased density of central corridor rehab and infill.

    However, I think AG Edwards’ campus relates worse to the street than SLU’s. So instead of Olive, I think a streetcar would be nicer along Washington or Locust from Downtown to Midtown. Afterall, if it’s a mixed-traffic streetcar or even modern bus, then you don’t need a wide street like Olive. And both Locust and Washington have better streetscapes with their increasing revitalization, giving a completely different feel than wide, seemingly desolate Olive and its urban-renewal blunders, like Plaza Square Apartments.

    If a streetcar or modern bus line were to be on Olive and Locust as a one-way pair in the CBD as Steve suggested (IMO, a good concept), then I think it would be easiest to continue west of 14th on Locust with two-way operations. And such CBD routing could still complement a future north-south light-rail line, where heading more quickly through downtown on 9th and 10th.

    [REPLY Good points. I think Olive between Jefferson and Tucker has great potential to improve and transit could be a part of that transformation.

    With a downtown bus/rail loop the north-south MetroLink, as you suggest, could simply go straight through. If we had a rail loop downtown it would be possible for them to share the same rail. – SLP]

  5. B.J. says:

    I recently was in Albuquerque NM where I noticed a great transit idea. A bus line that operates on one of their major arteries uses digital signage at shelters to clearly tell how many minutes until the next bus is due. It removes much of the discomfort that comes from waiting and makes bus’s operate more like fixed rail alternatives. I would love to see this type of system added to a downtown loop.

    [REPLY – I’m working on a post about newer “bus rapid transit” lines which use more modern tech than your normal bus line. GPS technology makes the notification system they have in Albuquerque very feasible. This also allows for integration with traffic signals so that the route the bus/rail vehicle is traveling will get a green light. This helps reduce travel time making transit more competative with the car. Did you get any pictures? – SLP]

  6. Brian says:

    In fact, there already is a bus loop in downtown on Market, 4th/Broadway and Washington, with the #4 Natural Bridge and #10 Gravois routes ironically serving as its base. And with many routes (4,10,30,32,41,52,74,80,93,97) covering all or sections of this “loop,” a person can presently get on any bus in the loft district and head to many destinations east of Tucker.

    However, most don’t realize this bus loop presently exists and will be even further enhanced as part of Metro Redefined (bus restructuring concurring with the opening of Cross County this Fall). As BJ mentions, route identification is a huge problem with current buses. I think Metro should consider special signage on stops and buses to make this loop more visible and that’s a huge step needed today, not years from now as part of any light-rail, streetcar or bus rapid transit project.

    [REPLY – More good points, thanks. I meant to check the bus routes but didn’t have a chance earlier. You know, the folks downtown don’t really need to wait for Metro — they could create signage and wayfinding maps all on their own. – SLP]

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    Denver has a system similar to your proposal known as the Sixteenth Street Mall. It’s both free and frequent because it replaces a lot of inefficient bus service in the central business district with bus and light rail transfer facilities at four points along the mall. By getting most of the local buses out of downtown and cutting 10-15-20 minutes off their schedules, the savings (through better efficiency) “pays” to both run the shuttles and to maintain the mall.

    I agree that a circulator here needs to be frequent, simple to understand, and ideally free to ride. Part of Denver’s logic is that everyone pays the transit sales tax, while many don’t use any other services. It’s cheaper and quicker to make the 3-10 block ride “free” than to charge even 25¢ – the same thinking should be used here. Plus every boarding counts in the statistics used to justify federal funding, so the ±63,000 in additional daily boardings starts to look really good . . .

    I’m less concerned about the ultimate vehicle choice than it be frequent, clean, safe, not too crowded and gets me quickly around the area. Denver’s first “mall” buses were originally mostly diesel, with four all-electeric ones used during peak periods; its current buses are hybrids, using electric drive motors on four wheels and storage batteries that are recharged using “stationary” 2.4 liter industrial engines running on CNG.

    And while I like your basic concept, I’d take the eastern end east to 4th, then north to Convention Plaza, west to Broadway, then south on Broadway to Locust. This would hopefully allow Bi-State to acquire the two half blocks on the east side of Broadway between Convention Plaza and Washington (currently surface parking lots) for a transfer facility serving bus routes coming in from the north. Similarly, I’d like to see Bi-State develop a transfer facility on the block bounded by 21st, 22nd, Olive & Pine (another surface parking lot [owned by MoDOT?]) to serve bus routes from the west and south (which may argue for the western end of the route being 23rd St.).

    Extending the route east would provide better service to the existing office core and better intercept bus routes before they get mired in the stop-and-go traffic that’s typical of any downtown area. And by bus transfer facility, I’m not thinking Bi-State’s typical surface facility, I’m thinking a true TOD, with retail, office and/or residential units integrated into and covering the facilities . . .


  8. re: Buses with overhead electrical wires – the MUNI system in San Francisco is primarily these types of buses. It was incredibly fascinating to look at all the criss-crossing lines on some of the streets! And it was also a great indicator as to whether we were on a street or intersection even served by buses. the only buses we rode that were not electrically powered seemed to be the lines that went through the National Parks in the area – Golden Gate NRRA and Golden Gate Park, etc.

    The drawback to these in my opinion, is that they are still just a BUS. And lots of people have a kind of “mental block” to riding a BUS. again as an example I use SF, where I noted lots of poeple not boarding one of the buses and waiting for the streetcar to come by on Market St.

    re: the bus line in ABQ – a few years ago I was there busy crashing my motorcycle and licking my wounds at the Frontier, I happened to pick up a copy of the Alibi (thier RFT) and it had an article all about the “new European style buses” coming to town.
    the buses run in a loop down Central (rt 66) and around old town, and out somewhere North of I-40, heads east (on Menaul maybe?) and back. There’s the “Green line” and “Red Line” – reffering to the pervasive red and green chile they put on everything edible in the south west. Anyway, one runs clockwise, the other anti-clockwise. The buses are articulated, tied into the traffic grid to lengthen green lights and shorten red ones, and as you mention a GPS system lets a clock at the shelters show how long ’til the next one comes by. I think they were powered on propane or were going to run them on biodiesel or something.

    it wasn’t in place at the time, but from the looks of it I figured the next time I visited I probably wouldn’t have to use a car at all.

  9. Alice says:

    I really love the 16th street tram in Denver. My sister lives outside downtown Denver. She walks 2 blocks to the edge of downtown and takes the free tram to work.

    I live in Benton park. If I could walk down to Broadway/7th or up to Jefferson and take a tram into downtown, that would be so great. I want it to be free and clean, like Denver!!

  10. Hans Gerwitz says:

    Your proposal would serve well for transportation, but I’m afraid it’s too narrow and too far from important touchpoints to draw visitors in.

    Integrating with traffic and using rubber tires means there’s little reason to stay one-way. I envision two loops, one clockwise and one counterclockwise, that are large enough to clearly support Busch, America’s Center, Union Station, and the Arch grounds.

    I should also note that my fantasy development would include copious signage to direct visitors to the loop and the districts it serves.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    America’s Center, Union Station, Busch Stadium (but not the Brewery Tour), the Arch, Forest Park and Lambert Airport already have direct access from Metrolink for tourists to use – why add another link? Better to do what the CTA does in Chicago. Create a clear, abbreviated system map that shows tourists how to use the local transit system to reach a lot of potential destinations. A dedicated “tourist loop” usually fails miserably, except in true tourist destinations like Branson. If one’s needed here, let the private sector (like Gray Line Tours) provide it.

    Denver tried providing a “Cultural Connection Trolley” several times in several forms and it never really succeeded. First, every tourist “attraction” wants to be included, resulting in a meandering route with a lot of stops that doesn’t run very frequently and takes a long time to complete. Second, most tourists are either on a tight schedule and/or have the whole family along, meaning they want to go where they want to quickly, park, see the sights and move on. Third, this is the middle of america – most people drive here, and the ones that don’t, rent a car (the same goes for Orlando and a lot of other cities). Fourth, until our attractions have really expensive parking combined with horrendous traffic, most people won’t want to deal with public transit of any kind in a “strange” city. That said, let’s devote our limited local resources on providing better services to our local residents and taxpayers!

  12. CK says:


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  13. Josh says:

    I haven’t read all of the comments here yet, so I don’t know if anyone has already said these things. But personally I don’t feel that downtown St. Louis is a big enough area to deserve a light-rail loop. I’m not in favor of the “Rubber tire” system because honestly, as bad as it sounds from someone who favors public transit, I think that a bus is a bus and it has its place in people’s minds as a dirty inefficient vehicle that serves only those who can’t afford to own a car. Those are not my centiments, but I do believe that it is a general prejudice that people have that will not be easily swayed.

    I have mixed feelings about the streetcar system, but I think that something like it would be best for a “downtown loop”. We would definitely need a more “modernized” street car system. St. Louis’s old system ran with traffic, I’d like to see a dedicated lane for streetcars so they are more desireable to riders on an efficiency level: no competing with traffic. I’d like to see streetcars for two additional reasons: streetcars occupy a much more pleasant place in the minds of the general public, furthermore, they feel open, exposed, you can see clearly where the line runs. Secondly I’d like to see them for reasons of energy efficiency. St. Louis desperately needs to make strides away from carbon-based transportation because eventually we will be forced to, if not by our own country then by the rest of the world. Not only are we the largest consumer of carbon-based energy in the world amidst a possible peak in production, we are also the greatest contributer to global warming, a scientific fact that if not corrected could literally threaten our ability to live on this planet.

    So for those reasons, I’d like to see St. Louis step ahead of other cities and not waste our money on any more carbon-based energy systems.

    1: Streetcars would offer more efficient transportation.
    2: Streetcar ridership would be higher based on the relative lack of prejudice towards the system.
    3: If we don’t spend our money now on clean energy transportation systems for cost reasons, we will end up having wasted it 5-10 years down the road.

  14. tyson says:

    I like the idea of a downtown loop, free of cost and with different vehicles (preferably electric) than the standard metrobus so people can more easily identify it. I think the loop you propose, however, is not big enough.

    As long as we’re making the investment to create a loop, I believe it should hit Grand Center for tourists and conventioneers and also go south all the way to Market to serve the southern end of downtown, then east to broadway/4th, putting people within a short walk of the stadium, archgrounds and laclede’s landing.

    Funding could be through a public/private partnership – businesses along the route have a clear stake in this as well, sponsorship of the vehicles, fundraising, and perhaps an increase in parking rates at city-owned parking garages.

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