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Planning & Promotion Continues for Loop Trolley

June 26, 2009 Public Transit 22 Comments

Yesterday I attended an Economic Development Forum sponsored by the Loop Trolley.  Guest speaker,  Portland developer John Carroll, spoke about the benefits he has seen in Portland over the last decade.

Portland developer John Carroll speaking 6/25/2009 at the Missouri History Museum
Portland developer John Carroll speaking 6/25/2009 at the Missouri History Museum

The streetcar/trolley is not the most efficient way to get persons from point A to B.  That would mode would be the bus.  However, as our speaker pointed out, the permanence of a fixed rail helps entice development.

It was December 5, 2005 that the ribbon was cut on the two restored streetcars used to promote the Loop Trolley.  I was there that day:

Loop Trolley ribbon cutting on 12/5/2005
Loop Trolley ribbon cutting on 12/5/2005

That day I wrote:

One could argue that the loop, both East and West, is going fine and doesn’t need the federal dollars that it will likely receive to move this project forward. I agree philosophically. Cherokee Street comes to mind [as] a commercial street that could benefit from an exciting transportation system such as this trolley system. But Cherokee Street doesn’t have a Joe Edwards pushing for anything. So I say build the trolley not where it is needed most but where we can get it built and where it will get used.

Once built, the region, I hope, will demand more streetcars throughout the city and region.

In the nearly four years since I wrote the above I have experienced streetcar systems in San Francisco, New Orleans, Memphis, Little Rock, Seattle, Portland and Toronto.  Quite the list and quite different from each other.  Some are old systems that have remained in operation.  Others are new with restored, reproduction and modern vehicles.  I’ve attended two Rail-Volution conferences since then — Chicago in 2006 and Miami Beach in 2007.

The Loop area is so named because of the streetcar line that used to make a loop and turn back toward downtown.  The western end is in the municipality of University City.  In recent years the restaurants & shopping have expanded east of Skinker in the City of St. Louis.

Loop’s leader Joe Edwards want to return a streetcar (er, Trolley) to Delmar.

The blue line on the left shows the route as planned.  It simply would go from the Lion gates at the west end to De Balivere at the east and then loop around the Missouri History Museum on the edge of Forest Park.  Along the short route it would pass two MetroLink light rail stations (Delmar & Forest Park).  Would the trolley be transit overkill?  At first I thought so.

But between these two stations and all along the proposed route there are plenty of development opportunities.  Development around light rail stations happens in rings whereas development along streetcars follows the line — impacting far more real estate and reaching more people.  More bang for the buck basically.

Plus I want to get a system in operation in St. Louis so that it can be expanded to serve more of the city.  The lines on the map above are my most recent ideas for potential extensions (a variation on earlier thoughts).

One idea is to take a line into Forest Park to reach the Art Museu, Zoo,  and Muni.  This would be a great way to get an overview of the park and it could reduce the need for more parking.  Next I’d extend a line north through what is now the Ruth Porter perdestrian mall.  At the very least go up to Page and come back south on Goodfellow.  The biggest extension would continue east on Delmar.

After crossing Kingshighway the eastbound track would go down Washington, one block south of Delmar.   This would widen the impack of the investment.  It would jog down to Olive at Vandeventer and then straight line into the CBD.  The return line would pass the MetroLink light rail station at 6th & Washington as well as pass the convention center.  Joe Edwards said he felt a streetcar line could give St. Louis the nod when competing with other cities for a conventions.  A streetcar passing between the convention center and convention hotel would be a natural draw.  Visitors could easily be enticed to hop on the line to see the sights along the route — getting an overview to help them where to decide where to dine.

At Tucker I show the westbound line going west on Locust rather than Washington.  This puts is only a block off the eastbound track on Olive, avoids messing up the expensive streetscape on Washington between 12th & 18th and, as a bonus, it would run past my front door at 16th & Locust.

Of course it can’t all be just east & west.  Above I show a north-south pair of lines on Vandeventer & Sarah.  Around Jefferson Paul McKee is planning a north line for his NorthSide project.  I’d want a line or two heading south as well.  I’d like to be able to reach all parts of the city via streetcar.  Perhaps  if I live another 50 years?  But the lines shown above are realistic and they could, over time, work to increase our population and job base.  We could become the type of city that retains young graduates from laces like Saint Louis University and Waashington University.

To learn more about the Loop Trolley consider attending the public open house at 4pm on July 8th, Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, 4 to 7 p.m.

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "22 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian S. says:

    I would love to see the streetcar line extend east down Delmar, but I don’t know about transitioning it to Washington from Delmar past Kingshighway though. I would almost rather see it go all the way to Boyle or Vandeventer and maybe then down Washington or Olive into Grand Center. That way the streetcar line could breathe some new life into the most forlorn sections of Delmar.

    [slp — I’m thinking eastbound on Washington with westbound on Delmar.]

  2. Brian says:

    A true “Delmar Streetcar” is needed, not a “Loop Trolley.” That would be all of Delmar (or parallel streets) from Downtown to the Loop (similar to your east-west lines). Plus, a modern streetcar, not trolley.

    In Charlotte, we have heritage trolleys on the same corridor as the light-rail line, and it is indeed overkill. If not for the trolleys being there prior to light rail, they would not even likely be there. But when it comes to actually planning streetcars, Charlotte will not only use modern vehicles akin to Portland, but the route also replaces the three busiest bus routes and free downtown circulator. And the Charlotte streetcar route runs a complementary east-west direction to the existing and expanding north-south light-rail line. If St. Louis were to follow such model, it would be considering a modern streetcar on north-south Grand.

  3. Tom Shrout says:

    Metro and East-West Gateway will be conducting public meetings over the next several months to update a long-range transit plan for the region. By all means plan to participate in this process. Streetcars should be part of the transit mix for the region in a well thought out way.

  4. Melissa says:

    I was at the forum yesterday too–good coverage! One thing that struck me was a comment that John Carroll repeatedly made. He said that, when decisionmakers in Portland were planning their street car, they decided early on to make it a real transit solution and development mechanism for struggling areas, rather than just a photo opportunity. I hope that Joe Edwards and the other people working to bring about the Loop Trolley really take that to heart and introduce something to the city that’s more than just a tourist attraction designed to bring in conventions.

    Also, I hadn’t yet considered the possibility of putting a streetcar line down Cherokee Street, and I got very excited about the possibility. Since the elimination of the #93 bus, which used to go down Cherokee, I have really missed the ability to take transit East-West along the street. Now it takes so long to get from Mississippi Mud to Diana’s Bakery! A streetcar would definitely provide the catalyst to make that area another Loop–it’s certainly already got a vibrant feeling to it. Thanks for the thought.

  5. john says:

    Need to correct: “The most efficient way to get persons from point A to B would be the bus.” Over short distances such as detailed in your maps, the bicycle is clearly the most efficient, reliable, cleanest, environmentally protective and healthiest alternative. Bringing more pollution, noise, traffic to Forest Park via motorized vehicles is not a good idea as it further destroys what the Park represents.

    [slp — I was thinking the most efficient was to move a mass of people.]

  6. Kevin McGuire says:

    I’m all for mass transit. And I would love a trolley or streetcar line. But Does anybody else think the current Delmar plan is worthless. The planned route goes from the Debalivaire metrolink station to the Loop station and then a little bit further. Why would we waste money doubling up mass transit at the same location. Put it someplace the metro doesn’t go. The Loop area is made for walking, not riding. Once you are there more transit isn’t necessary unless you are lazy.

    Now the extended plan Steve is recommending would be useful. A line running to downtown on Olive/Lindell and Washington would be great with a few north/south lines to tie into MetroLink. Downtown to Delmar with no car and easy access to everything in between with no car necessary, what a crazy idea.

    [slp — Kevin I would have agreed with you a couple of years ago. Along the eastern section of the route there is room for new development and new businesses. The vibrancy of the loop can be greatly extended. Those living near the streetcar line would be more likely to become MetroLink riders.]

  7. Tim says:

    This is bullshit. They just closed down a ton of bus lines and now they are going to put some non practical tourist ride in the city. FUCK THAT.

    and yes John I agree get a bicycle. Everyones fat in this town anyways they could use the exercise.

  8. Jimmy Z says:

    I support transit, but I’m not sold on a streetcar as savior, especially in St. Louis. One, Mr. Carroll made a point that the businesses next to their routes “tax themselves” on a sliding scale based on proximity. Two, he made the point that the Loop has already achieved much, development-wise, of what they were trying to accomplish in Portland. Three, transit in general, and Metro specifically, have a much different (worse) perception among our local population than Tri-Met has in Portland. And four, the development environment in Portland is significantly better than it is in St. Louis.

    The present alignment was successful in passing a local sales tax to support their efforts – that’s a huge step. What are the odds of that happening along the proposed extensions here? There isn’t the same existing sales or property base, at least now, along many of your proposed routes, to generate the same level of revenues, as there is in the Loop. The Portland Streetcar also convinced Tri-Met to give them the savings realized by replacing existing bus lines – is that something Metro would even be willing to do here? (Unfortunately, it IS all about the money.)

    I purposely asked Mr. Carroll at what price point his market-rate residential units were aimed. His latest projects are (were?) selling at more than $400 per square foot. Even before the market tanked, I’m not aware of any mid-rise condo or loft projects selling for anything near that in St. Louis, and certainly not in the Loop area.

    Finally, I continue to be a big believer that frequency and good connections are bigger incentives to get people on transit than any one specific vehicle type, especially outside of a tourist-focused system (as opposed to one used daily by local residents). For much less than what a streetcar line would cost to build, smaller buses, distinctively painted, running very frequently and charging low or no fares would do a better job a moving people along any of these corridors. The fundamental problem is that too many locals simply won’t consider the option – it’s too “scary” and “it’s for those ‘other’ people”. So, in a perverse way, a streetcar might actually work better, especially with the historic vehicles currently being planned for use. But the best way to kill the system, especially for the daily commuter, would be to charge fares separately from Metro and/or to not offer transfers between the two systems.

    So, as Mr. Carroll repeated several times, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We’re not Portland, and I admire the local supporters’ enthusiasm, but I continue to have my doubts. There should already be a shuttle service now, between the Metrolink station and UC’s City Hall, in the evening and on weekends. IF that was already successful, I’d be much more likely to believe that this investment will be a success and actually be worth it . . .

  9. Cheryl says:

    Seems like a loop trolley is going to slow down our current transit system there which is the #97 which travels down Delmar. The #97 is already hampered by the car traffic.

    Personally, with a choice between taking the #97 or the trolley, why would I transfer to ride the trolley, when my current transit pass or transfer ticket will be useless for the trolley?

    I do see a place for a trolley to traverse Forest Park. I think that would encourage people to take Metrolink to the Forest Park station and then take the trolley to different venues in Forest Park. But I would not want this to replace the #90 that will already take people from Forest Park metrolink to the zoo and art museum.

  10. Name (required) says:


    With all of the inattentive and moronic drivers in addition to incompetent school and METRO bus drivers, the last thing we need is another distraction on the road!

    F yielding to a damn trolly.

  11. I’ve noticed the comments against the trolley, specifically those of Tim and Anonymous. I have to say they make me question the value of a trolley system. As the OP said, trolleys are less efficient than buses. They do bring in development, but we must ask ourselves whether we place development or transit first. Granted, the money that goes to Metro and the money that would go to a trolley system are not necessarily out of the same source, but it’s still disturbing that we would fund a tourist / development focused trolley when our bus system is in crisis. Local residents depend on our mass transit, and they pay the taxes – therefore we should put them above the tourists and developers who would benefit from the trolley. Again, I don’t have a set opinion yet. If I see more evidence I could change my mind, but at this point I would have to not support the trolley.

  12. JRTappenden says:

    For those worried about increased traffic congestion, I’ll remind you that the goal is to decrease the overall need for cars. Traffic congestion makes everyone crazy enough to consider abandoning their cars. Lets get some viable alternative options going so that when the frustration hits, people have a reason to step away from their autocentric ways.

    Regarding the one issue -touched on briefly by Jimmy Z above- that I haven’t really seen addressed yet:
    The buzz about the recent streetcar (or loop trolley) forum has got me dreaming of a more connected city, and not just in the sense of locomotion. I’m a regular metro rider, both busses and trains, and while I’ve found the train to be convenient and reliable, the bus network really falls short, especially on reliability. This means that the people using the busses are mostly those who have no other option, which leads me to the part of this debate that I’ve not yet seen addressed: public transit, in the St. Louis region, is largely viewed as a form of welfare. This is not unique to St. Louis, nor is the fact that the more affluent you are, the less likely it is that you’ll be open to the idea of taking a bus. (Before I get flamed, let me be clear: there are lots of individual exceptions to this rule, but their numbers are miniscule when compared to those for whom the rule holds true.) So. The streetcar, being on rails and encouraging gentrification along its route, is more attractive to those with more of what Jane Jacobs simply calls, “choice.” Which is why I’m dreaming of streetcars everywhere: St. Louis’s system is troubled because it’s not used by everyone. Were it to be, the question of its value and utility would be moot, because everyone—those with and without choice—would be using it and would be invested in ensuring its convenience and reliability. If it takes a streetcar to entice the great, disinterested middle back to public transit, then so be it. In the process, we’ll find ourselves less insulated from the full array of the city’s residents. We might even come to broaden our definition of who is our “neighbor,” and feel a little bit more connected to the city as a whole.

  13. Joseph Garrett says:

    I think that the main point here is that the Loop Trolley could become a ‘catalyst’ for future transit options. Right now, there is no money for any kind of transit oriented trolley cars in STL, but there is money for this idea. This is a project that can open eyes, and change a perception of public transit in STL. Also, the Loop is one of the signature tourist spots in STL. I fail to see how this could hurt the Loop in any way. This is as much about perception as anything else. Back to my point, this project may ‘jump’ start people in the STL region into thinking we need and want more transit options, especially in areas where out of towners may be willing to go to and spend their money. I smile just at the thought of any one street West to East and East to West full of life and vibrant with activity, because we can grow from there.

  14. Benjamin Israel says:

    Maybe if the trolley slows up traffic, it would be a good thing.
    One of the often ignored facts about public transportation is that every city with good public transportation has terrible traffic problems.. Cities like New York, Washington, D.C., Toronto, Chicago and San Francisco have much worse than St. Louis, so much worse that you have to be pretty crazy to commute in it.
    The best way to encourage public transportation is to stop building new highways.
    Note that virtually all the stimulus money spent on transportation in St. Louis is going to a two-mile stretch of highway in the Chesterfield-Maryland Heights area. Our priorities are all screwed up.
    Also, tourists need less encouragement to use public transportation than residents do. That’s because many of them live in cities where people don’t look down on public transportation. I have worked on petition campaigns where I stood in front of the Art Museum or the Zoo in Forest Park when BiState or Metro operated the Forest Park Shuttle bus. I learned to not bother to ask people leaving that bus for signatures because they were all from out of town.

  15. b says:

    Steve, you give a very good take on some of the mass transit issues here in St Louis. However, to really open your eyes, you need to travel to Europe and check out their systems. Eastern Europe. In many areas of Moscow, St Pete and Kiev it is like taking a step back in time to the 1950’s. You’d learn a lot and write several books from the experience. I’m happy to start up the contribution fund for the trip. Let me know where to send my money.

    [slp — Agreed, Europe has many great systems to learn from. They also have a culture that drives less and walks/bikes more. We can learn a lot but we can’t just take a segment of one culture and plop it into another. For example, a Sonic drive-in wouldn’t do too well there even though they do well here.

    In early 2008 I was starting to plan a European vacation. Then I had a stroke. My March trip to Seattle & Portland was a test to see how well I’d do. I did walk to a bus stop to head to Seattle’s China town but once there I couldn’t explore as much as I liked. I’m working on improving my walking so that I can go to Europe. Hopefully in the next 5 years. In the meantime I’m watching travel programs on PBS.

    As for money, support my advertisers. Get others to advertise.]

  16. GMichaud says:

    Joe Edwards should be a candidate for the position Les Sterman is vacating at East West Gateway. Not only does he understand urban environments, he has the connections in the community to make things happen.

    East West I will say has been performing well recently, although there is much to do, so it would be no cake walk for Joe Edwards. He has the added advantage of coming from an action background not tainted by political payoffs to do half ass projects. His projects have been meaningful and important.

    That said, I like the trolley idea, I also like Steves suggestions for extensions. Ultimately a comprehensive understanding of a transit system will answer a lot of questions.

    Tom Shrout says there will be meetings about new transit soon. What I don’t understand why there isn’t blogs that cover these questions on a daily basis as a contribution to public input?

    It is not like it should be difficult to set up a blog as a public service. Of course with public meetings and advertisements etc, you end up with a lot less input. if that is the goal then public hearings are the right solution for those in power, they are not looking for answers, but looking for solutions to benefit their friends.

  17. Tim Ekren says:

    Tim, I don’t agree with the fact that you need to use the F word to make a point. It doesn’t show any intelligence on your part (I can teach my three yr old to say that word) nor convinces anybody to change their opinion. But at least I can address you. Someone else is not even willing to put his or her name behind their own words.

    That being said about the F word. I’m starting to think less favorable of Joe’s trolley on Delmar. The area is either supported by current residents who really don’t gain anything by going three to four blocks via Trolley or by individuals like me who have to drive to get to the area restaraunts to start with. Currently the only parking is spread along the backside of Delmar that is mostly accessed by driving Delmar to begin with. I agree that traffic will only get worse with trolleys while the trolley won’t eliminate any traffic to begin with. Simply put, I doubt the area is really going to gain anything at all.

    Instead, I wish Joe and Wash U would put even more effort into developing the area immediately around Delmar Metrolink stop. Not just Delmar Street itself. Talk about a great spot for more mixed use and maybe a high rise development. It offers walkable access to great eating/entertainment establishments while offering direct transit access via metrolink to most of the major employment centers.

  18. Benjamin Israel says:

    No one has to drive to the Loop (unless, maybe you intend to buy something bulky at one of the shops). Just take one of four bus routes or the MetroLink. If you live in, say, St. Charles County, drive to the Hanley Station and take MetroLink.
    Putting in more parking just encourages people to drive.

  19. Josh L. says:

    I have to agree with those who question the trolley. I worked for the Missouri History Museum when it was first proposed, and I know that I was not the only one who thought it a bunch of hooey. I am a historian and deeply enamored of trolleys, but I can’t support the expense of a heritage trolley on that route. East Loop has possibilities up to a point, though the huge bus barn on the south side of Delmar would seem to put a damper on eastward redevelopment.

  20. equals42 says:

    Steve, are these electric trolleys with the power lines overhead? I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re talking about here. You can’t put that in front of the Art Museum. People aren’t going to like cables strung all over. Same with some of the other roads in Forest Park. It’d be hard to get something like that in front of the Muni too. I like more North-South trolleys. A Grand trolley to connect the theatre district to the vibrant South Grand areas. Maybe connect the Loop trolley to a Hampton trolley to connect the Hill, Loop and Dogtown. Soulard needs to be connected to Downtown though using Broadway causes problems with my favorite parade route but using Tucker misses the Farmer’s Market.

  21. Luftmentsch says:

    As a resident of Skinker-Debalieviere who takes public transportation (and CONSTANTLY) walks on the Loop, I find it hard to get excited about the trolley. I imagine it will be fun to ride the first couple times, but then what? The cars look like they’ll be hot and uncomfortable in summer, and of course they’re only marginally handicapped accessible. I can’t imagine wanting to take a baby-stroller on there for instance.

    And if it won’t be integrated with the existing Metro system, if you can’t use your transfers or your monthly passes on it, then it really seems insane.

    Why not invest in some truly modern, distinctive, attractive buses for the Delmar Loop and other “entertainment districts” (I hate that phrase)? Imagine a clean running, smooth riding, well-airconditioned electric bus, that came down on hydraulics to pick up people in wheelchairs and with strollers. Would our frightened bourgeoisie be too scared to take these buses as well? Wouldn’t a 21st century innovation like that (rather than a 19th century piece of retroffited nostalgia) make a much bigger contribution toward promoting public transportation in general?

    [slp — The final cars that would be used have not yet been determined. I’m going to push for modern low-floor cars like those in Seattle & Portland.]

  22. Jimmy Z says:

    From today’s Tampa paper, they find “About 1,200 people, mostly tourists and conventioneers, ride the streetcar daily.” Their line runs between Ybor City (like Laclede’s Landing) and their convention center and cruise ship docks, has ten stops and 11 vehicles. It’s raises the same concerns that I have with every streetcar proposal I see – promises versus reality. Memphis now has 18 cars serving 24 stations on three lines, yet they generate an average daily ridership of only 2,500. Compare that to this proposal (2,800 weekday[!] and 4200 weekend[!!] daily boardings) with one line, a dozen stops and maybe a half-dozen vehicles. Given that the History Museum here is likely (much?) less of a draw, what will that REALLY mean? Maybe 800 daily riders? 500? 200? I get it. Rail fans REALLY like trains, and any investment is a good investment. But for streetcars to make a comeback in St. Louis, the first attempt better live up to its promises. Fall on your face, like Metro did with the Cross-County Connection, and you’ll have won the battle and lost the war . . .


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